From Baby Yoda to VSCO Girls, social media culture and content was full of new memes in 2019. But social usage behavior and consumers expectations from brands remained relatively the same from previous years: consumers expect brand transparency from the causes they support to the content they create; consumers expect more experiences online from shopping to augmented reality. These usage behaviors reflect the values and lives of a growing influential target, Gen Z. With Gen Z expected to make up 40% of consumers in 2020, it’s important that marketers revisit the themes of 2019 and set strong social resolutions for 2020.
Call for Transparency Grows to New Heights
“Authenticity” has been a buzz word and the top goal for social presence and platforms for years. Demand for transparency in social media reached an all-time peak in 2019, holding everyone (people, brands, platforms) accountable for their own power of influence. Social users gravitated toward new platforms that let them be themselves, platforms made significant changes, and consumers were quick to call out brands that don’t reflect their values.
- TikTok Reaches Banner: Gen Z flocked to TikTok this year with terms like VSCO Girl and content like Lil Naz X’s Old Town Road dominating 2019’s Google search terms. TikTok experienced strong growth in 2019, with over 1.5 billion downloads. While platforms like Instagram have Feeds focused on filters and who you follow, Gen Z comes to TikTok en masse to join a community of creators focused on content creation vs. perfection. Users are drawn to the positive community and open space to be themselves, from sharing in nerdy jokes and to trying and creating new dance moves. The ease of creating video content and the personalized For You page that serves up never-ending content based on what you’ve watched vs. who you follow keeps users coming back and creating.
- Instagram and Twitter rethink their impact: Instagram tested the removal of likes counters (its public-facing social currency), banned appearance-altering “plastic surgery” filters, and cracked down on undisclosed influencer ads to help mitigate the platform’s impact on misleading users, fueling insecurity, perpetual FOMO, and even mental illness. Twitter continues improving its ability to remove abusive content, taking responsibility for the power the platform has had historically in election-related chatter and cyber bullying, even removing political ads altogether. Facebook, on the other hand, has received scores of scrutiny for not taking control or recognizing the scope of their political influence.
- Rise of “Cancel Culture”: Consumers are proudly and publicly boycotting brands they feel are being inauthentic, intentionally manipulative, or brands that conflict with consumers’ interests (aptly named “cancel culture”). For instance, celebrity-promoted diet products were ‘cancelled’ for false claims, Chick-fila-A was ‘cancelled’ for donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations, and Equinox was ‘cancelled’ for its primary investor’s fundraiser to support President Trump. Additionally, brands supporting popular causes are under scrutiny if they aren’t able to back up their support. Social media is quick to point out brands for “Rainbow Washing” during Pride Month or “Green Washing” with minimal environmental efforts.
2020 Resolutions: In an era where the power of influence is growing and we’re all held to a higher standard of responsibility, transparency, and authenticity, what’s a brand to do?
- #1: Leave perfection in 2019: Consumers aren’t just chasing transparency in corporate actions. They’re past the dated look of perfectly photoshopped everything. Take a note from TikTok’s “come as you are” community and reflect reality and diversity in who is representing your brand. Brands like Aerie have leaned away from perfection to speak to their Gen Z audiences.
- #2: Ensure all supported causes are fully backed: With cancel culture on the rise, it’s more important than ever for brands to ensure that they are joining social causes for the right reasons and have the track record to back up their good intentions. Explore all social angles and assess if your brand has an authentic connection to the cause in all facets of the business.
Social Commerce Is Table Stakes
In years past, we’ve noted the emergence of shoppability within the social space. We’ve highlighted how platforms like Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram have added more commerce tools to their repertoire. But this year, things shifted, not necessarily because of the new bells and whistles that platforms are rolling out (though there are many to note), but because of how ubiquitous Social Commerce has become.
- Commerce updates everywhere: While Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have had shoppability for some time (and Snapchat more recently), YouTube and TikTok joined the platforms with shoppable capabilities in 2019. This proliferation of shoppability across social channels only further enforces the idea that shopping has become a key part of the social experience.
- It’s all the more important with Gen Z: While Millennials dabble in social commerce, Gen Z lives it. The increasingly important generation, who will account for 40% of all U.S. consumers next year, are drawn to shoppable media. In fact, more than half of Gen Z use shoppable posts across Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube for purchases and more than 60% of Gen Zers and younger Millennials said they “wish everything in life had a link to purchase it.”
2020 Resolutions: With Social Commerce making its way into the mainstream, brand marketers must take key steps to get their brands up-to-speed:
- #1: Ensure shoppability is a part of your strategy: Consider what channels to integrate commerce into, what organic and paid commerce tools you plan to leverage, which posts you want to tag with Shopping Tags, etc. Add a new “Commerce Needs” section to your brief, addressing how you plan to drive commerce, where you will drive to, what CTAs or visual cues you will integrate, and how you plan to measure success in commerce.
- #2: Explore new ways to leverage commerce, like Drops: The “Drop model,” which leverages scarcity (perceived or actual) to drive immediate action from consumers, has been an effective commerce tactic for years. With “Social Drops” becoming more popular and successful, consider how you could “drop” a new product within your social pages and/or in collaboration with influencers.
Augmented Reality at Scale
Social augmented reality has been on the rise for the last 5 years, but it is really primed to hit its stride in 2020. AR has rolled out across Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest and has taken many forms including, Face Lens, World Lens, Shoppable Lens, etc. Until now, AR social marketing was reserved for brands with large production budgets. However, going into a new decade, AR is becoming more viable for brands due to 3 key factors:
- More AR accessibility: With the rollout of Facebook’s Spark AR platform and the Snapchat Lens Studio, anyone can create augmented reality filters and effects for Instagram Stories, Facebook Camera Suite, and Snapchat. Previously, creators and brands needed to work closely with the social platform and be approved for their effects to go live, but this year the approval process was lifted allowing any filter or effect created using Spark AR or Lens Studio to be published and shared.
- Improved utility: Beyond the impressions associated with a media buy and the time spent by users playing with an effect, it was unclear to marketers how AR could move the needle in terms of business results. This year, we saw brands adapt AR to make the experience more closely tied to objectives:
- Driving Conversion: Instead of visiting a store in person, you can be immersed in the typical shopping experience and make a purchase directly on Snapchat. For example, Kohls brought its NYC holiday windows and pop-up experience to Snapchat, giving users an opportunity to explore the experience, take selfies with celebrity designers and, of course, shop their favorites via embedded links to the Kohl’s website.
- Driving Consideration: Encouraging users to ‘try-on’ products using AR has been a natural extension of the social commerce opportunities available within the native Stories format (Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook). As an extension of that experience, Instagram rolled out a new in-feed ad product (with Beta partners Rayban and Nars) that combines social storytelling and conversion all within one post.
- Driving Advocacy: Providing users with something tangible and personalized to share on their social channels has streamlined fan advocacy significantly. Marketers are physically equipping consumers with the tools to drive awareness and advocacy around the brand or product via AR. Possibly the most iconic example of this in 2019, was WWE’s activation to promote Friday Night Smackdown’s debut on FOX Sports. The network invested in 7 AR Instagram lenses that put fans in the action and allowed them to recreate favorite WWE moments.
2020 Resolutions: With AR’s increased accessibility and utility, brand marketers should start thinking about its role within a brand’s larger social strategy to drive business objectives in 2020.
- #1: Look to Story behavior as inspiration: The rise of AR and Stories have parallel pathed and are correlated. As the Story format continues to grow and change user social behavior, make the effort to understand how your audience is using the Story format and use that insight to inspire impactful AR experiences.
- #2: Keep your product or brand’s utility at the core of the experience: In order for AR to work and drive impact, users need to feel a comparable value exchange. If you are a cosmetics brand, focus on how AR can help your customers find just the right shade. If you are an entertainment brand, focus on how AR can improve the viewing experience.
- #3: Scale in-person experiences: In a time when experiences are valued more than material goods, AR is a way we can continue to expand the scale of in-person, branded experiences. Just as Kohls brought their Holiday window display and pop-up experience to millions more than those simply passing by in NYC via AR.
What’s to Come?
No matter what new social conversation 2020 brings us, we expect these social usage behaviors to continue to mature and evolve. Consumers continue to look to brands for transparency and to reflect their digital lives. It will remain essential for brands to build their strategies around these consumer habits while keeping their fingers on the pulse of their business’ unique social DNA – understanding what consumers value inside and outside of their brand.
Contributors: Ari Berkowitz, Senior Social Strategist; Stephanie Caruso, Social Strategist; Marie Goldstein, Senior Social Strategist; Amy Donnelly, Associate Director, Social; Eden Lipke, Senior Social Strategist; Alberto Moralez,Social Media Manager; Kathryn Saulitis, Social Strategist