Instagram’s Eva Chen on Fashion, Pimples, and How to Get More Followers on Instagram

Facebook is embroiled in a data scandal, Snapchat is laying people off, and Twitter is regularly overrun by trolls. Yet, Instagram becomes more popular by the day. That’s only part of the reason the recent CornellTech@Bloomberg talk, featuring Eva Chen, Instagram’s head of fashion partnerships, was standing room only.

Chen proved herself to be the most down-to-earth fashionista you’re ever likely to meet, even if she said she’s been pronouncing the name of Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour, incorrectly for years (ironically, Wintour’s been mispronouncing Chen’s first name too). In an interview with Bloomberg’s Scarlet Fu, held on Monday, March 26, 2018 at Bloomberg’s Global Headquarters in New York City, Chen spoke easily about her trademark pose, her role as an adviser to fashion brands on Instagram, and, of course, how to get more Instagram followers.

Chen was an influencer on Instagram long before she joined the company, thanks in part to something now known as #EvaChenPose. That’s a recurring shot of her feet (in fabulous shoes) and bag (also fabulous), often in the back seat of a taxi on the way to work. It quickly became a hit among those who couldn’t post multiple photos of themselves perfectly made-up on a mountain in Nepal. “They literally just looked perfect all the time,” Chen said of her influencer and blogger friends. “I remember thinking, ‘God, that’s not my life.’” What to post, then? “Every morning I throw on whatever I can. I’m always late. I loved bags and shoes. I was like, I always have shoes on, thank God.”

At the time she originally devised the #EvaChenPose, Chen was Editor-in-Chief of Lucky magazine. Even then she said, “I was the editor who knew a lot about Instagram. Models would be like, ‘Should I join Instagram?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, you should.’” She got her current gig after an interview with Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom, most of which was spent discussing “The Bachelor.” “We talked about the rose ceremony for like 50 minutes,” said Chen, “And my husband was like, ‘Is that a good thing?’”

At the time, Chen wasn’t sure, but apparently, it was. As the head of fashion partnerships for Instagram, Chen works strictly on the editorial side, helping brands, models, stylists, fashion magazines, and fashion journalists get more traction on what she calls the organic Instagram. “My job is basically to be an Instagram counselor and just to help them out a bit,” she says. She’ll also work with the product team to make sure Instagram continues to be a good partner to her fashion constituents. She lobbied for the portrait and landscape formats on Instagram, for example, because fashion photographers were upset about losing so much detail when they had to crop their shots to fit Instagram’s square.

Perhaps because she grew up a magazine junkie, Chen is adamant that Instagram is a tool for magazines to increase their digital footprints, not a substitute for print. Instagram, she said, “is a platform for magazines to grow on. And to grow their audience and to have their content be seen by up to 800 million people around the world.”

Amidst charges that parent company Facebook can make people feel bad about themselves, Instagram seems determined to be the uplifting social media platform. Instagram has a well-being team, says Chen, devoted to making Instagram a place where people feel good. In Europe, said Chen, there is a hashtag that translates to “acne is normal,” and people post pictures of their pimples. “I think that’s great,” said Chen. “I think the most important thing is that people feel comfortable and safe to express themselves on Instagram, and that’s something the team takes really seriously.”

Chen says she’s constantly asked how people and brands can get more exposure and followers on Instagram, but during her interview, she said there weren’t any deep dark secrets. Instead, she said, it all comes down to engagement. “The algorithm, basically, all it does is surface the content in the accounts that you engage with the most,” she said. The only way to ‘game’ the algorithm is by getting more engagement. So the way to get more followers is simply to post more. A lot of people, she admits, will refrain from doing so because they think it will annoy their followers or because they don’t want to seem desperate. “If you don’t post, you’re not giving people stuff to engage with,” she said.

She admitted it helps to make use of the different forms of content that Instagram allows, such as Stories and Live. But she said that really, that’s just giving people more opportunities to engage.

Fu’s last question to the fashion maven: Which tech community has better style ‒ Silicon Valley or New York?

“New York, obviously. Is that even a question?” said Chen. “There’s so much fleece in Silicon Valley. Fleece is trending. Patagonia is chic – Patagonia, I love you. New York, definitely.”

You can watch the entire panel discussion below: