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After 22 years of experience, social media has helped Kristin Ess launch her own brand.


6 min read


In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.

Hairstylist Kristin Ess counts actresses and influencers including Lucy Hale, Lauren Conrad and Lili Reinhart and Jenna Dewan among her clients

But she doesn’t keep those celebrity looks just for her high-profile clientele. She shares them with everyone on her beauty tutorial website the Beauty Department and with her eponymous brand Kristin Ess Hair.

Between the Beauty Department and her personal Instagram, Ess has grown a community of 887,000 followers and counting. Her haircare products, including styling tools and a brand new line of salon-quality hair glosses, are available in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and Germany.

Read on for more insights from Ess about authenticity and quality over quantity when it comes to developing a social media presence.

How did you get your start on Instagram?

It was very trial and error. In 2010, I started noticing that people were interested in hair visuals. Whatever the finished product was, they were just very excited to see it. When I started using Instagram, there was not really any hair people for me to look at. Facebook was a lot of wording and Twitter then was just about quick fun one-liners, and Instagram for me was visual and creative and fun.

How do you leverage your account, and to what extent do you monetize it?

Early on I tried a couple of times doing sponsored things and it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel authentic. I felt like I was selling something. So I rarely did anything sponsored or monetized. But now, everybody always asks, “Where can I get this? Where can I get that?” I usually provide links. And now I have my own brand so I can direct them exactly where they can get whatever it is that I’m using and that’s how I do it now.

Related: Chriselle Lim Started Out as a Wardrobe Stylist. Now She Has More Than 3 Million Social Media Followers.

What’s your content strategy? How do you decide what and when to post?

Being transparent is so important. I’m at a place where I’m trying to do a lot and not be overwhelmed and so for me the number one thing is meaningful content. I don’t want to post just to post. It used to be for a good three years where a lot of times I would just post a hairstyle that I did with some emojis, just like an inspirational photo. That serves its own purpose for sure. But right now, the feedback that I get is they want education on each product.

What I try to do is incorporate a longer caption with more information and educate people on the brand or even on a hairstyle that has nothing to do with the brand. If people are going to take the time to read, that’s great. Some people won’t, but I want to just make sure that we’re spending our time the best way.

What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?

Be transparent about your process. We’ve gone through the part where everything is just all visual or all memes. People want to spend time in a way that is more meaningful. You’re just cruising Instagram so why not learn something. Whether it’s about someone’s process or whether it’s about a product or a hairstyle or whatever it is, being open and honest is the way to go at this point. As cliche as that might sound, that’s just where we’re at. You don’t have to put on a show about it, you can just be raw and real about your process.

What’s a misconception people have about Instagram?

That you have to post multiple times a day to build a following or be high up in the algorithm. It’s not necessarily true, because I know from my experience I can go on after five days of not being on there and see no difference in the engagement or appreciation of a post from if I would if there were three in one day. I would tell people don’t post just to post because there’s so much noise out there and we don’t want to contribute to that.

Read on for Ess’s five favorite Instagram posts

“Everybody wants to know what they’d look like with pink hair. This is just one of those nondescript pink hair photos that makes you wonder if you too can pull it off.”

“Do I have to even say why the cutest dog in the entire world is my third most popular post of all time? No, but honestly, I dedicate a solid amount of IG real estate to rescue dogs because they rank right up there with hair for me. #adoptdontshop”

“There’s a whole world of women who Lauren (and maybe her hair) resonates with and I’m lucky that she lets me document and share these looks.”

“I created these waves in four minutes and I shared my method. I couldn’t believe the response. People felt like this was something they could actually do and it was fun to watch.”

“This is one of my most popular posts of all time and while I was shocked at first, I shouldn’t be. Women look like me. I’m not skinny and that’s not a goal for me. I’m comfortable in my own skin and we love to see that in each other.”

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