If there's one social media platform that has changed the game for beauty brands, it's Instagram. The visual element to Instagram means that it is the perfect place to showcase products, techniques and brand fans to the masses.
In fact, Instagram is so successful at building beauty brands, it has become the main focus for some of the most recognisable names in the game.
Companies like Benefit, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Jeffree Star Cosmetics have millions of fans each, amassing thousands of likes per post. Each image they upload to Instagram works as an advert, showcasing their products to followers, creating shareable content and costing far less than traditional social media advertising - making a difference to their bottom line.
In fact, earned media value (EMV) for brands on Instagram far outstrips other forms of social media. Tribe Dynamics looked at the EMV for brands and influencers across different channels, finding that between 2014 and 2015, Instagram's EMV increased by 904 per cent. In comparison, blogs only saw an EMV rise of 26 per cent.
While a large part of this is due to the nature of visual marketing - more visual means higher engagement - it should also be noted that Instagram is the fast becoming one of the best ways brands can create customer relationships, a specific personality and a recognisable voice. All of this builds a following, but more importantly for a brand, drives sales.
Instagram is also helping consumers change what they think about beauty, opening up more opportunities for brands.
A 2014 Dove study revealed that around 82 per cent of women think that social media is now affecting how beauty is defined. A further 63 per cent said they think that social media is a bigger influence on the definition of beauty than film, print media and music.
This suggests that more and more women are changing their look and the contents of their makeup bag based on what they see on social platforms. As Instagram has the biggest EMV, it's fair to assume that it is a key influencer in this area.
With results like these, it's no wonder the big beauty names are putting more into their Instagram strategies than other social platforms.
It isn't just big names that can drive sales and engagement through the image sharing site, though. Smaller companies have seen their followers blow up on Instagram almost overnight, quickly becoming the latest must-own brands.
The most recent example of this is Bitter Lace Beauty, which offers a range of handmade facial highlighters. This previously unknown brand sold through Etsy and had a small but loyal following, that is until sites like Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue and Brit + Co caught wind of its most iconic product, the rainbow highlighter, and started sharing the brand's Instagram posts with a much larger audience.
As if by magic, Bitter Lace Beauty's Instagram following shot up to over 90,000 seemingly overnight, sharing of its products via the platform increased - with even big names in beauty posting reviews - and the shop sold out of all its stock. The rainbow highlighter became impossible to get, adding to its exclusivity, and Instagram became the main way that Bitter Lace Beauty informed followers of restocks and pre-orders, keeping the momentum going.
The brand has since managed to move its shop from Etsy to its own website and is continuing to amass more followers on Instagram and benefit from sharing of its products via other profiles, showing that image-led content can make all the difference.
Other smaller beauty brands have seen similar results after launching on the image sharing site, showing what a huge difference even a small social budget can make if you have a solid strategy and the right know-how.
Beauty brands can also use Instagram to showcase their fans' images when they use their products. While sharing their own content that displays products and benefits, re-posting images taken by consumers helps brands to effectively support their claims.
Prospective customers may be intrigued by a lengthening mascara after seeing a brand's own image, but a follower's photo showing the difference it makes is far more likely to make them want to buy the product.
Not only does this showcase products and help to`influence buyer decisions, it also allows followers to connect better with a brand as they are able to see people just like them using the products, as opposed to models and celebrities. This makes the brand a lot more accessible for a range of beauty users, as even beginners can relate to the story being told.
Encouraging followers to use specific hashtags for posts that feature their beauty products and to tag brands in images provides a range of photos that can be featured - Ofcom estimated that 1.2 billion selfies were taken in the UK alone in 2014 - gets followers excited that they could appear on the brand's Instagram page and helps to connect with Instagram users who aren't yet followers.
This creates a community, increases engagement and also improves overall reach across the platform for a brand. All of this can help boost follower numbers, brand loyalty and overall sales.
Instagram is also the social platform to use if brands want to create new trends or benefit from emerging ones.
While big beauty trends previously got their beginnings on the catwalk - which is still a huge influence on the world of hair and makeup - more and more emerge as a result of image sharing on Instagram. Things like strobing, contouring, the cut-crease and baking have all become mainstream due to social media, making way for a whole host of brand new products and different focuses for brands.
These techniques may not be completely new - believe it or not, the Kardashians didn't invent contouring - but they have become more accessible and have been catapulted into the realm of everyday beauty. While contouring would once have required a bag of specialist products, the girl next door can now achieve the look with a simple palette bought on the high street.
While many images shown on Instagram are created specifically for the site and are too extreme for real life, they fuel trends that beauty brands should be ready to jump on.
Brands can also create their own trends that reflect key products or new releases, with things like competitions and well-chosen hashtags not only driving engagement but also ensuring that a technique, shade or product type starts trending. This can result in a viral beauty campaign that helps to drive followers and purchases.
While Instagram is a key part of a beauty brand's marketing strategy, it is by no means the only area that should be focused on.
The best way to ensure success on the image sharing platform for your brand is to create a cohesive social strategy. This should include all key forms of social media - Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube etc - with each platform supporting the others, as well as the brand's website and blog.
Just be sure that Instagram gets the attention it deserves or your brand could miss out on a whole host of benefits.