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How to Win at Instagram Live

While consumers are confined to their homes, they are engaging with brands more than ever on the social media platform through real-time, live stream programming. But the point isn’t to sell products.
Instagram Live streams from Levi's, Loewe, Miley Cyrus x Jeremy Scott | Source: Instagram
By
  • Alexandra Mondalek
BoF PROFESSIONAL

NEW YORK, United States — In the last few weeks, Brandon Maxwell has invited thousands of people into his home. The American designer known for his take on classic tailoring hosts a daily Instagram live stream from his Manhattan apartment where he doles out career advice and lets followers pick his brain, or tell him what's on their minds. One teenage girl introduced the designer to her grandmother.

Maxwell used Instagram Live before the coronavirus pandemic, but his broadcasts, which he calls "B Spoke," have become more frequent since most of his followers were confined to their homes. They've also become more important to Maxwell, who recognises how the pandemic has spread loneliness as much as the virus itself.

“I've always tried to use platforms to talk really honestly about where I'm at and what I'm feeling, in hopes that maybe somebody else sees that and we can start a dialogue,” Maxwell said. “It just helps you feel more connected in a world [where] you've become so very disconnected.”

Maxwell isn’t alone in turning to Instagram Live to alleviate the tedium of quarantine. Fashion has embraced the platform’s live-stream feature, producing videos that run the gamut from fully produced programmes to off-the-cuff chats. Revolve, a digital multi-brand retailer, partners with fitness influencers to stream daily at-home workouts (in just under two days, one saved livestream workout resulted in 247,000 views, significantly higher than other saved videos on the brand’s profile.)

You're probably not thinking that much about going shopping right now.

Chanel commissioned Belgian singer Angele to serenade viewers, while accessories brand Mulberry has taken to poetry readings and live performances. Amsterdam-based Scotch and Soda broadcasts its "At Home with Scotch" series every Friday, including live streams that explore yoga and artist studio tours. The designer Jeremy Scott popped up on Miley Cyrus' stream to discuss recycled fashion. Rihanna hosted the Fenty Social Club with live DJ sets and performances (and an augmented reality DJ booth to accompany live stream.)

Instagram introduced the option to post live streams that disappear after 24 hours in 2016, but the feature never achieved the runaway popularity of its disappearing Stories, which launched the same year. IGTV, an effort to build out the platform’s long-form video capabilities and more directly compete with YouTube, got off to a slow start in 2018.

Brands are leaning more heavily than usual on Instagram because that’s where their customers are. Viewership of live streams is up 80 percent in the last month, according to Instagram. Plus, with stores closed and real-life gatherings outlawed in many countries, social media is practically the only marketing game in town.

“[Instagram] Live serves as a platform for you to best connect with your consumer in a human way right now,” said Samantha Edwards, co-founder of digital strategy and marketing firm The Charles Agency.

For designers like Maxwell, who is his brand, informal interactions with fans work best. The designer said his broadcasts have boosted engagement with his profile, which is the biggest driver of traffic to his brand's e-commerce site. Marc Jacobs, who has long had a bright social media presence, is using the platform in a similar vein, speaking casually to longtime collaborators like those at Love magazine in a recent livestream.

Larger brands are using Instagram Live as a replacement for the busy calendar of resort shows and summer music festivals that have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19.

In mid-March, Loewe launched its “Loewe en Casa” digital series, featuring the brand’s Craft Prize artists (part of the Loewe Foundations annual competition awarding a cash prize to the winner). The artists host live streams on subjects ranging from metalwork and weaving to furniture design. On April 7, as part of the series, artist Koichi Lo took 68,000 viewers on a live studio tour, among the brand’s most-viewed videos on the platform.

Levi’s, a regular sponsor of international music festivals and concert series, has commissioned musicians like Snoop Dogg and country music star Brett Young to play its 5:01 Live shows, a nod to the brand’s best-selling 501 jeans as well as the daily stream time. In exchange for the performances, the brand will donate $10,000 to the artist's choice of charity. Levi’s said permanent posts about the live streams have double the engagement of normal posts.

We don't need to push that too hard right now.

Levi’s has dedicated $500,000 to the series, which came together in about a week, said Chief Marketing Officer Jen Sey.

Measuring the impact of live streams is difficult. Viewers can share or like the videos, but because they disappear unless a brand saves them to their profile, third parties have trouble measuring their reach. Other issues, including the inability to tag the Live videos in the same way as a permanent feed post, inhibit the ability to track brand mentions, which help contribute to measurements of earned media value, an industry-standard metric determining overall impact. In any event, the goal is often to keep consumers engaged rather than to convince them to open their wallets.

“In this crisis, everyone is scared and we acknowledge that you're probably not thinking that much about going shopping right now, you're probably not really thinking of buying jeans,” Sey said. “We don't need to push that too hard right now.”

Livestreams work best as part of a wider marketing strategy, said Edwards. Unlike the main feed or Stories, followers can interact in real time with a brand. A product could be promoted directly on a brand’s main feed, while Stories can be used to demonstrate how it should be worn, and then a question-and-answer session can be streamed via Instagram Live.

It’s still too soon to determine whether any of the coronavirus-era content will boost a brands’ social media engagement — and more importantly its sales — but it’s worth experimenting with for the time being.

"This is the most perfect opportunity for brands to test a variation of different content formats, whether it's more down and dirty and gritty, or it's super premium and elevated and curated," said The Charles Agency Co-Founder Aaron Edwards.

We’re tracking the latest on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the global fashion business. Visit our live blog for everything you need to know.

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