Do it for the ‘Gram: How NYC wellness brands leverage social media 

Flatiron wellness studio WTHN has had success promoting its acupuncture treatments on social media. Photo Credit: Phoebe Cheong

Shops and spas like HigherDOSE, Clean Market, WTHN find a loyal customer base with vibrant Instagram feeds.

Flatiron wellness studio WTHN has had success promoting its acupuncture treatments on social media.
Flatiron wellness studio WTHN has had success promoting its acupuncture treatments on social media. Photo Credit: Joyce Lanxin Zhao

As I closed the glass door and adjusted to the soaring temperatures inside an infrared-lit, individually sized, wooden sauna on a recent visit to HigherDOSE, one of New York’s hottest (literally) wellness destinations, I felt an irresistible urge to take out my phone and snap a photo for my Instagram story. But why, on a freezing winter evening when I should have been savoring my half-hour of warmth, did I feel inclined to interrupt it with an Instagram?

In the age of data mining and targeted advertising, social media plays a major role in the success of any brand, especially those that tap into wellness trends.

While the 2000s had the Atkins Diet and Zumba, we have juice cleanses, acupuncture and meditation. This transition seemed to perfectly coincide with the advent of Instagram and Snapchat, and the growing power of health influencers. As a result, a long list of shops and spas offering cryotherapy, infrared saunas, activated charcoal and Sex Dust have popped up throughout the city and have amassed loyal followings with the help of social media.

After all, I learned about HigherDOSE in the first place through my feed, where countless models and influencers would post photos of themselves sweating out their toxins in fashionable purple and orange light, and I’d only booked the session after seeing a curiously timed advertisement for the spa on Instagram.

Top models have Instagrammed photos from inside the saunas at HigherDOSE locations.
Top models have Instagrammed photos from inside the saunas at HigherDOSE locations. Photo Credit: HigherDOSE / Katie Kaps

Built on Instagram’s back

Clean Market is one of those places. Opened last July, the midtown destination with almost 13,000 followers on Instagram serves as “a one-stop shop for everything wellness,” says founder Lily Kunin.

Fittingly sandwiched between SoulCycle and Equinox in what is surely becoming the "health district," Clean Market has every base of the wellness wave covered. Visitors can start with a session in one of the spa’s infrared saunas, then cool down with a subarctic cryofacial, and replenish with a vitamin-rich IV drip. They can then wander over to Clean Market’s tonic bar and choose from a menu of superfood smoothies and smoothie bowls (with the option to add CBD, grass-fed collagen and a number of other boosters), signature juices and power shots. Next, they can meander through shelves of the hottest beauty and health products around, recognizing blogger favorites like Beauty Chef’s skin-boosting powders, boxes of Moon Dust, Go Basic’s CBD edibles, and bath salts from Herbivore, all sold in the perfect, Instagrammable packaging.

Although photos are not explicitly encouraged, most customers can’t seem to avoid temptation when greeted with the store’s “Energy, Flow, Detox, Brain, Immunity, Beauty, Gut Health” neon sign, which appears all over its Instagram feed. “Social media is big for us,” says Kunin. “We love to share exclusive happenings, promotions and events at the store on Instagram, and it really provides for a digital representation of the brand if you haven’t had the chance to visit.”

A sign at Clean Market in midtown that reads 
A sign at Clean Market in midtown that reads “Energy, Flow, Detox, Brain, Immunity, Beauty, Gut Health” can be seen all over Instagram. Photo Credit: Annabelle Giletti

WTHN, a new destination for acupuncture, cupping and herbal treatments, has experienced similar success with social media. The Flatiron wellness studio, which opened its doors in November, has used its influence to demystify the common misconceptions about acupuncture. “Social media is a great platform to help educate consumers around the acupuncture experience, the benefits of acupuncture, and how they can incorporate it into their own routine,” says Michelle Larivee, who co-founded WTHN alongside Dr. Shari Auth. Like other brands in the field, the wellness spot uses the medium as much to hear from its customers as it does to attract them.

“Instagram and Facebook are amazing platforms to introduce WTHN to our growing community and to connect with our consumers and learn more about how WTHN is helping them heal,” says Larivee.

WTHN's co-founder, Michelle Larivee, says social media helps "educate consumers" about acupuncture.
WTHN’s co-founder, Michelle Larivee, says social media helps "educate consumers" about acupuncture. Photo Credit: Phoebe Cheong

Social successes

But perhaps no local wellness brand is a better example of social media success than HigherDOSE. Founders Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps, who were at the time working as a nutritionist and marketing whiz for Tough Mudder, respectively, noticed the cultural drive towards wellness early on.

“We’re living in an era that’s becoming more and more hyper-aware of what’s good and bad for us, physically and mentally,” says Kaps.

HigherDOSE opened its first studio in 2016, with the infrared sauna as its bread-and-butter service; however, in the last two years, it’s added cryofacials as an offering at its now 11 locations (nine in New York) and now sells an at-home infrared sauna blanket. “When relatability, accessibility and interest collide, we’ll try to make that service available — in our own way,” says Berlingeri.

HigherDOSE offers an infrared sauna at its nine New York studios.
HigherDOSE offers an infrared sauna at its nine New York studios. Photo Credit: HigherDOSE / Katie Kaps

Who can say whether it’s the colorful infrared lights, which in addition to their individual benefits, allow visitors to literally select their best lighting, or the “#GetHighNaturally” printed on every mirror, but since its launch not even two years ago, HigherDOSE has become an Instagram sensation. HigherDOSE boasts a following of more than 18,000, among which are the likes of Adriana Lima and Olivia Culpo, and there are seemingly countless posts attributed to the geotags of each location. Top models like Nina Agdal and Carolyn Murphy have Instagrammed photos from inside the sauna, and hundreds of other big names like Bella Hadid are fans, often including the studio in their snapchats and stories.

Dirty Lemon, which began in 2015 “as an antidote to then-popular but ultimately unsustainable juice cleanse,” has been a product of social media since its start. Although it has since added many other products to its lineup, the beverage company launched with just one drink, +charcoal, and sold it exclusively direct-to-consumer through SMS-based e-Commerce. Because of this minimalist sales approach, it was up to Dirty Lemon’s product and branding to recruit loyal fans.

“Dirty Lemon was designed to catch attention and stand out in a photograph,” a representative for the brand says of the recognizable bottles, which are striped or colored depending on the drink.

Dirty Lemon employs an e-commerce business model that allows it to produce and deliver one of its beverages, like the new +white rose flavor, within 30 days of its ideation.
Dirty Lemon employs an e-commerce business model that allows it to produce and deliver one of its beverages, like the new +white rose flavor, within 30 days of its ideation. Photo Credit: Dirty Lemon

The beverage company also minimized the innovation cycle of their products through its rapidly moving e-commerce model, which allows Dirty Lemon customers to consume one of its drinks just 30 days after its ideation. “We’re recognizing trends and ingredients that the modern consumer is interested in incorporating into their daily routine, putting them into a beverage, producing it within 30 days, and delivering across all 50 states in less than two days,” the representative says.

The brand boasts an Instagram following of 108,000, but as time goes on, Dirty Lemon’s relationship to the medium is changing. “When we launched in 2015, social media was the most important point of discovery for the brand,” Dirty Lemon says. “However, as the market becomes more and more cluttered, we’re finding that social media is driving less brand awareness than it once was, and we’re now focused on building community offline to drive customer acquisition and increase brand loyalty.” Despite the brand’s changing dynamic, though, Dirty Lemon drinks appear everywhere, including at HigherDOSE studios and at WTHN, and the eye-catching bottles continue to be at the center of Instagram posts from around the globe.

Gabby Shacknai