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Gen Z entrepreneurs grow with Instagram, TikTok, podcasts

From left, host Ashley Olafsen of Brookline, Sarah Perry of Boston, Megan Fantes of Boston, Jessica Lozano-Schmitt of Cambridge, and Abby Walsh of Quincy during a Holdette community gathering to help recent-grad female entrepreneurs leverage digital and social media to grow their businesses.
From left, host Ashley Olafsen of Brookline, Sarah Perry of Boston, Megan Fantes of Boston, Jessica Lozano-Schmitt of Cambridge, and Abby Walsh of Quincy during a Holdette community gathering to help recent-grad female entrepreneurs leverage digital and social media to grow their businesses.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Having grown up in the Internet age, it’s no surprise that many of today’s Generation Z entrepreneurs know all about using social media as a marketing tool. It’s a built-in savvy that gives them an advantage as they enter the business world.

Take Kaluwe Muntanga, for example. The 25-year-old Northeastern University graduate’s investment in Instagram proved vital to the burgeoning success of SocialCall, an app serving as a student marketplace and community forum for colleges across the country.

Muntanga was new to Boston in 2017 when he thought about building an app to help college students connect. But he knew he needed a solid marketing strategy first. When apps launch without a consumer base already eager for its release, Muntanga said, they tend to fizzle.

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“You can put posters around everywhere or you can hand out flyers, but I’ve seen other college students do that for their platforms and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “So I decided I was going to first start off with the Instagram pages.”

So in 2019, he began creating a lineup of “gigs” accounts on Instagram for Boston-area schools — such as @neu_gigs and @bu_gigs — where students posted offers and requests ranging from tutoring services to concert tickets for sale. The pages grew explosively, and soon he was creating accounts for schools far beyond Massachusetts.

SocialCall founder Kaluwe Muntanga leaning against a tree.
Kaluwe Muntanga created SocialCall, a student marketplace and community forum app, after running 15 Instagram pages to gauge and build interest.Courtesy of Kaluwe Muntanga

“I just looked up different pages that are associated with a school, and I just followed the students who follow those pages,” Muntanga said. “I looked at the content that was posted to those pages so I could get a rough idea of the culture at that school and tailor the posts that I had to the content that I thought those students would like.”

Keeping engagement up on about 15 Instagram accounts at a time soon became a full-time job. Aside from posting gigs, Muntanga regularly hosted student opinion surveys on the accounts’ Instagram stories.

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Their popularity yielded the results Muntanga had hoped for — so much so that he wasn’t quite prepared for it. When SocialCall launched in early March, it gained about 700 users within the first seven hours, causing the app to crash repeatedly.

But Muntanga, having taught himself how to code, figured out how to keep pace. Now, SocialCall has more than 7,000 downloads and averages 1,500 active users a week.

Users can buy or sell products and services, as well as post event notices and discuss college life in an anonymous forum. Muntanga said the app is not yet profitable, but he plans to design a revenue model once he fully solidifies what he wants SocialCall to be. So far, he’s poured $5,000 into the venture out-of-pocket.

Boston University graduate Sarah Greisdorf, 22, runs Holdette, a collective of community groups for women who recently graduated from college and want to meet others who are also fresh out of school. The groups meet in Boston, New York City, and San Francisco at the home of a host, or virtually over video chat, to talk about topics like building relationships and setting boundaries.

From left, Sarah Perry of Boston, Megan Fantes of Boston, and Jessica Lozano-Schmitt of Cambridge during a Holdette community gathering to help recent-grad female entrepreneurs leverage digital and social media to grow their businesses.
From left, Sarah Perry of Boston, Megan Fantes of Boston, and Jessica Lozano-Schmitt of Cambridge during a Holdette community gathering to help recent-grad female entrepreneurs leverage digital and social media to grow their businesses.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Holdette’s community — currently 88 women across five groups — is growing largely through word of mouth, Greisdorf said, and social media plays an integral role. Its account posts swipe-able infographics to reach new audiences. Two of its most-shared posts list activities for adult friends “that aren’t just drinking” and “self-date” ideas for those wanting to take themselves out for a fun day alone.

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“Instagram was familiar to me, so it was easy to jump into,” said Greisdorf, who runs the operation with one employee.

Greisdorf initially launched Holdette to ― as its name suggests ― serve as a solution to the lack of pockets in women’s apparel. She was about to release its first clothing line when the pandemic came. Thinking her would-be customer base — women like herself — probably felt isolated, the brand shifted its focus to meet their needs, and ultimately, at the end of 2020, reshaped its mission entirely.

“I decided that building this community that I had been for the last nine months was way more fruitful and also fulfilling for me and for our members than even the clothing line had become,” Greisdorf said. “So I decided to go all-in on this community.”

Members choose what they pay when joining a group. Holdette suggests $15 per month. Those contributions make up most of its revenue, according to Greisdorf, but the brand makes sales from its clothing line, too.

Holdette also keeps its target audience engaged through its blog, “Holdette-ing It All Together,” where readers can read about a variety of issues relatable to recent grads, from handling friendship breakups to confronting imposter syndrome.

At Viv for your V, a subscription service that sells biodegradable period care products to women, founder and Boston College graduate Katie Diasti has been using similar strategies. She and her team leverage trends they are already familiar with to produce marketing content that relates to others in their age range.

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“We’re all kind of like that Gen Z, young millennial age and so we are our own customer, which has been awesome,” 24-year-old Diasti said.

Aside from educating its followers on menstrual cycles through Instagram infographics, Viv has also built a community on TikTok. Diasti said although common tactics like humor help to increase audience engagement, Viv has found the most success through answering questions about such things as how to insert a tampon or menstrual cup.

Katie Diasti, founder of Viv for your V, sitting on a couch holding a box of Viv product.
Katie Diasti, founder of Viv for your V, leverages social media, a blog, and a podcast to create a community for her customers.Viv for your V

The brand also began curating a blog last year, which Diasti said helps Viv relate more to its community of customers by addressing common questions in-depth. While many of its posts are informational, she said, “some are more around like how to handle your period based on your zodiac sign. It’s just knowing our customer and what they’re actually fascinated by.”

Early this year, Viv waded into a new form of audience engagement: audio. Its “Voices by Viv” podcast discusses topics surrounding menstrual stigmas and body positivity.

Since 2020, the brand’s customer base has expanded nearly fivefold, Diasti said, and building a loyal community through social and digital media was crucial to its growth. Viv’s marketing didn’t rely just on showcasing aesthetically pleasing visuals, she said, but also on helping people learn about their bodies.

“The reason we named this Viv is because we wanted to personify the brand,” Diasti said. “We wanted there to be this older sister mentor, this badass person you look up to for all of our customers.”

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Angela Yang can be reached at angela.yang@globe.com.