In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
On an evening near the end of summer 2017, the Stauffer family sat in the family room of their Arizona home as Katie Stauffer’s phone started to light up with notification after notification. Her husband Charles -- and their children Kaitlin, Charles, Finn, Mila and Emma -- watched as the Instagram account Katie started to chronicle their family adventures had reached 1 million followers.
Within a few months, Katie was on a trip to California with her twin daughters, Mila and Emma, and Mila was recognized. Several strangers approached them to take photos. She knew this was the beginning of something big.
Today, the Stauffer family Instagram account has 4 million followers and counting, along with a sizeable audience on YouTube and Facebook. Fans love photos of the Stauffer kids and the cheeky video scripts that feature the toddler twins.
It’s paying off. The Stauffers recently announced Mila and Emma’s branded clothing line, which will be sold in Target stores and online starting February 24. Katie attended fashion design school before she had children, and after collaborating on the clothing line and helping to choose fabrics with Mila and Emma, she feels as if she’s putting her degree to use.
Katie talked with Entrepreneur about her start on Instagram, her content strategy and a standout moment from her experience as an influencer.
The interview is edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start on Instagram?
I made the account about six years ago without much thought behind it -- I had just wanted to try Instagram -- and posted pictures of my kids. I started entering photo hashtag projects on different pages; I think my first one was a challenge that asked you to post a picture of a mailbox. Generally, I had my kids in my photos, so other people who had kids followed me. Then, companies started asking if they could send merchandise, like a shirt, for one of my kids to take a photo in. Our number of followers started growing, especially after I got pregnant with the twins. Some of our followers were interior design fans because I usually had parts of the home in the background of photos of my kids. And one day, probably in the beginning of 2017, my eldest daughter made a video of the twins and asked me to post it. It went viral, so we made another one, and that was it.
What’s your content strategy?
How do you leverage your account, and to what extent do you monetize it?
A brand will approach us, and it takes up to a week and a half of planning before we even start filming. I always try to stay authentic and avoid it looking too much like an ad; if there’s a product involved, we mention it without telling people to buy the product. We maintain a lot of creative control, and in the case it goes through the editing process on the brand’s side and we don’t feel good about it, we won’t post it. A lot of brands lately are giving creators more control because we know what our audiences want.
The money we make is for the kids -- their college and just for them later on -- and that’s the only reason we do it. We work either with brands we use in our everyday lives or a brand we want to try. My dream collaboration was always Target, and now we’ve done multiple campaigns with them, and now, that’s resulted in Mila and Emma’s clothing line.
What advice do you have for others who want to build brands on the platform?
What helped us grow so quickly was that I would research the top accounts that had funny videos or similar content to us, and I would beg them to repost our stuff -- even if they had 50 million followers. Once, I asked a company to repost something, and they did, and we got 46,000 followers in one night. So sharing is huge. Ask people to share your stuff in any way you can, even if it’s in their Story. Also, be authentic -- if you’re not true to who you are, your audience sees that, and you won’t grow.
What’s one standout moment from the experience of building your audience?
My favorite thing is the messages we get from our audience. I’ve heard from 85- or 90-year-olds who say that one of my daughters reminds them of their kids when they were little and that that makes them happy. I’ve heard from someone going through a divorce that looks forward to our posts. I even got a message that someone went on Facebook to write their suicide note and that after coming across our videos, the person had a change of heart. Our audience is why we keep doing this. There’s so much going on in the world right now, and our account is just about making people laugh -- making them happy.
See below for five of Katie's favorite posts
"This was one of the first videos we put on Instagram. Mila’s expressions are amazing, and she loves to entertain. This is one of the reasons we grew our digital content with a YouTube channel with new longer-form videos. Every Saturday, our supporters can get to know Mila and Emma, watch the girls go head-to-head with challenges and get a peek into their lives."
"We love this one because everyone loves a first day of preschool story. Our community did, too, by showing lots of engagement... We saw so many positive comments, and that inspires us to create more videos."
"We love this one because Mila says what everyone else is thinking about the gym."
"We love this video because it shows off Mila and Emma’s unique personalities and how well they work together. Also, my 16-year old daughter Kaitlin writes all the scripts, and her writing here is phenomenal."
"One of the ways we use Instagram is to announce big projects. We did that recently by debuting the first look of our new fashion line with a social post. The clothing brand, 'Mila & Emma,' reflects the girls’ style and personality, which is something my followers always loved."
Copyright © 2018 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.