Use Instagram to build an eCommerce business

Hill House Home used organic Instagram growth to bootstrap their eCommerce product into an iconic brand.

Publish Date
Feb 22, 2022
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What does the company do?

Hill House Home is a digital-first lifestyle brand that brings beauty and joy to every day rituals. The company sells everything from bedding to fashion and baby/kids apparel.
The D2C lifestyle company (selling pillows, bedding, bath, napdress, etc.) is based in NYC, and started in 2016.

👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 Target Audiences

Mostly women over a wide age range.

📝 Briefly describe the growth project

When Hill House Home was founded, the company focused on bootstrapping the business (i.e. no fundraising). 2016 was a high point for fast growing D2C funded startups, especially in New York. These companies would focus their marketing efforts on paid social media to overwhelm the competition. Generally, their plans were to spend a few years in hyper growth with their funding, and work on profitability later. Hill House Home did the opposite, because they didn’t have funding. Instead, they were forced to focus on profitability from the start.
Nell and her team spent close to $0 on paid ads, and instead tried to get their product out through word of mouth. Now, the company has gone through several rounds of VC funding and those hyper growth stages. But Nell still thinks the only reason they were able to grow is with this organic method to sell on their own channels without wholesale.
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🚀 How does their organic social media generate growth?

Hill House Home has a product people want, and those people are hanging out on particular social media channels. It’s not rocket science! Nell and her team can create content people want to consume, and they figure this out by experimenting.
Nell has the advantage of loving social media personally. Not just that, but she is the perfect consumer of her own product, meaning her natural social media habits matched that of her audience. She would start posting on both her personal and company accounts with a different voice on each. Figuring out the correct tone on each was VERY important. In the beginning they bled into each other, now they are more separate.
She also realized she could use the platform algorithms to her advantage. Knowing the social media companies themselves had certain goals, she’d post favored content formats like Reels and shop features on Instagram. Similarly, Nell focused on social interactions that an automated bot couldn’t do. For example, she’d find the best florists in top cities and engage with them, as the audience overlaps.
Pinterest is a channel they use behind the scenes in their business, which makes it a great platform to use externally as well. From an engagement perspective, they simply put their content onto Pinterest. They know how they use it for business, others use it for their lives.
They created collaborative boards that allow the creative team to compile inspiration either for immediate projects or general brand inspiration to draw on later. They’re also starting to explore how they can interact with customers more on the platform.
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📮 What did they post on social?

They had early success posting product development stages on Instagram stories. These disappear, so are low risk to test. It helps them make decisions but also keeps the community engaged because they are giving feedback that’s put into action. They develop a connection to the products before they even launch.
Once they moved to other platforms, they were careful not to copy and paste content. Each content platform is different. People on TikTok, for example, spend lots of time stalking and looking to see what happens there. This is a big distinction from Instagram – the algorithm is almost working “for you”. Following people is also not the same on TikTok as it is on Instagram. On TikTok you go down an algorithmic rabbit hole. It’s less personal and more context is needed. Again, Nell experimented with her personal account on TikTok before launching the company account.
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📈 How has it gone so far for Hill House Home?

@hillhouse now has nearly 160k follower on Instagram alone, and they are now quickly growing on Pinterest and TikTok as well.
On Pinterest, they are already getting 3M+ monthly views.

😍 Why is organic social media a good growth channel?

💑 Build genuine relationships

Growing organically on social media requires authentic interactions and relationships with people. They get to know you, your brand and your products in an intimate and special way.

⭐️ Get product feedback

Great social media interactions will not only promote your product and brand, but will allow you to learn a ton of information about your audience and your products. You can save time and money by launching a product you know your community already loves.

❤️ Trust

People don’t inherently trust companies that pay money to push an ad in front of their face while they are browsing. But they do trust companies who have organically gained a large and engaged audience through their own product-based content.

🛣 Endless possibilities

There are an infinite number of possible campaigns and posts you can make on existing social media platforms, let alone the new platforms that always pop up. If something doesn’t work, keep trying. It’s free after all!

🤔 Downsides to using social media

⏰ Time Consuming

While free, making organic social media work takes a lot of time and effort. If you don’t enjoy social media outside of your product, you might find it too much of a struggle to stick with.

✅ Must have a good product

If you don’t have something people actually want, they will also not want your content about that thing. Start with a good product (no matter what growth channel you use!).

🏗 How to build your own social media channel

  1. Figure out what social media platforms your target market spends time on
      • Ideally, you also live there if you are your own market and you personally enjoy
  1. Pick one channel and focus all attention here for 3-4 months
      • TikTok or Instagram are good places to start for consumer eCommerce
  1. Follow accounts you can react to genuinely
      • Go Deep on their content. Interact with it frequently in ways that add value to it. Make their own social media person happy.
  1. Start with one post, test, try again.
      • It will take MONTHS to get right
  1. Keep up to date on social and platform trends
      • Don’t hop on a bandwagon, but pay attention to what features and formats the platform is prioritizing. Listen to your audience about what they are into (or against)
  1. If you don’t LOVE social media, find someone who does
      • This will be one of the most important hires, treat it as such
      • Doesn’t relate to age but talent, apply the same methodology to an executive hire.

💡 Advice for someone trying to build something similar?

Spend a large amount of your personal time on social media related to your company.
When engaging with different platforms, remember that they have a business to run too. Play into their current goals.
Find accounts with the same mission and values as your company. Engage and partner with them, as their audiences will overlap.
Your first launch is never good. You have to learn and let go of perfection. Not everything will win and some things will flop. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t live in a vacuum.
Be patient, social media growth takes time (especially in the early days). Treat patience and experimentation as your strategy.
Make sure your interactions are authentic. If it can be automated or done by a bot, don’t do it. Treat social media like a focus group.
Tailor your content to each platform, don’t copy it. It’s totally fine to say a platform is not for you.

To stay in touch with Nell and what she’d doing on social, you can follow her on Instagram