Social Media Trends In Retail

Social media is constantly evolving. Something as little as removing the number of likes can make a big difference in the way users respond to a post. Just when marketers feel like they figured it out, a new platform, a new trend, or a tweak to the algorithm switches it all up again.

Today, we’re talking about some of the newest trends in the world of social media and how brands can respond. And welcome, Matt Wilson, SLD’s new digital communication specialist.


Announcer: This is “Think Retail,” a podcast where top designers, strategists, thought leaders, and business people discuss what’s coming next.

Melinda: Hi, I’m Melinda, and you’re listening to “Think Retail.” Social media is constantly evolving. Something as little as removing the number of likes can make a big difference in the way users respond to a post. Just when marketers feel like they figured it out, a new platform, a new trend, or a tweak to the algorithm switches it all up again. Today, we’re talking about some of the newest trends in the world of social media and how brands can respond. And welcome, Matt Wilson, SLD’s new digital communication specialist.

Matt: Hi, Melinda. Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited to be a part of this.

Melinda: Absolutely. Okay. So let’s start with the platform that everybody wants to talk about, and that’s TikTok. What are some of the emerging ways in which brands are finding success on TikTok?

Matt: So TikTok really is an anomaly in the social media world. Typically in the past, a lot of social media platforms that were extremely popular, such as Instagram and Facebook, even they in their prime time wouldn’t get the kind of engagement that TikTok has been getting. TikTok on average gets about 15% to 20% engagement per post, which is absolutely unheard of in the social media world. So this is a way that TikTok has really shaken up social media. And something that is really interesting about TikTok is their algorithm.

Algorithmically, TikTok is again an anomaly because of accounts that really have nothing to them. I can start an account tomorrow and if I have a video that meets all their criteria, I can blow up. So truly, TikTok’s algorithm is something special because smaller accounts can blow up. So essentially, what you’re looking at with TikTok is these smaller people that are blowing up with these huge videos that gets millions and millions of likes.

And what this really means for small businesses is that you don’t have to have a huge following in order to get in people’s faces. So there’s been a ton of different sounds on TikTok, of videos of TikTok of these smaller brands that end up selling out overnight just because they made a video the previous day and it becomes an internet sensation.

Another brand actually that did this really well, they weren’t a small brand by any means, but they did this really well was Duolingo. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with their videos, but they’ve populated the internet with a lot of owl content. And what they do really well is just relating with an abandonment of traditional marketing. They don’t sit there and tell you about their product for five minutes or for a minute. They just make it relatable. So their whole concept is having this owl figure, which is their brand ambassador, just do funny things.

Recently, they actually sent him or her, whoever is behind the mascot to New York to see Dua Lipa because it’s a brand meme that the owl is in love with Dua Lipa. So they actually sent them to New York to see this artist because that’s part of the meme. And it blew up. They consistently get millions and millions and millions of likes. So this is something that is just absolutely unheard of in social media, that things like this can succeed. And it’s really, really broken up the market.

Melinda: Yeah. And hearing that example, that’s such a fun example. I’ve never heard of that one. It’s really cute. And what I like about it is that it’s a brand really responding to the way that consumers are engaging. So you’re kind of giving a little bit of control over to the consumer and saying, “Hey, you guys think that the owl is in love with Dua Lipa. So we’re gonna go with that.” Instead of having your own agenda, allowing them to kind of participate in it is one of the things that I see sort of happening. And it seems to be really relevant to younger generations.

Matt: Absolutely. And Duolingo does this fantastically. I mean, their whole brand identity is kind of built again around the meme that this owl is kind of aggressive and that if you don’t do your Spanish lessons, it will hurt you. So it’s kind of built around this whole fan persona that they’ve created for this owl. And they run with it. They take it and they take it to another level, which is why they’re finding so much success.

Melinda: So how are other social platforms responding to this? I mean, we’re seeing information like, you know, TikTok has more hours of viewing than Netflix. How are other social media platforms responding?

Matt: If I could sum it up in one or two words, they’re scared. They’re very scared. And we’ve seen this in the way that companies like Meta have adjusted their algorithm. So traditionally, everyone that uses Instagram knows that it’s primarily a photo platform. It was built on that and it continued that way for a very long time. Photos, carousels, you name it. Recently with the development of TikTok and its assertion as a premier social brand, Instagram has completely changed their algorithm.

So, first of all, they’ve introduced reels, which is essentially a carbon copy of what TikTok does, short videos that have sounds attached to them that users can create and share. What’s interesting though is that they’ve actually algorithmically biased these reels to outperform photo content, which is traditionally what they’ve gone on. You have companies that are now completely changing what made them successful just to try and get back a little bit of that share from TikTok.

Facebook’s the same. They have a whole new video section on their app that they’re heavily promoting that I accidentally click when I go on Facebook. And now I endlessly scroll through these short videos because that’s that’s what’s becoming attractive to people is short content that they can view within 10 to 30 seconds that either makes them laugh, is informative. It’s all about that quick video fix that TikTok has introduced and now everyone is threatened.

Melinda: Yeah. So a platform that isn’t as hot as TikTok, but which many brands are starting to figure out how to use, is Discord. How does Discord work and how are brands finding ways to build buzz on this platform?

Matt: So Discord has seen quite a rise, especially since it was originally created in kind of a niche format for gamers. And that’s what they marketed it towards, but it’s become this huge thing. So for anyone that’s not familiar with Discord, it works as an artificial community allowing users to connect via voice chat, text chat, or however they choose. It’s organized around servers. So users can choose what they see and there is zero algorithm involved. Users have complete control over which discords they join. They’re not shown other discords they might be interested in. This is completely in the user’s hands, which I find really interesting.

And some brands actually that have utilized this are Chipotle and Jack in the Box, believe it or not, fast food chains. They have their own discords that they run through their marketing departments. And these are official discords, they’re branded, everything about them is run by their marketing department. And while the content isn’t put in front of people via algorithms, some people might consider this to be a disadvantage because it’s not getting in front of people’s eyes that normally wouldn’t be there, what you get is this community of super-engaged fans that want to see your content and they’ve made the choice to see your content.

This isn’t like a billboard where you’re forced to see it, and you may or may not interact with it later. These people are choosing to go to Chipotle’s Discord server and talk about the newest Chipotle bowl. These people are going into these servers and they’re engaged. They’re so engaged that they kind of shake up the way that communities are run. On social media, for example, with things like Instagram or even Facebook, you have pages and you have these top fans that Facebook has, which are essentially people that engage with your content a lot.

Imagine a whole community of top fans because that’s what Discord is. And it’s almost interesting to see these brands adapt these communities to give them exclusive deals to recognize these fans for what they are, champions of your brand. And they reward them with sometimes digital swag or live events on Discord that can give back to their community of fans. Even, for example, Adobe. Adobe has an official Discord, but they also have a bunch of fan-made discords that let people help each other out.

Adobe programs like Photoshop, Premiere Pro, these are all notoriously hard to learn. These take a while. These aren’t something you can pick up in a day. So they have these community of super-engaged fans that interact with each other and can help each other out including some expert advice from the official Adobe people.

Melinda: Yeah, I think Discord is really interesting. It reminds me…it’s kind of like a much better version of what a Facebook private group is in that, you know, I’m not wading through tons and tons of other content. I can just go and see what’s there. And because you’re opting in, it feels more…it’s highly relevant. Whatever’s there is highly relevant. If I’ve chosen to be part of this group, it’s highly relevant. And I think it’s really interesting to see how these two really opposite types of social media are really gaining a lot of currency with brands for very different reasons.

So, as you mentioned, you know, Discord really rose up through the gaming community. But it’s really, you know, branched out way beyond that now. But within the gaming community, a lot of these users are really excited about new trends in the digital space, and one of them is NFTs. What is the connection between NFTs and social media?

Matt: So NFTs and social media have a very concrete connection between the two. So I would even argue that NFTs rose to fame almost entirely because of social media. Ten, or maybe not 10, but 5 years ago, I’d never heard the term NFTs and I’m sure many people did. Even two years ago, I had never heard of what an NFT was. I had no idea what it stood for. And part of the reason that I’m now educated on NFTs is because of social media, because it’s become such a part of these platforms.

And so with Twitter Trends reports for Canada for 2022, Twitter actually broke down how NFTs are being used on their space. And they have some really interesting data on what’s being talked about. Their entire second and third trends focused on digital communities and how NFTs and FinTech are shaping what their conversations are. And something really interesting actually was that NFTs have seen almost a 700% increase in Twitter mentions and 30 times more tweets about NFTs than work from home.

Melinda: Wow.

Matt: Which is actually insane for a period that was dominated by the pandemic and working from home. And these are large numbers of people talking about these spaces. To me that’s mind-blowing that Twitter has this kind of data on NFTs that people are talking about it, that’s the bottom line. And a fantastic example of this…a concrete example of this rather, is the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which I’m not sure if you’re familiar with. But essentially what it was, was a collection of NFTs that promised real-world benefits, including like exclusive club access. All these different kinds of real-world benefits that you would have access to if you had one of these NFTs, which was essentially little cartoon apes that had different features, like some of them had like robot parts, some of them had hats. You get the picture.

And something that drove these price up actually was celebrity adoption, believe it or not. And some of their notable adopters were Jay-Z, Justin Bieber. And even there was a user who shared their DM of Kylie Jenner asking to buy their NFT for almost $500,000 because they wanted it that bad. And that is something that I couldn’t imagine waking up to a DM from Kylie Jenner asking to buy my NFT. That’s something that never happened before this.

And they would display this using their profile pictures. They would make it their Instagram profile picture, their Twitter profile picture. It almost became a status symbol over these past years that you owned aboard a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT, that you had this and that you were in line with the Jay-Z’s, the Justin Bieber’s. You were with them if you had something like this. So these all became something on social media that was a huge discussion over the last couple of years. And it’s really been driven by social media.

Melinda: Really interesting. So I’m gonna shift gears a little bit and talk about some of the trends that emerged during the pandemic and just sort of take, you know, a check on how those things are emerging or changing now that we’re moving into a new era. So one of those things is, you know, eCommerce and social media, and I’m really thinking about livestream shopping. We knew it was really big in China before the pandemic and it’s started to take off a little bit in North America. What is happening with livestream shopping?

Matt: So livestream shopping is a really interesting concept. And as you mentioned in your question, it’s already huge in Asia and it’s actually projected to be worth over $600 billion as an industry in 2023, which is insane considering that I’d almost never heard of it in North America until recently. So what livestream shopping does and why it’s so successful is that it blends the entertainment value of streaming with the convenience and excitement of online shopping.

And there’s actually a personal example I can bring into this because I unknowingly was actually following a livestream shopping account. And they were a little brand that what they did was they would post stories about these luxury deals that they had for those luxury brands. And they would talk about the price. They would showcase them on their stories. They would talk a little bit about them if they had some scuffing or whichever. I didn’t even know that was livestream shopping, but it actually is because accounts have dedicated themselves to talking about these products in a format that almost gets you engaged.

It’s almost like they’re talking to you one-on-one and having a little conversation with them. And it’s really, really engaging. And I find myself sometimes scrolling for 5 to 10 minutes at a time just looking at all these different deals like, “Oh, that’s a nice pair of shoes.” “Oh, that’s a nice pair of pants.” “Oh, this is really cool.” And I get to hear them talking about it. And it really is something that’s not only entertaining, but really convenient because all you have to do is click one link and it brings you right to that page that you can purchase it. So it really is driving that connection between consumer and product with having them almost as a middleman.

Melinda: Right. I really enjoyed, like during the pandemic, I noted a lot of small brands, like little indie brands really leapt on this, especially on Instagram, where it was, you know, like a story would be posted and then, you know, three hours later, the item would be sold out. It would never even make it to the website. So if you weren’t on that Instagram account following that account and looking to see what they were dropping, you know, this week or this day, you might not even get access to that product. So it also created this sense of like excitement about, you know, how quick you had to get on it.

And one of the things that I thought was really fun that happened during the pandemic was that ceramics drops became really like something that was really hot. And they would also be…it would be through Instagram stories where they would be saying, you know, I have a new…there’s a new collection that’s being dropped on Monday and it would only be sold on Instagram. And then you’d be out of luck if you didn’t catch it. So it also has that sort of sense of exclusivity, which is kind of fun.

Matt: Absolutely. I mean, this account that I was discussing, a lot of the time, they’re only selling one of each product. So if you’re not there in five minutes to see it, that’s it. You’re done. You can’t get it. They’re not gonna sell it again. They’re not gonna have it again later. That’s it. That was a one-in-a-lifetime thing and if you miss out, too bad. So it does create that sense of urgency. I absolutely agree.

Melinda: Another thing that we saw rising during the pandemic and partially in response to George Floyd and other issues that are happening in the world was cause marketing. And in some cases, brands that kind of jumped on the bandwagon without really thinking it through have been called out for virtue signaling. How can brands be supportive of causes on social media in a way that’s genuine?

Matt: So I think a way that social media has kind of accelerated the rate that companies can virtue signal is because they can post these blank statements with nothing behind it. And I have a few examples that I’d like to share. The first one being the most recent was the war in Ukraine. Obviously, when this first came to be back in February, this was unprecedented. And a lot of companies “showed their support” for Ukraine by posting social media statements. They changed their profile colors to the blue and yellow. But what have we heard since then?

We’ve heard that McDonald’s and Starbucks have pulled their business from Russia, which was a great first move, but what have we heard since? We haven’t heard about humanitarian support for Ukraine. We haven’t heard about anything about that. It’s kind of just been a blank statement. And this also ties into, I think, a much greater issue, which was the Black Lives Matter Movement, which happened at the beginning of the pandemic.

And I have a few concrete examples for this that brands really don’t have a genuine step forward with this. One example, a great example was JP Morgan Chase, where CEO, Jamie Dimon, publicly supported the protests and issued memos to his staff about JP Morgan being against racism and discrimination as many companies did. However, two years earlier, they actually settled a case with 6 black employees for over $24 million. And the case was actually about discrimination that they experienced in the workplace. So how can you as a company make this statement when not only two years ago, this wasn’t the case?

And if you look at their level of executives, only 4% of their 3,000 top-level executives are people of color. So a lot of the time you have these brands that want to do well for themselves, but they won’t actually put action behind it. And brands need to ensure that they’re putting their actions where their mouth is. And a fantastic example of this is Ben & Jerry’s. Ben & Jerry’s has to a degree woven in real action and social justice into their brand identity, which a lot of companies are very hesitant to do, extremely hesitant to do because they’re worried about consumer impacts. They’re worried about the way their brand is shown.

But Ben & Jerry’s has actually…they always put action behind their words. And a great example of this is after George Floyd was killed the United States, they actually released a four-step plan that they researched on their own to dismantle white supremacy in the United States. That was a huge piece that they posted that I don’t think I ever saw another brand even come close to attempting something like that.

Melinda: Yeah. I mean, lots of companies are doing diversity, equity, inclusion reports. Google posts a quite extensive report and it’s more based on their own actions within their company and their employees, but it’s not as much about external-facing. And it is, I think, talking to different people from different groups, there is a sense that companies are trying to jump on the bandwagon, posting a pride flag or putting an all-black square up for Black Lives Matter, but there isn’t any sense that there’s real action behind it.

And I think people from these communities are really kind of getting jaded. And so if you’re not gonna put your money where your mouth is, you know, you maybe need to go back to the drawing board and rethink, what does this mean if we post this? Because I think, you know, at the moment three years ago, it seemed like the right thing to do. And it is certainly the right thing to do to speak up and say this is what you believe and this is what you support. But to your point, if there is no action behind it, it does sound hollow.

And I think especially given the sort of recent report here in Toronto with the Toronto Police Service and race, it’s an excellent example. This kind of information has been available for years. We’ve known about it for years. And so this report comes out and they apologize and members of the black community have said, we don’t accept your apology. And that’s because it doesn’t come with that action. And I think brands need to be really thoughtful when they are even something as simple as a pride post.

It’s great to be supportive and to want to, you know, let people know that you are inclusive, but are you making sure that at the end-user experience, if I’m a customer and I walk into your bank or your store or your restaurant, and I am a transgender person, or I am, you know, a black person, that I’m going to have that inclusive experience or that if I’m an employee from one of these groups that I’m also gonna have that inclusive experience. And that’s, I think, where the disconnect is.

Matt: Absolutely. I absolutely agree.

Melinda: So I’m gonna switch gears now and just think about some really like amazing brand activations or campaigns on social media that really exemplify the best-in-class use of these platforms. Do you have anything that comes to mind?

Matt: I do actually. Something that I read about earlier this year was actually from the music industry. And this artist that was under a specific label, they actually released a song through TikTok. And the way that they did this was getting community feedback from tiktok users and tiktok followers. And they used the people who were watching her videos to “help create” the song. And this song ended up blowing up. And when I say blowing up, I mean, this user who now still has one song has 20 million active users on Spotify following her, which puts her in the top 100 most listened to artists on Spotify with only one song.

So this is an absolutely fantastic marketing campaign. And what they did she didn’t actually use their comments. The comment was actually a burner account that the marketing person had created to ask the question because the song was already finished. So they made it seem with this whole ploy and it’s so mind-blowing to think about that this person, this random person had just commented and she had taken their suggestion and put it into their song. And it ended up working. It worked beyond their greatest hopes and dreams, I’m sure, because this artist is now absolutely massive because of this song.

I heard it all over the radio for two months and that’s kind of exemplifying what social media should be about is allowing fans to interact with their favorite people and having an influence on what’s released. Now, unfortunately, this wasn’t a genuine account of a genuine fan interacting with their favorite artists. But I think the idea behind it is that social media is a fantastic platform for brands to be able to reach out to their consumers, take real consumer information and feedback and implement it into what they’re releasing. People are what drive their products, their services, and they need to start listening to them.

Melinda: Another really example that’s kind of similar was Kum & Go, which is like a gas convenience and QSR in the U.S. And the Kyle Scheele Meale, which I don’t know if you’ve heard of this one, and this is basically a similar sort of thing where it looked like it was a spontaneous occurrence, but it had actually been planned where I guess, so Kyle Scheele is an influencer and he’d seen, you know, a famous example of somebody getting their own meal in a gas and convenience store. And they had these huge, big posters of this person. And you could go get your picture taken.

So he decided to do a prank where he did a picture of himself and pretended that, oh, I have a meal deal with Kum & Go, but there was no information posted about like, what is the meal? What is the deal? You know, is this real? What’s happening? And so people kind of went crazy on social media. His followers were like, what’s happening? What is the meal? What’s included in it? And then, and so then Kum & Go was like, oh, we’re gonna make this a real thing.

It turns out in the end that it was all planned that it was gonna roll out this way, but even though it was planned, it was quite clever. It really got people super excited. There was an element of mystery and really kind of blew up. So that was another, I thought really fun example of how to really leverage the engagement of specific communities to create buzz about something as simple as a meal combo, which is like a burger and fries and a drink. Like, the meal itself is not something special, but the experience of being engaged in that and how fun it was, was really special.

Matt: Yeah, I absolutely agree.

Melinda: So if you were gonna summarize the key goals that brands should be aspiring to achieve on social media for 2022 and ’23, what would they be?

Matt: So a few different goals I think that social media or rather brands on social media should be striving to achieve are to get out there. Too many brands are way too afraid to abandon a traditional and corporate tone for something more authentic. But I think we’re moving into an era where this is almost what people are starting to expect that brands become authentic voices that they can relate to them. I mean, again, my earlier example of Duolingo, you now have people fanning over an owl that goes to Dua Lipa in New York because it’s an internet meme.

So they need to start seeing past this corporate tone for something more authentic. Another one would be listening to your fans. Social media is a fantastic place to collect customer feedback and it’s often overlooked. People share their honest opinions, honestly, without realizing it most of the time. And companies need to take advantage of this because this is where you’re going to find your most genuine customer feedback. And this is where you can make improvements to your products and services.

And lastly, I would rethink the initiatives and put action behind them if you’re going to make any. Virtue signaling is real and it can kill a brand if they’re not careful enough. And they need to make sure whatever initiative they’re backing, whether it be Pride Month with a rainbow flag for their logo, Black Lives Matter, etc., that there is real action from the company behind it and not just words that make it a PR stunt. And I think those would be the goals that all brands should strive for on social media for 2022 and 2023.

Melinda: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

Matt: Thank you very much for having me.

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