Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, founders and co-CEOs of skin care company Glow Recipe, prioritized social media from the first moments of their products' launch in 2017. Their goal for the company, which they started in 2014, was an ambitious one: making skin care fun. Having to meet such a difficult challenge, however, was what helped them to build a strong brand, they say. Their recipe of playful messaging on social media, bright colors in their products and packaging, and fruit-based products like the Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer and Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, naturally attracted Gen-Z (aged nine to 24) consumers. 

Glow Recipe, which sells through its own website as well as in Sephora stores, had more than $100 million in 2021 revenue. Lee and Chang, both 40, have built the New York City-based company's Instagram following to more than a million, and over 30 percent of its social followers are 18- to 24-year-old females. Here are the founders' tips for how you can build an audience of young customers too. 

1. Share openly and often

Finding an effective technique for generating high engagement from customers can seem like a mystery. Transparency and frequent interaction are a start, but Lee and Chang go beyond that by directly asking their customers for suggestions on social media before developing a new product.

"Christine and I used to respond to every single comment directly, even when we had fewer than 50 followers," Lee says. The two continue to respond to customer messages five years later. Building a community, she adds, "actually means you're taking them on a journey and involving them in your decision-making process." 

Communicating company values is another way to build trust with a Gen-Z audience. Chang and Lee say they prioritize sustainability, natural beauty, and diversity, and show their customers specifically how they're putting those values into action by, for example, committing to never retouching social media photos, hiring diverse models, and adding a sustainability page to their website. "What Gen-Z wants is a clear stance. They want to know whom they're buying from and what you believe in," says Chang. 

Carlos Gil, author of The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and A.I., adds that consistency in messaging is also key. "Don't just do something one time, but really live it and believe in it," he says. Chang and Lee have followed this approach. For example, as part of their commitment not to use aspirational skin care terms such as "ageless" or "poreless," they made a statement about their position on the company blog, did an internal audit of the language they use on their website and social media accounts, and continue to educate their customers on why the terms are unrealistic and shouldn't be used. 

2. Create "scroll stopping" social content

Users rarely stop scrolling to pay attention to any given post on Instagram or video on TikTok, particularly if it looks self-promotional. "People react to what looks good, and they're reacting in a split second," says Gil. "If content is perceived to be an ad, [consumers are] going to continue to swipe."

That short window is why it's essential, according to Chang and Lee, to create content that's "scroll stopping," or captivating enough to immediately grab a consumer. Glow Recipe does so by being detail-oriented: In addition to carefully designing packaging that's colorful and that matches the fruit contained in the product, the company tests whether the products' textures will look appealing in social posts. It also designs products to look good in a variety of lighting so that customers will be more likely to post photos of them from their own shelves. "The way [customers] are first attracted to the brand is because of what they see visually," says Lee. "So social media plays a huge part of our product development."

3. Build long-term relationships with influencers

According to McKinsey, social media informs the purchasing decisions of Gen-Z more than any other age group--but those young consumers won't buy from an influencer if their posts feel inauthentic. Brand relationships with influencers have greater effect, Gil says, when they're more than just a one-off collaboration. "I'm more of a fan of developing relationships with ambassadors," he says. "Someone who's going to embody your brand throughout the course of the year versus one time."

Chang and Lee credit much of their products' popularity to such long-term arrangements. After two TikTok influencers, known as Mikayla and Glamzilla, helped make the company's Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops a success, the company partnered with them on several other campaigns. As a result, the dew drops have become the company's top new customer acquisition tool, with more than 70 percent of the customers who purchase the product from the company website being new to the brand. 

"We were able to continue that momentum by constantly having a dialogue or brainstorming new ideas with [the two influencers], giving them previews of new launches before anybody else, and again, deepening the relationship," says Lee. "I think that really went a long way."