As the COVID pandemic continues to shift how the world works and connects, beauty companies have sought out alternative and creative ways to engage their stay-at-home communities. Elaborate influencer activations at lush hotels and private islands have been replaced by virtual house parties, cocktail hours, and workout sessions on two primary platforms, Instagram Live and Zoom.  Instagram Live usage jumped up 70% this spring in response to the “new normal”, while Zoom’s active monthly user count surged 4700% year-over-year in their fiscal second quarter to 148.4 million.

With positive infection rates spiking across the U.S. and Europe, and lockdowns looming—New York City Public Schools closed again November 19—Instagram is still betting big on the essentiality of virtual for the foreseeable future. In late October they rolled out expanded capabilities to their Live feature, which allows creators and companies to livestream for up to four hours (up from one hour), and to archive their streams for up to 30 days before downloading or saving them to IGTV. Livestreams used to disappear after they ended.

Here, Beauty News spoke with Carly Brand, Senior Copywriter & Campaign Manager, Frank Body; Lani Kuramoto, VP of Marketing for IPSY, and a spokesperson from Huda Beauty to weigh in on whether Instagram’s beefier Live feature is comparable to Zoom.

CEW Beauty News: Does each platform serve its own unique purpose in your marketing and/or brand-building strategies?

Carly Brand: We see a primary feature of Instagram Live is the ability for interaction with customers and to respond to questions in real time. It’s also a great platform to use for live interviews and direct audience engagement. Zoom is a place best used for private events, but it can also exist as a channel for customer interaction. The Frank Body Customer Service team has hosted Zoom sessions with our Hotel Pink loyalty program members [a customer rewards program] offering a more private forum for feedback and conversations. So, Zoom can be used for both.

Huda Beauty: The role of Instagram Live has definitely evolved since COVID started. Initially, everyone jumped to Instagram Live because it felt like the most direct and interactive platform for people to use to connect with their audiences immediately – which was true. Within weeks, however, so many brands and people started doing Instagram Lives that it became saturated and hard for people to know who was doing a live, where and when – and ultimately, we had to take a step back and ask, ‘what is our purpose?’ In terms of a strategy, we now feel that IG Live is better suited to make large-scale announcements made to consumers and beyond. In these cases, we’ll also save the live video down and post it to IGTV so those that missed the live are still privy to the information shared. As for Zoom or Microsoft Teams, we now use these platforms as a way to connect with people in a more controlled and private environment. We can typically count on those that we’ve invited to join us for these calls as there is accountability, simply because of the formality of the platform.

Lani Kuramoto: We have a very dynamic multi-channel strategy, and we really lean into the native features and audiences of each platform. Pre-COVID, we had a robust experiential series which brought together our community and enabled us to reach them in a very intimate way. Given the constraints of the pandemic, we quickly pivoted our plans in Spring, turning to Instagram Live as a platform to connect with our community and to deliver delight in a totally different way. While it certainly doesn’t replace the in-person experience, it gives us the ability to reach a much bigger audience across multiple time zones. In April, we hosted our first virtual IPSY Live, a weeklong activation with daily tentpole Instagram Lives, including our first Make-Off, a double live makeup battle between Iggy Azalea and Nikita Dragun, as well as live performance by Doja Cat. Since then, we’ve hosted various lives—from our #IPSYPride event hosted by Indya Moore to our more recent Halloween Full Moon Party with content creator Chrisspy. We also leverage Instagram Live to connect with our community and walk-them through our commerce offers and deals. It enables us to showcase products that might require a bit more education, to build excitement around our offers, and answer questions in real time.

Zoom is a platform that we primarily use for B2B panels and events. We love that it enables us to host events with multiple panelists at the same time and provides great moderation tools so we can elicit participation while managing the flow of communication for our panelists. Since so many of our brand and business partners are already on Zoom day in and day out, it’s so seamless for them to RSVP and attend, with so little user adoption required. Just a few weeks ago we hosted our 2nd virtual IPSY Assembly, this time celebrating Latinx Voices in Beauty, moderated by Shan Berries, TV & Radio Host & Founder of Shades by Shan Cosmetics, with industry thought leaders such as Rea Ann Silva, founder & CEO of beautyblender, Angel Merino, Founder & CEO of Artist Couture, and celeb hairstylist Jesus Hair.

CEW Beauty News: Instagram recently announced that the time limit for lives has extended from one hour to four hours, with the ability to archive. Will this make any difference in the way you utilize lives going forward?

CB: The extension of the time limit allows for IG Lives to document longer events and let people experience them who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.

HB: Based on audience and user experience, our strategy for using IG Live would more or less remain the same, regardless of this new announcement. Our decision to use Zoom vs. IG Live is normally not about the time allowed but more so about the audience, the control and the outcome.

LK: We’re really thrilled about this feature. I can’t tell you how many planning meetings we’ve had where we’ve had to figure out the best ways to create a ‘break’ in-between content segments on Instagram Live because there’s probable audience attrition every time we have to stop and restart. The extended time will allow us to hold more robust activations with minimal disruption, and we’re excited for the possibilities it brings.

CEW Beauty News: Which platform offers better networking capabilities and/or data tracking?

CB: Both platforms offer data tracking and networking capabilities, however, Instagram is the tool we would use more frequently for both.

HB: Zoom is definitely a better platform for networking. You can have direct conversation with any one person during the event, whether it’s via chat or the face-to-face video. Both have data tracking capabilities, but IG is more important to the process, as you’re typically casting a wider net and talking to a broader, less controlled audience where anyone can join. With zoom, for example, you know who you’ve invited or who has received your invite as the process is much more controlled and it’s easier to track the return.

LK: Zoom and IG Live are so different it’s very difficult to compare them using the same lens. They cater to different audiences and play different roles in our social ecosystem. Since Instagram is such a priority platform for us as a whole, IG Live gives us great reach and engagement with our broader community and saving it to IGTV provides such tremendous value. With our Zoom events, we’ve been using a platform called Zkipster that enables us to track attendance, capture high level data, and survey our attendees for feedback that helps us optimize and improve the experience for future events.