How Cosmetic Brands Drive Huge Engagement on Instagram

May 16, 2016

Written by NewsWhip

A look at how five leading cosmetics brands cultivate significant engagement on Instagram, including through influencer marketing.
While compiling data for our coverage of Fashion Week earlier in the year, we noticed that cosmetics brands were generating huge engagement on Instagram. Benefitting from loyal followings and Instagram’s platform for lavish visuals, both established and lesser-known names were notching up significant numbers.
With this in mind, we decided to see which cosmetics brands are performing best on Instagram and what factors are contributing to their success.
We looked at Instagram data for the top five cosmetics brands on Instagram for the month of April 2016. The five brands were identified using NewsWhip Spike and are as follows: MAC, TooFaced, Sephora, Urban Decay, and Maybelline.

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The following table sets out the total engagements generated by these brands in April.
Overall engagements generated by five top cosmetics brands on Instagram in April 2016
MAC were by far the most successful cosmetics brand this period, with almost 8.4 million interactions. MAC is one of the most high-profile cosmetics brands in the world so its success is not entirely unexpected, but it’s interesting to compare its figures to some other names in the list. TooFaced, the second placed brand in this ranking, earned 4.8 million interactions in April and outperformed MAC for average interactions.
This table sets out the average engagements generated by each of these brands. In addition to TooFaced, Urban Decay also move up a spot, generating about 5,000 more interactions on average than Sephora.
Average engagements generated by five top cosmetics brands on Instagram in April 2016
Each of TooFaced’s posts in April notched up an average of 68,584 interactions. Interestingly, the brand also posted substantially fewer times than MAC – 70 posts in total to MAC’s 130. While TooFaced may have not the same level of reach overall, it does have a thriving, loyal, and actively engaged audience. In some ways, average interactions may be taken as a slightly more meaningful metric than total engagements in that it illustrates the impact an individual post can have. Brands with an enthusiastic following can earn huge numbers from relatively little activity by understanding its audience and tailoring content to their interests.

Factors influencing engagement

A breakdown of the top posts overall reveals a huge mixture of approaches. The vast majority of the top 25 posts came from two brands, MAC and TooFaced, but their feeds show a marked difference in approach.
For MAC, product highlights and anticipation drove colossal engagement. Its top post for this period was a preview of a lipstick, taken from a collection designed to commemorate the late singer Selena. The product was published with a thoughtful statement from Selena’s sister, underlining the ethos behind the collection. This image earned nearly 147,000 interactions in April.

A preview of Como La Flor Lipstick, one of the products from the upcoming #MACSelena collection! @SelenaQOfficial’s vivacious music and style lives on through the passion of her fans and her impact on Latin beauty and culture. #MACSelena is a makeup collaboration inspired by the devotion of all those who continue to be touched by the young legend, tenderly curated with Selena’s own sister, Suzette Quintanilla. “I wanted the colours to be about her personally, what she wore on and offstage,” says Suzette. “She has been gone for 21 years already, and for this collaboration to happen, it’s pretty much incredible. It just shows the love her fan base has even though she’s gone; that her music still lives on and her legacy has grown tremendously since she’s passed. It’s a great honour to have M·A·C collaborate with Selena’s name and her fans — FOR her fans.” Available October 2016 in select markets! Este es un vistazo del Lipstick Como La Flor, ¡uno de los productos de la próxima colección #MACSelena! La música vivaz y el estilo de @SelenaQOfficial vive a través de la pasión de sus fans y de su impacto en la belleza y la cultura latina. #MACSelena es una colaboración de maquillaje inspirada por la devoción de todos aquellos que siguen siendo tocados por la joven leyenda, curada con ternura por la propia hermana de Selena, Suzette Quintanilla: “Quería que los colores representaran su personalidad, lo que usaba dentro y fuera del escenario”, dice Suzette. “Ya han pasado 21 años desde que ella se ha ido, y que esta colaboración sucediera, es casi increíble. Esto sólo demuestra el amor que sus verdaderos fans le tienen a pesar de que dejó de estar con nosotros; que su música sigue viva y su legado ha crecido enormemente desde que ella se fue. Es un gran honor que M·A·C colabore con el nombre de Selena y sus fans – PARA sus fans.” ¡Disponible en octubre 2016 en ciertos mercados!

A photo posted by M∙A∙C Cosmetics (@maccosmetics) on

MAC also featured several images of products from an upcoming pastel-themed collection. Many of these images used filters designed to evoke a vintage, dreamy feel; adding to the overall aesthetic of the collection. One of these images was the third-biggest of any brand for this period, earning over 124,000 engagements in April.

Living in theme, a pastel dream. #MACPlaylab #MACSoftcore
A photo posted by M∙A∙C Cosmetics (@maccosmetics) on

MAC, like several other names on this list, has an advantage in that its products tend to have colourful, eye-catching designs. The visual appeal of the products themselves makes them stand out in users’ feeds, with bright, vivid colours instantly alluring the eye in Instagram’s polished timeline. This combined with the recognisability of the brand and many of its spokesmodels – such as the singers Halsey and Ariana Grande – draws huge interest from users. Reposted images tend to be drawn from make-up artists at its counters around the world, distinguishing the brand from others which feature beauty bloggers and vloggers.
TooFaced has been praised by beauty marketers for its smart work with influencers and this is evident in their Instagram feed in April. While their biggest post is a giveaway for followers, the second biggest was a preview of upcoming products – as initially posted by a beauty blogger.

This trend continues throughout the brand’s most successful posts for the period. All but one of its ten biggest posts for this period featured an influencer, and each generated a minimum of 92,000 engagements. The posts are a mixture of product teases and make-up tutorials, each linking back to the blogger or vlogger who posted it originally.
Of particular note is the geographical diversity of influencers sought out by TooFaced. The brand linked to Instagram personalities as far apart as the US, Australia, and Greece. What’s more, the influencers’ following differed hugely – some had tens of thousands of followers, while others had only a few hundred. It’s an intriguing strategy which speaks to the brand’s efforts to market itself as an accessible, inclusive alternative to other names. By focusing on influencers with smaller followings as well, it’s showing an admirable awareness of up-and-coming names and a willingness to work with those still establishing themselves on social.

The impact of working with smaller or less well-known influencers has been discussed by beauty industry insiders. Digital natives and millennials regularly seek out new products on social, leading brands to turn to influencers more so than the traditional spokesmodel. Posts such as these help them reach ordinary consumers, many of whom value the word of a local vlogger over that of a celebrity. The posts feel more down-to-earth and authentic and stand apart from the air of exclusivity generated by other brands.
Elsewhere, crossover marketing was another factor boosting engagement for cosmetics brands. Both Sephora and Urban Decay, in particular, saw significant engagement on posts featuring Disney-themed products. Sephora’s image of a Minnie Mouse-themed make-up kit at Disneyland was the brand’s biggest post for this period (and the 12th biggest overall) with just under 102,000 interactions.

Urban Decay’s Alice in Wonderland-themed make-up palette allowed for lush visual additions to its feed, each of which spurred enthusiastic engagement. This video post previewing the palette earned nearly 73,000 interactions.

The company’s flagship product – the “Naked” palette – is hugely popular, and continues to drive consistently high interaction. Its biggest post in April was this image of a collection of palettes, which earned 87,331 interactions.
What’s immediately apparent from this analysis is the impact of influencer marketing on cosmetics brands on Instagram. Established and less well-known brands all benefit from smart, targeted work with influencers, which helps them reach huge numbers of engaged users. Combined with the ready availability of colourful, eye-catching visuals, this means beauty brands have some of the highest engagement levels on Instagram.

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