female influencer recording a video putting on makeup
From online marketplaces to leveraging influencers, social media has morphed from a place for people to connect into an effective business tool. — Getty Images/Chaay_Tee

Social media trends are constantly changing. They impact the way people buy product and share information and they influence the way businesses sell and market themselves. Here are seven social media trends inspired by consumer sentiment and amplified by marketers across social media.

Social selling

Social media sites have added effective tools that allow businesses — big and small — to sell their products and services directly on the platform.

Social media has always been about connections — people to people, people to ideas, and, increasingly, because platforms are making it easier, people to products. Facebook Marketplace, which began as a digital garage sale, has moved beyond jogging strollers and secondhand golf clubs to big tickets like cars and real estate, by linking directly to sites like Kelley Blue Book and Apartment List.com.

Marketplace has also changed the digital landscape for small businesses. Its alliances with big e-commerce platform providers, like Shopify, create new opportunities for e-retailers to list products directly on the site, greatly increasing their visibility to potential customers. While Facebook does not charge fees for these listings, it does gather valuable information about who is shopping for what. It seems that data is payment enough for playing matchmaker between buyers and sellers.

Read our story on Facebook Marketplace.

Predicting customer behavior

Pinterest has also introduced tools designed to shorten the distance between wanting and purchasing. The site’s Taste Graph analyzes what users pin to their virtual boards and assigns them to one of over 5,000 taste groups. Armed with information from this proprietary algorithm, advertisers can offer up appropriate products — the ones Pinners covet now, as well as the ones they are likely to want tomorrow.

In addition to Product Pins, which link directly to a retailer’s web site, Pinterest has introduced a camera search tool. With Lens, mobile users can snap a picture of an object and discover where it can be purchased on line. See it, snap it, buy it. Now that’s connecting buyers with sellers.

Read our story on Pinterest.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is getting bigger, even though the influencers themselves are getting “smaller.”

Which is better: A product everyone knows but few have a warm and fuzzy feeling about, or a niche offering with an Instagram account garnering 30,000 likes per post? Artisan jewelry brand Pura Vida Bracelets has chosen the latter, and consumers are choosing the brand.

The initial buzz about the brand’s signature string-and-bead bracelets was helped along by a celebrity influencer and some high-profile customers. Its growth, however, has been courtesy of the grassroots efforts of micro-influencers (social media influencers with under 10,000 followers). According to company co-founder Griffin Thall, Pura Vida has employed over 125,000 of them as part of a structured incentive program.

Pura Vida is not alone. With authenticity as a goal, many companies are turning away from mega-influencers, whose celebrity status and accompanying huge fees can water down the effect of their endorsements. In contrast, Pura Vida’s brand ambassadors are engaged, creative, genuine and — most important to the Pura Vida aesthetic — talented in taking amazing Instagram photos. It’s those qualities, and not celebrity, that make them influential.

Read our story on Pura Vida Bracelets.

Predictive analytics

Brands are using customer feedback from social media not just to improve customer service, but to make crucial business decisions — and the trend is not limited to e-retailers.

While purchasing mistakes are costly for any retailer, the danger is greater for some. In the teen fashion world —where trends have the lifecycle of a teenage crush — inventory can go stale as fast as fresh peaches. Just ask rue21 CEO, Michael Appel. The company, which has over 700 stores around the country and emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017, is adopting new technology to help it avoid potentially fatal buying errors.

That technology, known as Predictive Analytics, works by analyzing feedback gathered on social media. Young consumers answer brief surveys — served up as games on platforms like Instagram — that evaluate merchandise and possible price points. The gathered information is scrutinized and combined with historical sales numbers and industry data to assist rue21’s buyers in making better informed decisions.

The key to the effectiveness of the process is its speed. Data is collected, crunched and reported in a matter of hours — a fraction of the time an in-store survey would take. Whether predictive analytics is faster than the changing trends (or that teenage crush) remains to be seen.

Read our story about rue21.

A company with a message that resonates with customers has an increased chance of success.

User-generated content

Customers’ social posts are serving as marketing campaigns in their own right.

The internet has given everyone a chance to speak to anyone willing to listen. That includes feedback on everything from pizza parlors to first dates to performance sportswear. And, while today’s consumers don’t necessarily put much faith in what a company says about itself or its products, they listen up when other consumers speak.

That speech, called user-generated content (UGC), can be a boon to a brand when it reflects well on a product, and companies like Under Armour grasp the concept. According to Patrick Grissinger, senior digital product manager, global e-commerce, the company is incorporating UGC — in the form of ratings, images and Instagram stories —into its product listings.

Beyond e-commerce sites, UGC is finding a home in digital ads, Instagram Stories and, in at least one instance, a customer tweet that became a billboard. While there’s little chance companies will ever stop singing their products’ praises, UGC is a fresh new way for consumers to sing along.

Read our story about Under Armour.

Cultural discourse

There’s no law that says brands have to be in tune with the current conversation. Except maybe the first law of relevance.

It’s basic. A company with a message that resonates with customers has an increased chance of success. Likewise, a company that’s in sync with the times. Sometimes, being that company requires some reinvention.

For David’s Bridal, which was founded in 1950, that reinvention meant updating its message to one of inclusion and individuality. Video spots featuring a two-bride wedding, casual outdoor settings and plus size brides and attendants support the company’s new ‘be your own bride’ message. That sentiment is aimed straight at today’s millennial and Gen Z brides, who are decidedly not shackled to old wedding traditions.

David’s Bridal has not lost sight of a pivotal truth: weddings, however they’ve changed, still tug at the heartstrings. The company has tapped into the genuine emotion of future brides by featuring their posts on its social media feed. This user-generated content not only adds authenticity, it follows the first law of relevance.

Read our story on David’s Bridal.

Social community as decision maker

The ability to get an idea — good or bad — in front of a lot of people is part of what the internet has wrought. When it comes to business ideas, that can mean the difference between a product being made or dying on the drawing board.

Yes, in this age of individuality and free thinking, the crowd still has a lot to say. When it comes to crowdfunding sites, the social community gets to decide everything from who receives a new nose to who takes an expedition to Peru. When managed properly, crowd funding appeals can build a community and garner monetary support simultaneously.

Kickstarter, unlike debt or equity funding, allows a startup to offer whatever reward will attract dollars — anything from a T-shirt to a case of the finished product. According to Exploding Kittens co-creator Elan Lee, the dollars are great, but the community the process allows a company to build may be even more important to its ultimate success.

Crowdfunding isn’t just about money: It’s about ideas and feedback and a sense of being in on the ground floor. Kickstarter campaigns don’t stop when a monetary goal is reached. Instead, backers become cheerleaders, critics, collaborators, and, through their posts across digital channels, advertisers. When it comes to innovation, the crowd is, increasingly, calling the shots.

Read our story on Exploding Kittens and Kickstarter.

Business stories that go viral can predict business success

What’s the secret sauce that turns a simple story into a social sensation? It’s got to have mass appeal, for sure, and strike an emotional chord. Whatever the reasons, viral stories seem to be a sign of a business with a future.

Some entrepreneurs are taken by pleasant surprise when it happens. Jasmine Crowe of Atlanta-based Goodr, for example, wasn’t even thinking about starting a business until a video of her work caught fire. All those people watching and reposting the video meant she was on to something. Crowe took the hint and launched a business that moves excess food from where it is — stadiums and airports, for example — to where it’s needed: nonprofits who distribute it to the hungry.

Read our story about Jasmine Crowe and Goodr.

If Goodr’s story has a flip side, it would the tale of Purple. The direct-to-consumer mattress company planned from the outset to attract customers through humorous videos. With over 1.5 billion views, it’s safe to say the plan worked. The internet loved what Purple put out and the company went from startup to public in under three years.

All of this begs the question: Do billions of views guarantee a company success? Probably not. But viral videos are the new word-of-mouth. Buzz — whether sought after or not — means a business is onto something that resonates. After all, billions of YouTube viewers can’t be wrong.

Read our story about Purple.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

To stay on top of all the news impacting your small business, go here for all of our latest small business news and updates.

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