It’s always fascinating to find out what goes on behind the scenes of a popular Instagram account.
Whether an influencer sheds light on a photo shoot mishap or opens up about dealing with an illness while also trying to finish a job, it can be reassuring to learn that the perfectly curated images we see aren’t always an accurate depiction of real life.
Recently, we took our fascination straight to the source to find out what happens behind the scenes at Instagram ― more specifically, the fashion partnerships team at Instagram, led by Insta-guru Eva Chen.
Chen, the former editor-in-chief of (now-defunct) Lucky magazine, was an early adopter of the social media platform and has managed to become one of its OG fashion influencers. Along with her team of five others, Chen’s job is to build relationships with all sorts of people in the fashion industry and essentially teach them how to best use Instagram for their brand.
If you were to judge by Chen’s account, you might think it’s her job to attend fashion weeks around the world (in ultra-cool designer clothes, of course), take selfies in the now-famous #igselfiemirror and rub shoulders with fashion insiders like designer Prabal Gurung or model Gigi Hadid. And yes, she does those things ― some of which she considers a “byproduct of [her] magazine days,” though not mandatory for her role. But her job isn’t just fancy clothes and selfies with celebrities.
“I would say 50 percent of the work we do is literally Instagram education,” Chen told HuffPost. “We are helping people, whether it’s models, designers, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, magazine editors who are in fashion, brands, understand how to use Instagram better.”
“Everyone has very different knowledge levels in terms of Instagram,” she added. “There are some people who I have had the opportunity to talk to and I’m like, ‘I’m learning from you how to use Instagram.’ Other people have never posted a story or don’t know the difference between IGTV, IG live and IG Stories.”
Chen said the fashion partnerships team often holds master classes for people in the industry looking to learn more about the platform and how to utilize it in a way that makes sense for them.
Unsurprisingly, Chen said, “People have a lot of questions about Instagram.” (Even when she’s traveling, Chen can’t escape the questions. She said that an airport customs officer who, upon learning she worked at Instagram, asked her if he should be using filters on his photos.)
According to Kristie Dash, who works specifically on beauty partnerships for the app and has her own dedicated Instagram following, even though people may be running different accounts, “everyone at the end of the day kind of has the same questions.”
Among the most common, Chen said, are: Should I respond to my followers? How many times should I post per day? And should I use hashtags?
The answers to the first two, she noted, vary depending on the individual. But in the case of hashtags, Chen said, “The answer is yes. Use hashtags, judiciously and sparingly.”
“The best way to explain [what we do] it is that we’re here as a resource for the industry,” Dash said. “Almost all top accounts we have touched in some way, and it’s an ongoing relationship so that they know we’re here for them, whether it’s a tiny technical problem or a larger strategy question.”
The team members said that contrary to popular belief, they aren’t responsible for crafting strategies for specific accounts or building content calendars.
“The goal is for us to equip them with the knowledge to then run free and do this on their own,” Dash said.
There’s also a feedback aspect of their job, which entails collecting questions and concerns from Instagrammers about the app itself and sharing them with the product engineers who actually build it.
“A lot of the engineers, obviously, are experts in their field, but they have no clue what beauty influencers want from Instagram,” Dash said. “So, for us to be able to bring that feedback to them is really fun. [You] feel like you’re making an impact in the product, which we obviously love.”
Seeing that there are over a billion people on Instagram and only six people on the fashion team, you can imagine they get also have to deal with overflowing inboxes and plenty of back-to-back meetings. So many meetings, in fact, Dash said she sometimes loses her voice because of all the talking.
“I specifically focus on beauty and lifestyle, dabbling in the fashion, influencers and models space, but if I’m being totally honest, one of the toughest parts of the job is the insane inbound we get,” Dash said. “Technically I’m the beauty person for the entire industry. We do have someone in LA who helps with influencers, but in general, the industry knows to come to me with questions and it’s hard to be proactive when you’re trying to keep up with the wild inbox.”
During busier times for the fashion set ― like the Met Gala or any of the major fashion weeks ― Emilie Fife, who works with emerging fashion designers and brands, said things get even crazier. “Those are definitely some high-traffic times.”
But it’s their job to interact with industry insiders. The team members are constantly reaching out to accounts they find interesting ― both emerging and established. They also get a ton of direct messages from people, and they travel the world to visit emerging markets and meet local account holders.
As Fife noted, the size of someone’s following doesn’t necessarily determine whether they get a response.
“I never want to ignore someone just because they have 500 followers,” she said. “You want to talk to as many people as possible.”