The cofounder of a fashion startup with more than 120,000 Instagram followers shares exactly how she grew her marketing audience in just one year
- Jessie Zeng is the CEO and cofounder of fashion startup Choosy, which uses artificial intelligence to harness community influence and feedback.
- Since the company launched in 2018, Zeng has grown Choosy's Instagram audience to over 120,000 followers, more than 74 million Instagram impressions, and over 558,000 likes overall.
- How did she do this? By partnering with influencers, creating a sense of community around her brand (dubbed the "Choosy Nation"), and focusing on great content.
- "We don't consider our social media ancillary," the cofounder said. "It's central to our connection with our customers and our business."
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Instagram now has a billion active users each month and 500 million active users each day, according to the latest stats from the social media giant. That makes it the third most popular social platform, trailing only Facebook and YouTube.
This offers plenty of opportunities for businesses of all sizes to utilize Instagram marketing. And if you're skeptical about whether investing in social media marketing is a smart strategy, consider that 90% of Instagram accounts follow a business on Instagram, according to Instagram internal data from November 2019.
One entrepreneur who has successfully leveraged the ubiquitous social tool is Jessie Zeng, the CEO and cofounder of fashion startup Choosy, which uses artificial intelligence to harness community influence and feedback.
"The core of the business is the use of technology to identify and track what's trending so that we can produce and deliver in-style trends quickly and with little waste," explained Zeng. "By producing only what is demanded, we can order smaller runs and cut down on unwanted style churn."
Zeng started her career as a full-time trader in electronic foreign exchange trading and algorithms at Citigroup before shifting gears to her startup. "I wanted to dive deeper in[to] the areas where my interests took me and where I saw opportunity was calling," she said.
Choosy currently operates with about 70 full-time employees across New York and China and has gained over $10 million in funding from VCs, including New Enterprise Associates, Coatue Management, and Forerunner Ventures. The company has netted around $6 million in gross revenue in 2019 and is looking to double that for 2020.
After launching last year, Zeng grew Choosy's Instagram community - dubbed the "Choosy Nation" - to over 120,000 followers and cultivated an engaged audience with more than 74 million Instagram impressions and over 558,000 likes overall.
"Instagram became (and has remained) the company's main marketing channel for communicating with customers," Zeng said.
Zeng let Business Insider peek behind the curtain and discover the social strategies behind her success story.
Getting a profile off the ground and partnering with influencers
Zeng explained that Instagram is a natural channel for Choosy because it is "core to fashion today," so most of the company's customers are on Instagram. She launched the company's profile herself in 2018.
"Nowadays, trends happen every day on social media rather than just three to four times a year on the runways," she said. "Instagram gives us the ability to see how people style items in their own ways and think outside the box."
In the early days, Zeng and her team identified Instagram influencers who showed some interest in the brand and contacted them to see if they would be willing to wear and post in the company's looks. They also reached out to people who were frequently picked up by Choosy's AI technology, showing that they were early trendsetters.
"We didn't necessarily want to limit ourselves to one 'image' of the brand as we think that the Choosy customer can style her items in many different ways," said Zeng.
"We've noticed success with influencers of all scales and found that micro-influencers often have the most engaged follower bases. This helped us gain a lot of traction early on," said Zeng, who noted that while the company doesn't limit itself to specific demographics, they do think about the "Choosy woman" when designing fashions.
"The Choosy woman is deliberate and thoughtful about what she wears," said Zeng. "She's conscientious about the choices she makes, but also wants to look her best in every situation."
The cofounder also came up with the name "Choosy Nation" for the company's followers earlier this summer to help create a community feel and a more cohesive group identity.
"We wanted a way to express how important our followers are to us," explained Zeng. "When you join 'Choosy Nation,' you have a direct say in our design process by voting in our polls, deciding what we make, and DMing us with feedback. We also get inspired when we see how our followers style Choosy."
Reposting those who tag the company has been another important tactic that Zeng and her team continue to use to engage with their followers and showcase their clothes in real life. She explained that reposting has significantly increased their reach by giving Choosy's followers insight for styling their purchases in multiple eye-catching ways.
"Oftentimes, when you buy a piece of clothing, you are thinking about a specific occasion or outfit for that item," said Zeng. "Showcasing our many followers who all have their own styles and aesthetics gives our followers practical information about how to make their items look unique, even if it's their 10th time wearing them."
She added that the tactic is a "win-win" because it provides Choosy with real testimonials about its products, while giving followers engagement across the company's large follower base.
Content is king
"The most important part of building a follower base is being consistent and engag[ing]," she said. "We always want to give our followers a reason to stop and check out our content while scrolling through their feeds."
One way Choosy does this, Zeng explained, is by pulling back the curtain on the company's design process. "It's important for us to show our followers who we are and how we do what we do," she said. They've noticed higher engagement and click through on these kinds of posts, and as an added benefit, the tactic has also resulted in Choosy receiving "a ton of DMs and questions beyond likes and swipes," which reveals an actively engaged community.
Choosy's social media team also responds to events that are happening at the moment and quickly turns around related content, which Zeng maintained makes the company's content "more relatable and organic" than traditional promotional posts.
"For instance, if we notice that it's the perfect, chilly day to be wearing our Amelia Jacket, we'll go outside and shoot it right away," she said. "A lot of these moments happen organically and are genuinely how we style and feel about our clothes."
Social media is 'central,' not 'ancillary'
Zeng focuses on creating a two-way street on Instagram, where the company takes the initiative to stay actively engaged with its audience. This means she's always "keeping an eye out" for comments and DMs to respond to.
"We don't consider our social media ancillary," the cofounder said. "It's central to our connection with our customers and our business."
The company has also used Instagram to benefit from strong word-of-mouth traction, and has had celebrities - including Sophie Turner - organically wear Choosy's looks out in the press.
And Choosy has blended the online and offline worlds. This past summer, Zeng and her crew hosted a "Rooftop Riviera" series and invited Choosy Nation to the company's offices to meet the team, enjoy a few drinks, and get sneak peeks at the new collections.
"The Rooftop Riviera got people excited for the collections, which led to future purchases and posts, as well as translated into real transactions at the events themselves," explained Zeng.
While Zeng started the company's social media presence on her own, she has scaled up the team accordingly as Choosy has grown, with dedicated full-time employees now assigned to create content and serve as a touchpoint for followers.
The company also will continue to leverage its behind-the-scenes AI technology platform - which it uses to track trends and images on social media that the company then designs and produces - to "create more touchpoints for people to meet us and get to know our brand," she explained. "Providing more behind-the-scenes access, as well as working with our followers directly, is just the beginning."
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