Instagram's Eva Chen Answers Our Questions About Shoppable Influencer Posts & Much More

Photo: Georgie Wileman/Getty Images.
RIP my wallet: Starting May 9, you'll finally be able to shop products directly from the Instagram accounts of your favourite influencers. On Tuesday morning, the social media app announced that their Checkout feature, originally only available to brands, will now expand to include creators. They'll test it with a select group over the coming weeks, including Aimee Song, (former Refinery29 editor) Alyssa Coscarelli, Camila Coelho, Gigi Hadid, Hannah Bronfman, Huda Kattan, Katie Sturino, Kim Kardashian West, Kris Jenner, Kylie Jenner, Vogue, and, yours truly, Refinery29. What does this all mean? Well, if you see a product you love on, say, Gigi Hadid's page, you can simply click the tag, save your credit card info securely, and purchase it without ever leaving the Instagram app.
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The new update is a game-changer for fashion obsessives who use Instagram to discover new designers or shop the next viral It bag. And they're mostly drawing style inspiration from other people, not brands. “What I share on Instagram is a window into what inspires me, especially when it comes to my personal style," Coehlo said in a press release. "My followers are always asking in comments and DM’s about what brands I’m wearing or where to buy certain pieces — shopping tags will make it so much easier to give my followers the information they’re looking for with a single tap. The days of screenshotting, saving to your camera roll, and scavenger hunting to find my go-to products are gone!”
Ahead of today's news, Refinery29 went to the Instagram offices to chat with Fashion Lead Eva Chen about the launch — and while we were there, we picked her brain for career advice, best posting practices, and more. Read on for our interview.
Refinery29: Why did you decide to extend the shopping feature to influencers?
Eva Chen: "Three weeks ago, we launched Check Out on Instagram with about 20 businesses. They range from Warby Parker and Outdoor Voices to Burberry and Michael Kors, with Nike, Adidas, NYX Cosmetics and Huda Beauty. With Check Out, you're able to do a shoppable post for your followers. In the past, when you [were] shopping from a shopping post, when you go to a product page, it would say 'view on website.' So, if I wanted to buy something from NYX Cosmetics, it would say 'view on website,' and I'd be taken out of Instagram to do the transaction. And then, if I wanted to go back to Instagram, I'd have to reopen the app, find my place, etc.
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"So with [the Check Out feature], you input your credit card information and address once, safely and securely, and then after that, every time you Check Out on Instagram, you press 'place order' and then boom, you're done."
That sounds dangerous.
"Yes, the words that my friends have used to describe it are addictive and mildly dangerous. So now we're launching Shopping from Creators. Let's use Katie Sturino as an example of a creator. She's in Turks and Caicos, which is #goals. She's about to go to yoga. In the past, if she wanted to tag this post, she would have tagged #outdoorvoices. And as a follower of Katie, if I'm like, Oh my God. I'm obsessed with this colour. I want to look this good when I'm working out, I would have tapped Outdoor Voices and be brought to Outdoor Voices' profile page. Now Katie's able to tag the specific products, and if I, as her follower, tap this crop top, it takes me straight to a product description page, and it's checkout-enabled because Outdoor Voices is one of those brands in our closed beta."
Will the shopping feature ever be available to all, i.e., will everyone with an Instagram account be able to sell items similarly? And how are you defining creators?
"Right. The first question people had was what's a Creator? Really, anyone can be a Creator. Anyone creating great digital content for an audience who is there for that digital content is a Creator. So, a manicurist could be a Creator, my friend who's a food blogger is a Creator, an editor can be a Creator.
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As for making it available to all, it's definitely on our minds. As with most tests, we want to try it out first. And I think the market has been so enthusiastic and eager. But we just have to test it first, because we don't want to break Instagram."
How has the shopping feature fared among users since it launched with brands in March? Is there any interesting insight about user behaviour you can share?
"It's really new, literally three weeks old, so we don't have a ton of data. Some of the things we do know is that since we've launched these tags — not on Check Out but just shoppable tags in general — 130 million people have tapped on them every month."
How do you see Instagram Shopping evolving? What’s your vision for the shopping experience on the platform?
"Everything we do at Instagram is people first. [We pay attention to] the way that people — there are one billion on the platform — engage and interact with different things. And shopping is about giving people what they want, and understanding how they experience it uniquely.
"I'm oftentimes an impulse shopper. But there are other people on Instagram who want to be able to save a post and marinate on it and then go back to it. And then there are people like my mom who are just creeping on my account, making sure I'm eating lunch.
"So much of Instagram is about creating customised experiences and [choosing] how you want to engage . And it's the same for shopping. If you look at the brands in our beta, we try to have direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker, founder-led brands like Huda Beauty, beauty brands like NYX Cosmetics and Nars, and then we have luxury, because we know that luxury transactions are happening in Instagram. So we really try to create this mosaic of different types of businesses on Instagram. And there will be many more to come, but we're taking things step by step."
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What are some tips for growing your following and engagement?
"When we say engagement, it means likes and comments and the other signals that you're sending to Instagram. For instance, I follow a lot of accounts that have millions of followers like the Kardashians, but when I open my Instagram, usually the first person I see is either one of my coworkers or designer Kerby Jean-Raymond from Pyer Moss. I love him. He has really great content. He doesn't have the most number of followers of the people I follow, but because I'm constantly watching his Stories and liking his posts and trolling him on comments, he shows up first for me. Because every time I like one of his posts or comment on one of his posts, I'm telling Instagram, 'I like this guy, please show him to me first.' So that's literally what the algorithm boils down to.
"When you flip the narrative and ask how do I create more engaging posts, it's about being compelling. When you post something that's personal that you obviously took on your iPhone while you were on vacation, you're in the moment, and you're inviting your followers to go on vacation with you, basically.
So it's about creating content that feels personal; that's really important. And it's fundamental to everything: building your following and boosting your engagement. And sometimes people will say to me, I posted this about this foundation or charity I support and it didn't get as many likes. That was discouraging. I'm like, It's important to you, so do it anyway. You can't do things just to satisfy the people who follow you, whether you have 500 followers or five million followers. If it's important to you, then do it."
What's the biggest mistakes you can make if you're trying to grow your following?"
"Overthinking your content. Sometimes I'll talk to people who are like, Well, I've planned my grid out for the next six weeks. And cerulean blue's going to be the colour of the month. And I'm doing this crazy collage. I'm taking this one image and I'm slicing it into multiple posts. Every day, I'm going to do three and then it's going to add up to this master grid. No, no, no. The reason why people love Stories is because it's spontaneous, it's easy, and you're just living your life. And it is the same on Instagram in general.
"If you build it, they will come. Create content that people like and that you fundamentally like the most. Not to make this really deep, but growing up is learning to be comfortable in your own skin as a woman in your 20s or 30s and beyond. The more you like your decisions, the more you'll be happy, and the more people will naturally be drawn to you. The same applies to Instagram."
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