Few brands are capitalizing on fan photos better than Z Gallerie. The company positions itself as a “fashion brand for the home” and has used visual content — especially from customers and influencers — to drive serious social engagement. The strategy has helped the Gardena, Calif. company generate 693,000 Instagram followers, 17,000 Twitter followers and 258,000 Facebook likes.

Behind it all is Content Marketing Manager Loren Mattia, who says editorial content is playing a much bigger role in the brand’s marketing strategy — especially imagery from influencers, fans and even customers and associates in retail stores.

At a Curalate Fireside Chat in San Francisco, I sat down with Loren for a wide-ranging discussion on storytelling across social channels, the company’s strategy on user-generated content and best practices for influencer marketing.

ZGallerie new

ZGallerie rockin it on Facebook

Tell us about the benefits of using a wide variety of editorial imagery — not just fan photos — on social media?

Mattia: Influencer content shows our customers how to aspire to use our products in more chic ways. Owned content is purely aspirational where we showcase ourselves as an authority in the design space. User-generated content works for us because it shows real-life customers how other real-life customers are using our products. It’s all about diversifying as much as you can — and not depending on one type too much.

Using UGC makes us more multifaceted. There are only so many stories you can tell about yourself showcasing your product in the best light possible with studio photography and photoshop. A customer might see our glossy, editorial shoots and say: “I don’t know even how to start creating this in my home.” But if they see a photo from a normal person from Ohio that just bought a sofa and is really proud of it, it showcases to normal people that we can service every type of customer.

Other than an increase in conversions, how is the shift towards editorial content driving value for the business?

Whenever we post anything related to bedroom in general, our fans just go crazy. There’s a few reasons behind it. Our bedroom furniture is distinctive and very glamorous. For our younger fans who don’t have a whole house to decorate, their bedroom is the only space they can call their own. When I realized that trend, we produced a bedroom guide that’s all about how to create a designer bedroom in your home. All the layers of design were there — from the bedding to the nice cushy bench at the end of your bed. It ended up being one of our best emails of the year.

We also had a series called Z Gallerie Moment where, once a week, we’d post a customer photo of people using our products in their homes. The campaign was just killing it, above any other content we would produce. I thought let’s do this more with different UGC syndicated series, and as we started posting more photos, we got more submissions. Before it was struggle city to find one good photo to post per week. When you start showing your customers more UGC, they start submitting more and everybody wins in the end.

Z Gallerie Moment

Samples of #ZGallerieMoment on Instagram.

Have you done things with the larger marketing team to educate fans regarding how to share content?

In every shipment we send to customers, there’s a call-to-action on the box encouraging you to share your recent purchase with Z Gallerie Moment on social channels. We also run contests pretty often. A couple holidays ago, we were hungry for holiday content so we worked with Curalate to have a contest encouraging customers to show off their holiday decor. It was a winner.

How are you using the in-store experience to drive social engagement?

All stores are equipped with iPads. A store associate shows a customer a gallery showing how other customers are using their products in their homes and that you can shop all the products in there. In store, it’s a selling tool. All our photography is photoshopped and based in a studio. With user-generated content, it’s exactly what it looks like in a real-life setting. The next step is trying to get UGC in our catalogs, which is a huge channel for us showcasing how our customers are using our products in a print medium. Bringing the content from our Instagram community to this more old school medium would be great.

What is Z Gallerie’s strategy with influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is pretty big for us. We’re still figuring out how to find the right people to partner with. At the end of the day, they are extensions of your brand and you have to be pretty wise with who you partner with. As a fashion brand in the home space, we try to align ourselves with players in both fashion and home, we even dabbled in beauty. We try to think about what our customers are interested in outside of us, then tap into that and align with those people. It created a waterfall effect. Once we started partnering with certain influencers, others started coming to us and saying “I want in.”

Make sure you stalk their profiles. Make sure they’re not talking about every other brand under the sun because that doesn’t feel special. Do the influencers actually care about the brands they talk about? Or are they just doing it for money? Customers are smart, especially millennials. They’ll see through that right away.

Tell us about some specific partnerships with influencers.

We launched our Small Spaces Collection last summer. We decided to partner with an influencer who is based in New York — the center of small-space living. We totally revamped her whole apartment. It showcased the collection through the lens of a real-life person in a small-space situation. We featured it in an email marketing campaign and it was one of our most opened emails of the whole month and generated a ton of revenue. We had a whole webpage experience we could track on Google Analytics and learn how much revenue the page generated. Then we amped it out on social advertising.

Makeovers have also worked well for us. People like to see the transition of before and after. Through social, we’ve been working to post teaser photos saying “stop by next week to see the whole transformation.” Then we’ll use Curalate’s product to drive to our website where the whole story is, to show the before and after photos and let people read about the influencer.

How do you make sure there aren’t any pitfalls in your influencer campaigns?

Be really clear about what everyone’s responsibility is in terms of deliverables and expectations. Both the brand and the influencer have different needs. It’s important to make sure that everyone knows what the deal is. We make sure to have phone calls with them aligning them into the vision of the project, making them feel personally invested in it. It’s worked pretty well. We haven’t had too many hiccups in terms of somebody not delivering on something we expected.

Curalate also held a Fireside Chat in Los Angeles with Bryan Elliott, the Digital Marketing Director, and Kelechi Kalu, the Social Media and Digital Brand Manager for Lucky Brand — and a Fireside Chat in Chicago with Lauren Hise, Social Media Manager at Crate and Barrel and Kim and Scott Vargo, creators of the Yellow Brick Home blog.