We chatted with beauty professionals who are slaying the social media game about the benefits of Instagram vs. TikTok, and how they use each platform to attract new clients, bolster their bottom line, build a portfolio, get noticed by brands and more!
While some people use social media to connect with friends, post selfies or simply to follow the lives of their favourite celebrities, it can also be an extremely powerful tool in the salon industry. Along with sharing work, asking questions, finding clients, booking appointments, working with brands and exchanging formulas, social media is also incredibly useful for building and growing business!
“When I first got into the hair world, I told my boss at the time that we should create an Instagram account for our salon and business. He said we didn’t need to because we were fully booked,” says Max Gourgues, a Montreal-based salon owner and Redken educator and ambassador.
“I ended up leaving the salon and three months later, they closed. Social media helps you push your career even further and stay on top of your game, and I often wonder if the salon would have closed had he listened to me about Instagram.”
Starting from the Bottom
While a quick glance at these four Canadian beauty professionals’ profiles and their growing followings will have you assuming they are digital pros (which they now are!), these social media-savvy hairstylists weren’t always as connected. From posts going viral to teaching themselves how to navigate different apps, they joined the social media bandwagon at the right time, were able to organically grow large followings on their respective platforms and have utilized it to launch their careers.
“When I first started doing hair, I would take before-and-after pictures of my friends, photos of them processing, and photos of me applying product and put them on Instagram. I was documenting everything—every transformation that I could,” says Gourgues, who currently has more than 86,000 followers on Instagram. “After a few months of posting all my work, my Instagram started to blow up. I even got a job off my Instagram profile alone—the salon owner who hired me saw my page and said I’d be the next big thing. When I started working there, they’d send clients to me when everyone else was busy and I would document everything about each of them. Six months later, I had to stop taking new clients. I became this viral sensation on Instagram, which made me so successful in my business. To this day, I’m still not taking new clients and it all started because I was diligently posting photos of my work.”
According to Elissa Wolfe, a Vancouver-based independent stylist and Oligo Professionnel artist, when she first started on Instagram years ago, she used the app more for reaching out and connecting with other stylists, but it quickly became clear that it could also be a place to connect with brands, attract new clients and so much more.
“Connecting with other hairstylists on the app is how I first gained followers,” says Wolfe, who currently has more than 28,000 followers. “I started following a lot of people in the industry and sharing formulas and techniques. I posted a few great photos that took off and ended up being shared on pages everywhere—the type of thing where you jump from 1,000 to 10,000 followers in a few days! Once my follower count grew, companies reached out wanting to work with me and clients started noticing, too.”
For Farhana Premji, owner of The Beige Label Salon in Calgary and a brand ambassador for Redken, the decision to join Instagram was a business one. She’d just gotten out of a relationship, but had no idea what her presence on the platform would lead to.
“I needed something to help shift my focus,” says Premji, who currently has more than 182,000 followers. “I was already fully booked as a stylist, and I knew the importance of consultations, retail and prebookings. I wanted to use [Instagram] to show my work to clients and share my knowledge on how lighting affects tone, the importance of home care after a salon visit, how to maintain colour, how to book appointments and more. It started as a tool to simply communicate with my clients, but after a few months I started seeing a shift in my schedule—more referrals, more specialized requests and more demand for my time. With that came big price increases.”
While there’s no doubt that hairstylists have found success on this platform—or that it continues to to be the social media platform of choice for many—for Katie Zaharik, owner of Bobby Hair Studio in Vancouver and member of Schwarzkopf Professional’s #SKPCANSquad, the path to a large social media presence was slightly different.
“It’s taken me years to get a few thousand followers on Instagram, but I was able to grow my clientele quickly on TikTok. In just one year, I went from 10,000 to over one million followers,” says Zaharik.“I started using Instagram seven years ago while I was still in hair and I really see the app as a portfolio for your work, while TikTok is more creative. My first TikTok video went viral during the summer of 2020. It was a blonde colour correction that hit a few million views and grew my following from 10,000 to 50,000.”
That said, she adds that going viral is not always a completely positive experience. “[For one of my posts] I did a strand test—something relatable to teens on TikTok but people weren’t happy that I cut the hair to do the test, even though the client asked me to,” she says. “All press is good press, though. The negativity would push some people off the platform but it’s usually the controversial people and posts that do the best. That video ended up getting 20 million views. Everything you post on TikTok that ends up going viral seems to have a bigger boom and higher numbers every time. It takes work to maintain, but the payoff is so worth it.”
PRO TIP: WHEN STARTING TO BUILD YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE, ZAHARIK SUGGESTS CHECKING PINTEREST FOR INSTAGRAM HOME PAGE AESTHETIC IDEAS AND/ OR FOLLOWING HAIRSTYLISTS WHO ARE DOING WELL AND FIGURE OUT WHY THEY’RE SUCCESSFUL. STUDY EVERYTHING FROM THE CONTENT THEY POST TO THE HASHTAGS THEY USE, AND USE IT ALL AS A GUIDE.
#Instagram vs. #TikTok
While some beauty professionals are well versed in both social media platforms and believe that a combination of each is beneficial for business growth, other stylists are more hesitant about juggling both.
“Although I love looking at TikTok videos, I’m not a creator,” says Gourgues. “For me, it’s all about Instagram and being on it as a hair professional is a must. People are looking for results—they’re looking for an experience. If a client is searching for a new stylist, they will look them up on Instagram to see their work. They can be the best stylist ever, but if they aren’t on Instagram and don’t have a social presence, they aren’t going to get that business. Even if a stylist has 200 followers, they need a place to showcase their work. Potential clients also want to know about you—will this stylist challenge me? Will they give me advice? What are their hours? It’s not about word of mouth anymore—it’s about Instagram. It’s about showing the client why they should choose you.”
While Gourgues understands the importance of having a social presence to attract new clients, Wolfe says she started on the app at a time when it was simply about photo sharing and feels lucky that her business has grown from it.
“FOLLOW WHAT THE CURRENT SOCIAL MEDIA TREND IS AND MAKE THAT RELATABLE TO OUR INDUSTRY, WHICH IN OUR CASE IS WHAT’S GOING ON IN OUR CHAIRS. THEN, TRY IT AND PUT IT OUT THERE TO SEE WHERE IT LANDS. IT MIGHT BE THE POST THAT KICKS OFF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA JOURNEY.” — KATIE ZAHARIK (@BOBBYHAIRSTUDIO), OWNER OF BOBBY HAIR STUDIO, VANCOUVER
“When I started on Instagram, no one was even using hashtags yet!” says Wolfe. “At a certain point, though, people started coming to the salon and telling me they saw my work on Instagram, and were asking me to recreate certain looks on them. That’s when I realized I needed to do this even more for business. Now, it’s where 90 per cent of my clientele come from. It’s an essential tool in our industry.”
“It helps stylists stay relevant—it’s a place to post your work and showcase the fact that you’re up to date with your skills and knowledge, that you’re using the latest products and testing out new techniques,” adds Premji. “It shows brands your expertise and professionalism, and helps you attract clients who are seeking a stylist they can trust to guide and help them achieve their hair goals. By tagging brands you’re using, it shows that you know how to represent them, you give credit and it demonstrates your skills with the products. It’s a one-of-a-kind marketing tool that helps beauty professionals in so many aspects of their business.”
As a user of both platforms, Zaharik knows her business wouldn’t look the way it does today without each app. “I like TikTok because you’re creating satisfying content for the public, but I think both are critical for stylists. An Instagram following is a bit more lucrative than TikTok because on TikTok, people don’t technically have to be interested in getting a service done to follow you,” she says. “Instagram should be a portfolio and place to direct message clients and book appointments, while TikTok is an outlet for showing the fun side of hair and transformation videos. I’ve gotten some of my Instagram followers from TikTok, which has turned into clientele. I even found and hired a stylist from TikTok! Stylists and salon owners should work on making their pages fluid that people who come from one to follow you on the other know what to expect. There’s no reason why stylists shouldn’t be using both to their advantage.”
Whether it’s Instagram or TikTok, the consensus among salon professionals is that social media in general is unmatched when it comes to elevating your craft and bolstering your business.
“Social media is honestly the best way to promote your business,” says Zaharik. “It can be daunting and it’s a vulnerable thing to expose your work and your brand, but it’s essential. People can be negative online, and I worry that might be stopping some hairstylists from getting into it, but it’s so beneficial to growing your audience. The number one thing I’d recommend to beauty professionals is to create an account, add your contact information and post everything you’re proud of. It’s not supposed to be easy; it takes work but it also pays off. It’s literally how my business was built!”
Wolfe agrees that social media is essential in our industry because of the reach it has. “Our bread and butter in this industry was built on word of mouth. With Instagram, it takes word of mouth and multiplies it by 10, 20 or 30—depending on the post,” she says. “Whether you’re an educator, making hair accessories or whatever business you’re trying to build, if you don’t have some sort of social media page to show for it, that’s just a huge miss.”
“Beauty professionals need to be on social media because it all comes down to being relevant and creating demand for your time so you can, in turn, become extremely successful and profitable doing what you love,” adds Premji. “Being on Instagram helps you attract your dream clientele that seeks you out for your unique skills and talents. It’s a tool to communicate with your existing and potential new clients, and is the best way to create a limitless personal brand and reputation.”
“MY INSTAGRAM FOLLOWING GREW ORGANICALLY WHEN I WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWER COUNT. INSTEAD, I WAS FOCUSING ON THE FEW THOUSAND FOLLOWERS I HAD AT THE TIME—RATHER THAN THE ONES I DIDN’T HAVE—AND WAS CREATING CONTENT THAT I KNEW WOULD RESONATE. MOST IMPORTANTLY, I WAS CREATING CONTENT I WAS PROUD OF AND CONFIDENT TO SHARE.” — FARHANA PREMJI (@XO.FARHANA.BALAYAGE), OWNER OF THE BEIGE LABEL SALON, CALGARY
The Power of Micro and Nano Influencers
While it used to be that companies would only work with major influencers, many professional beauty brands are starting to collaborate with micro (between 10,000 to 50,000 followers) and nano (fewer than 10,000 followers) influencers to reach new audiences while targeting their messaging to specific groups.
According to Gourgues, if a brand has recently launched a new product, working with micro and smaller-scale influencers is a good way to promote it.
“It’s a low-cost commitment for the brand, and the stylists are happy to receive the product for free,” he says. “It’s a win-win partnership.”
While Premji agrees that teaming up with micro and nano influencers is a great way to target audiences, she says it’s important for brands to be completely transparent about the process.
“I encourage brands to have everything clear and laid out in an agreement as these smaller accounts can sometimes say yes to similar brands or products that may be a conflict of interest,” she says. “Influencer marketing is getting stronger, but it’s important to make sure everyone’s on the same page!”