How Allbirds uses Instagram as a focus group


Most brands look at social platforms like Instagram to push out product messages, but Allbirds is using Instagram for product ideas and customer feedback.

Since debuting its first style 19 months ago, Allbirds has made 27 product improvements to its $95 all-wool knit runners and loafers, which it markets as “the world’s most comfortable shoes,” and has changed content strategies based on its followers’ reactions, according to Julie Channing, vp of marketing at Allbirds. The brand was highlighted in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 report as being one of the most responsive brands, with a slide showing all the product changes from customer input that went into one shoe.

“That’s one of the aspects of our social strategy that we’re really proud of,” said Channing. “We listen to what consumers like and regularly receive pieces of feedback that we can use to make sure we are holding true to our standard of making better shoes, and that’s really about making continuous improvements.”

Allbirds appeals to its 76,700 Instagram followers by posting approachable and fun content, unlike other footwear competitors that might only focus on performance, said Channing. Indeed, the brand’s profile @allbirds features a mix of photos, GIFs and even drone footage of the shoes and people wearing them in everyday situations to show the shoes can be worn in any situation. The way the brand listens to the concerns and desires of its followers helps reinforce the brand’s receptive image, said Channing.

“It’s something that people really appreciate,” she said. “They know we’re listening, so they share a lot of their ideas with us.”

For instance, last March, Allbirds debuted limited-edition Kotare Sky runners, a sky blue shoe, for men, announcing the color on Instagram in a post featuring the shoe set against piles of blue cotton candy. Women were drawn to the shoe, too, and the post received 77 comments, mainly requests for women’s sizes. The brand soon noticed the smallest size of the Kotare Sky runners selling out online and realized women were buying them despite the size difference. In response, Allbirds created the shoe in women’s sizes, announcing the launch in August in an Instagram post that highlighted one of its followers’ requests for the shoe.

The brand has also received negative feedback. People complained about slipping insoles and rolling tongues. When Allbirds saw this, it fixed the issues and commented back to update those who brought them up.

Allbirds closely watches what content drives the most appeal among its followers as well. Allbirds’ in-house creative team works on content creation, with only two people solely focused on social media. However, for special projects or recurring themes, the team works with outside photographers. For example, when the brand introduces a new shoe color, which it does every few months, it hires someone to shoot the shoes against a background of materials of a similar color that also reinforces an aspect of the shoe, such as its lavender-colored shoes lying on a bed of lavender plants. These photographers also use drones to film quick zooms out from people in different environments wearing the shoes, as seen in the example below. It’s content like the color-matching photos and drone shots that draw the most engagement, said Channing. The brand would not reveal the budget for these photographers or how much it spends in paid posts on the platform.

The content and reinforcement from the brand seems to be paying off. Allbirds’ Instagram following has increased by 200 percent since last year. The brand has won the favor of the techies and venture capitalists of Silicon Valley, with Google co-founder Larry Page, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz spotted wearing the shoes. And despite starting as purely an e-commerce brand, the brand recently opened two brick-and-mortar stores, one in San Francisco in May and one in New York on Sept. 13.

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