Here’s A Toolkit for Creating a Loyal Instagram Following

Meet Frank, the cheeky Instagram persona of the Australian skincare startup Frank Body.

Frank likes to casually call you “babe,” jokes about wanting to get in the shower with you, talks about your buns, and doesn’t go more than five hours without popping up on your feed. If you were to meet him in a bar, you might find him a bit of a sleaze. But as a social media personality? Frank is hilarious.

According to cofounder Erika Geraerts, Frank’s been crucial in helping Frank Body, which is known for its coffee-based scrubs, build brand awareness around the world. “We were essentially dealing with a product that looked like dirt in a bag,” Geraerts says. “We wanted to cut through the beauty industry jargon—be it scientific, flowery, or hippy—and speak to our customer in an honest, direct, and frank way. From here our lovable character of Frank was born.”

Frank Body has used Instagram as its primary marketing tool. “It allowed us to take risks and to connect with our customers directly without the costs of traditional advertising,” Geraerts says. In three years, the account has garnered 682,000 followers, and Geraerts says this has been crucial to driving sales. The company has managed to sell over 1.5 million products across 149 countries since its launch. It is now so popular in the United Arab Emirates and Russia that the company is planning to set up local operations in those countries. “It took time, consistency, and dirty work,” she says.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. It isn’t that hard to acquire Instagram followers; you can even buy them, if you’re desperate enough. It is much harder to develop a committed follower base. “The thing people forget is that it’s not just about having a huge following, it’s about having a loyal, engaged base of customers to talk to,” Geraerts says.

Fast Company talked with the founders of Frank Body, the Norwegian cult clothing brand Onepiece, and the newly launched haircare brand Ouai—all brands built on Instagram—to learn their strategies for making a powerful impression on Instagram and using the platform to grow their companies. Here’s some of what they shared.

Hone Your Voice

The Frank Body team spent time making the voice of the brand distinctive. “Be yourself, not another version of something that already exists,” Geraerts says.

Frank, the brand’s voice on Instagram, is actually the embodiment of the scrub itself. So he makes many jokes about being dirty and wanting to see you taking your clothes off. These racy comments serve a useful purpose: They educate consumers on how to use the product, since most people are not used to rubbing coffee grounds all over their body.

But Frank also has a distinct sense of humor. He loves double entendres. The Instagram feed is full of women using the scrub. He refers to these women as “babes,” but in a funny twist, there are also cute pictures of babies using the scrub, and he refers to them as “babes” as well. In the spirit of double meanings, Frank also likes being frank. So whenever there is an overly artsy picture on the feed, he likes to puncture it with some honesty. Next to a dreamy picture of a woman drinking coffee in her nightshirt, Frank says, “A babe that likes black coffee and dislikes pants is my kind of babe.”

All of this has made the Frank Body account highly entertaining—which is one reason users are so engaged with it and keep coming back. The account has also helped to define the brand as fun, lighthearted, and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As you work on hammering down your voice, it helps to spend some time thinking about what sets your brand apart so that you can channel those qualities into your Instagram voice. Be very specific: Exactly what kind of humor are you seeking to achieve? If you want to be inspirational, think about exactly what you are inspiring your followers to do or become. And be consistent. Try to achieve this every time you post.

Grow Your Base Organically

Ever since celebrity hair stylist Jen Atkin decided to start her own brand, Ouai, Instagram has been one of the most important tools for both launching and growing her business. Even before the products officially hit the shelves in February, she began to grow her followers, creating anticipation and buzz.

To build her follower base she tapped into her existing networks. Atkin had already developed a significant following through her blog, Mane Addicts. She also had 1.3 million followers on her personal account. Atkin says that while it is important to leverage existing followers, she advises against pushing too hard. “Not all of my followers are going to be interested in buying my product,” she points out. “You need to respect that.”

Her strategy has been to occasionally mention her new brand on her personal Instagram handle, as she describes her travels and her everyday life, without turning it into another marketing channel for Ouai. “@JenAtkinHair is about my personal life and day to day: my work on sets with my celeb clients, and the products and tools that I love to achieve looks for them,” she says. “On the other hand, @theOUAI is a community for other women to find solutions to their hair problems and to feel inspired.”

As a hair stylist to the stars, Atkin also has many celebrity friends with very big followings. She takes a similar approach with them. People like Chrissy Teigen, the Kardashians, and Emily Weiss of the beauty website Into the Gloss, have mentioned Ouai when it comes up naturally, but again, Atkin makes an effort not to force it. With this approach, she’s managed to gather close to 65,000 followers in three months. More importantly, these followers have been highly engaged, and many have ended up buying products.

Think Big: Go Global

Given that Instagram is so visual, it’s possible to go beyond linguistic and geographical borders with the platform. This has been the experience of Onepiece, a Norwegian clothing company that was founded 9 years ago and is known for its adult jumpsuits. The brand is built on some pretty avant-garde ideas, like rejecting fashion and celebrating slacker culture.

“We were fed up with people measuring their worth by how busy and important they were,” says Thomas Adams, Onepiece’s CEO and cofounder. “Fashion was laser sharp, bodies were supposed to be perfectly trimmed: we wanted to be the opposite of that.”

In some ways, these ideas were very particular to Norwegian hipsters, but through visual storytelling on Instagram, Onepiece has been able to create a worldwide following. Onepiece’s Instagram feed has many photos that capture this slacker culture, making the jumpsuits cool. There are images of couples eating popcorn in bed while watching a movie on a laptop, a dude smoking on the couch, and a stream of global celebrities in various stages of relaxation—all wearing the jumpsuit.

“Creating a clear narrative and consistent image style…have been key factors for building this,” says Casper Vasbotten, Onepiece’s digital marketing director. He adds that the brand works closely with international bloggers and influencers who share the brand’s aesthetic. “They enhance and strengthen our narrative through their own stories.”

Onepiece has been very deliberate about reaching consumers overseas, constantly collaborating with an international list of influencers. At Christmas, for instance, Onepiece posted a picture of Kevin Hart by the fire wearing a jumpsuit with a fair isle pattern on it, attracting new American fans. “We plan ahead, as well as keep our content plans flexible to whatever happens,” Vasbotten says. “We make sure to fill our stream with content from many of the amazing influencers and publishers we work with.”

Their approach has been successful. They’ve built a following of 190,000 people, but more importantly, they’ve managed to become a recognized brand in many new countries, including the U.S.

Slideshow Credits: 01 / Photos: courtesy of Frank;