Building an engaged community with high quality content—with Alessandra Russo, Bombinate

How do you build an engaged community while also maintaining a highly aesthetic Instagram feed that reflects your values?

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Mayank Sehgal

Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Alessandra Russo, the head of content at Bombinate. She’s been there for a bit more than a year, and her work involves being in charge of social strategy, CRM, newsletter strategy, PR and landing page content—she clearly wears many hats.

Bombinate is a marketplace for conscious products, both furniture as well as menswear, although recently they’ve been selling more furniture than menswear. Since the pandemic, with everyone being at home, furniture and home decor has become their main focus.

Unquestioning excellence is one of their key beliefs—and it can be found in everything they do. It’s at the core of the companies they choose to work with—a shared enthusiasm for well-designed, well-crafted items that last.

They go by four pillars—craftsmanship, quality, story and impact.

And they make sure that any business they work with is aligned with Bombinate on these pillars of excellence. Bombinate exclusively works with companies that value processes and provenance as much as they do.

Made in workshops, not in sweatshops.

They apply the exact same values to the ambassadors and creators they work with as well, and they reflect these same values in all of the content that they put out.

Let’s find out how exactly!

What does your content strategy look like at the moment?

We’re completely focused on sharing our mission, and what makes us different, what our USP is.

We want to make sure that we’re balancing the expression of our practical USPs like free shipping and limited sales, and the emotional ones like our artisan values and aesthetics. We use content to share the entire package.

Where do you source most of your content from?

This is actually our main challenge in the content team, and it’s something we’ve overcome over time.

We don’t have any of our own studios, neither do we have an internal team that creates assets for us. We need to rely on the brands themselves to provide us with assets that we can use.

So, the first challenge is to go through the volume of assets that we have from the brands we work with—all of the visual content—and then scan through them to curate the ones that best tell a story when put next to each other.

If you go through our Instagram page or our newsletter, they’re quite similar in their look and feel, and that’s a success that our design team has been able to achieve.

We’ve been able to create a visual identity based on materials that we don’t produce.

Another way that we’ve overcome this challenge has been to create illustrations. We’re now exploring a new way of putting together different brands. We’re creating illustrations that feature more than one different brand, be in menswear or furniture.

How do you balance out the brand identities of Bombinate with the brands that you’re selling?

That’s another challenge. Our vetting process really helps a lot with this—since we only work with brands that we align with, they usually stand for something, and it comes out in the quality of the photos that they provide to us.

Sometimes visually, however, it’s not quite a match. In that case we use stock images and videos to enhance the images that have been provided to us. Other times, we use Instagram features like stickers to make a story out of the visuals we have at our disposal.

According to you, what is GOOD content on Instagram?

This is a great question, but one that is so difficult to answer because it changes all the time.

Partly, it is storytelling. When you tell a compelling story, when you try to show the passion that people put into creating their products, then it’s a winner. It’s always a great idea to bring forward a story.

Another thing is to not only bring your own passion to the content, but also engage people on the other side of the screen. Good content encourages engagement from customers and users.

Finally, finding the right balance between the story that you want to tell and the interest you want to generate—that’s kind of the perfect trick to creating great content on Instagram.

What does your online community look like at the moment?

At the moment it’s mainly Instagram. We do have other channels like Pinterest, Facebook and even LinkedIn, but the Instagram community is definitely the strongest.

Instagram is the perfect way for us to interact with our community and to answer questions, using posts, reels as well as stories.

Instagram is just one app, but there are actually so many channels within it. And so, we use it in different ways depending on the type of content that we’re creating.

The feed is like a window where we showcase our products, but we like to show our principles and give advice as well. For example, we create content like “how to take care of your furniture”.
Whereas on stories people interact more with us. We share more compelling stories like where a brand comes from, how long it took to create a garment, and we have people interact with us through story stickers like polls and Q&A, so we can gather their opinions and suggestions.
We also use reels where we create content that is aimed to be useful. We want our reels to not just be something entertaining, but also something that’s useful that they’ll come back to over time.

Essentially, they use the three different Instagram “channels” for three different community objectives. Posts are for branding content, stories are for engagement content, and Reels for entertaining/useful content.

When did you start building this community on Instagram?

The company was founded in 2017 and we started building Instagram soon after. But it was in 2020 that we really started building the community around our values.

I think brands should aim to start building a community around themselves and their values from day one. There’s no need to wait until you have a certain number of followers to start branding and introducing people towards you and your values.

Because that’s the power that you have on these types of channels—you want people to attract more people by sharing their values to their close friends and nearest community.

How did you build your community?

Instagram changes all the time, so the tricks that I used two years ago to start building the community are no longer relevant. But it’s a constant evolving strategy of actually understanding what Instagram will favour, and then using that instrument, that tool, to reach more people.

In the early days the trick was to be published on the explore page, today it’s reels. We want people to enjoy them, share them, save them, and have the algorithm serve that content to more people.

Do you think you have an engaged community?

At the moment, I think we could do better, to be quite frank. We do have an engaged community of people that DM us, tag us in their pictures, they want to share with us how they’re using their clothes or furniture, but I would aim to create an even more engaged community, one that really wants to be part of the mission.

I think at the moment we aren’t there yet.

How would you define an engaged community?

The dream for me would be to have customers, users, followers, all interact with each other. Answering questions, really seeing Bombinate as the platform where we spark conversations around the values that we stand for, rather than us prompting people to have a one-way conversation.

I would much rather have users come together and discuss what they think about the quality of craftsmanship and the state of e-commerce right now. That would be my goal and my dream.

Many brands are actually starting to do that now, where earlier brand communities were one-to-many. What’s more powerful now is many-to-many communities where you have customers talking to each other, sharing tips and advice, and actually Facebook Groups is a powerful platform for this.

We’ve actually written an article on this as well.

Do you work with ambassadors or influencers for Bombinate?

Yes we do. We ran a 3-month campaign recently. We work with a number of influencers on a content-based strategy. We give them the platform to express fully who they are and what they stand for.

Rather than doing a simple exchange of product where we send something and they shout out about it, we thought that we’d create something more valuable for both themselves, ourselves as well as our community.

So for instance, what we’ve done in the past is to interview creators and ask them how they renovated their house on a budget, or what were their tricks to get a little bit of nature in the darkest of the winter days, or what is the future of creators and the digital era with some of them.

We try to bring in people with more depth—so that we both benefit from the collaboration, and not just a monetary exchange.

Essentially, Bombinate uses creators not just as a way to get more awareness or distribution, but also a source for education and thought leadership.

Exactly. Because we do trust them. For content creators, it’s easy to think that they’re just people shooting photos and publishing them. But no—they’re actually experts in their field. The reason why they’ve got there is because they could communicate their values and what they stand for in a good way. So why not trust them?

We have the the platform, they have the audience and the skills. We’ll just share!

How do you find and choose these ambassadors to work for you? How do you determine a good fit or not?

It might surprise you, but we don’t look at the numbers first. That actually comes as the very last validation point.

First of all, we want to see people that share our values—what kind of house do they have? How do they shop? What kind of brands do they wear? We first check this.

Then we start having a conversation with them. We interact, comment on their feeds, exchange a few DMs, we see if we have a good feeling going. And only after that, we check their community to see whether it’s engaged, and then we ask them to be a part of our community and invite them to share content with us.

So it starts from the values and gets validated by the numbers, rather than the other way round.

What is a successful collaboration?

We did one in November and it was great, and it was with @thevenetianpantry. We actually interviewed her, we asked her a few things about her house, her renovation journey.

She also shared a recipe with us, of her favourite dish. We created content around it.

She also shared this with her channels, and she did a couple of different types of content—what she loved about Bombinate, about how our values aligned. It was a very meaningful collaboration.

When you establish a great connection with a creator, that really transfers onto their community as well, and it’s a win-win for everyone.

Wrapping Up

We definitely learnt a LOT from Alessandra about how Bombinate has been so selective, curated and intentional about their community-building process, and we hope you did as well!

What did you think of this issue? What are the ways you are building your communities online? Hit “reply” and let me know!