Benefit Cosmetics is using an Instagram contest to find its next batch of influencers.
The contest, called Benefit Brow Search, asked the brand’s Instagram followers to submit two posts of their eyebrows in order to be considered. The Benefit team chose 20 contestants out of 17,000 entries by hand, after looking at the quality of content, followers and their engagement, to attend a four-day getaway at a site dubbed Camp Benefit in upstate New York in late June.
In the style of The Voice and America’s Next Top Model, the contestants had to complete challenges such as matching a brow style for a particular outfit or creating a beauty look with craft materials during an “Arch & Crafts” game. Ultimately, Benefit crowdsourced its followers to narrow down the four finalists, who each landed a social media contract with Benefit, and one winner, Ivana Slobodianik (@islobodianik), also earned a $50,000 check.
Still, it was Benefit that came out on top, with 32,000 photo posts; 4,500 user-generated Instagram stories and over 74 million collective content views — a 107 percent increase from the previous year’s Brow Search contest.
Beyond engagement, the Brow Search campaign served as a way for Benefit to incubate up-and-coming influencers and create long-term relationships, while at the same time getting them to create free, organic content and raise brand awareness on Instagram, where the focus of the campaign was. Last year’s version spread out content across YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook as well, but Hicks said customers and followers are most engaged on Instagram. In return, the contestants got access to Benefit’s brand platform and nearly 8 million Instagram followers. This targeted approach to early influencers and the larger Benefit fan base meant that the brand could gather authentic user-generated content that took the pressure off of the Benefit team to constantly produce more.
“This day and age, you need so much content. Having the entry point be content helps us from a re-gramming perspective,” said Laurin Hicks, the director of digital media for Benefit Cosmetics. “We have an abundance of brow posts that we are able to re-post now.” She added that weeks after the contest ended and a finalist was chosen, several contestants are still posting on Instagram about their experiences.
In addition to the Instagram-only pivot, the Benefit team also shifted how it measured the success of the Brow Search contest on the platform. Followers do not see every post from a brand or person they follow because of Instagram’s timeline algorithm; therefore, the number of new followers did not appear as relevant when compared to the number of people who actually saw or engaged with content, Hicks said.
“At the end of the day, it’s great if we get a new follower, but with the algorithm, who knows if she is seeing our content. But if we were able to reach a higher amount of [impressions,] it means the content was what she was looking for,” she said.
A major concept behind the contest was to reach up-and-coming influencers (the ever-popular micro-influencers) who had yet to engage with a major brand. Those micro-influencers were also introduced to big-name influencers like Patrick Starr (@patrickstarrr) and Mariale Marrero (@mariale), who each have over 4 million followers; the established influencers served as coaches during the four-day contest portion in New York as well as social media ambassadors for the Benefit brand.
“There’s that emotional tie-in. When you’re an up-and-coming influencer and a big brand [like Benefit] steps in and helps you, you don’t forget that,” said Hicks. “Therefore, we are able to continue that relationship and connection as they grow. Getting in at the ground floor helps us get that organic and authentic content.”
For viewers of the contest, there were ways to become involved as well. There were daily giveaways both on Benefit’s Instagram channel and associated brand ambassadors; the Benefit team re-grammed coaches and contestants; and, the brand incentivized viewers to post on their own channels through the use of 18 custom gif stickers that were ultimately viewed 3.7 million times. To share videos, Benefit tried out the new IGTV feature, which was unveiled during the Camp Benefit contest, instead of relying on YouTube for long-form videos like it had last year. The videos posted to IGTV reached 5 million views, compared to just over 50,000 on YouTube.
“Instagram is where our customer is right now,” Hicks said.