The Insider reveals how retailers can use social media as a product trendspotting tool as well as a gateway to increased brand awareness, store relevance, and even foot traffic. We spoke with three social media experts at the top of their social game to share their insights on the topic.
For cashflow-conscious independent retailers, harnessing the power of social media can be game-changing.
When used correctly, social media has the potential to help you discover actionable product trends and strengthen brand awareness, affirm brand relevance, and even drive traffic to your shop and boost sales.
Now that’s retail gold.
You might already be using social media as a way to connect with friends near and far, but as a retailer, there’s a whole world of marketing opportunities to tap into.
And yes, we’ll admit: constantly hearing about the new platforms and “must-use” social media tools can be overwhelming.
Especially when you’re not sure how to best manage these channels and don’t have time or manpower to research or experiment with them.
Instagram and Pinterest are two highly visual channels offering retailers opportunities to discover products and supercharge their businesses.
So how can you get the most bang for your buck?
We spoke with three social media experts at the top of their social game to share their insights on the topic:
- Janet E. Johnson: Social Media Expert & Founder of the Janet E. Johnson agency.
- Jasmine Star: Social media, branding, and business strategist who specializes in helping business owners attract their dream customers with her company and branding masterclass, The Path To Profitability.
- Larissa May: Founder and Creative Director @HalfTheStory, a social media awareness campaign that reveals the truth behind social media.
In our Instagram & Pinterest Crash Course for Retailers, we share the trendspotting tools these and other social media platforms offer, explain how to bookmark and save the trends you want to bank on, and outline how to attract your dream customers by leveraging these channels correctly.
Step 1: Digital Trendspotting
In order to increase sales and accumulate a devoted following of (return) customers, you need to master the art of trendspotting and stay ahead of the curve. Because let’s get real: without the right products, your customers will have no reason to check you out or come back for more.
The ability to spot trends is a retailer’s lifeblood — and lifeline.
For many, the knack to spot trends before they become The. Next. Big. Thing (we’re talking fidget-spinner fame) is an innate skill, and even though seeing the right trends can elicit “we have to carry those” feelings, it helps to know where to spot them before everyone else jumps on them too.
Now, of course, you can discover all the trends on the floor of ASD Market Week — but how do you go about doing more preliminary research?
Larissa May shared her trendspotting techniques with us. She researches trends on platforms through three different funnels:
- The Platform’s Industry Trends
- External Trusted Blogs
(Friendly) Competition Research
Start by making sure you follow all your competitors (direct and indirect competition, as well as all brands in your “lane”), retail counterparts all over the world, vendors, trade magazines, and relevant influencers on Instagram and Pinterest.
This way, you can make a habit of scrolling your Instagram and Pinterest feeds daily and seeing what competitors, vendors, and tastemakers in your industry are talking about.
Get Ready to Bookmark These! Must-Visit Websites Alert:
“First, it’s imperative to identify your audience and benchmark competitors so that you have an understanding of the best way to display your content. Next, I suggest business owners subscribe to the latest trend insights on the Pinterest Blog (look out for their monthly trend forecasts) or Instagram Business Blog (where you’ll find frequent tool updates and online workshops, which are definitely worth attending.) Finally, I read the Later Blog (to stay on top of the latest Instagram trends) and the site Digital Trends religiously.”
Curate Your Own Blogs to Follow
To curate your own blogs to follow in fashion, home decor, books, beauty and a lot more, set up a free account at Bloglovin, which also has several Instagram channels broken down by category.
Google’s Shopping Insights: Product Trend Data
For all the demographic and geographical breakdowns of a specific trend and a timeline to see whether interest in the trend is growing or waning, look to Think With Google’s Shopping Insight Tool.
Here’s a glance at what you see when performing a search for “fidget spinners” in Google’s Shopping Insight Tool.
Pinterest Keywords, Instagram Hashtags
Janet E. Johnson recommends a more search-based approach:
“Keep in mind that on Pinterest, everything is about keywords. Pinterest is a social bookmarking site but also truly a search engine.”
As a result, Johnson recommends searching for the product trends on Pinterest, as you would Google.
Note: Hashtags are not relevant on Pinterest.
As for Instagram, Johnson performs searches via hashtags:
“On Instagram, searching is all about hashtags. Hashtags work like keywords, as they have tracking and searching capabilities.”
Pro Tip: Search for specific trends using relevant hashtags to see what others are posting about.
Do all of your product trendspotting in one place. Get your free buyers’ ticket to ASD Market Week HERE.
Step 2: Bookmarking the Trends for Future Reference
Now that you know where to search for and discover the trends, it’s important to ensure you can save and store them somewhere for easy reference.
Here are some ways to go about this:
- Pinterest: One of the most popular use cases for Pinterest (and its original intention) is as a bookmarking platform a.k.a. digital vision board, ideal for any projects you might be working on.Recognizing the potential for group collaboration, Pinterest offers the option of labeling boards as “Secret Boards,” which means they can only be accessed and seen by collaborators.Oh yeah, that’s the other thing: you can invite designated people to view and add to your “Secret Boards” — which means these boards can be a collaborative effort among your team members, without making them public on your Pinterest feed (and without revealing your plans for retail domination to your followers!)
- Instagram: This past April, Instagram took a cue from Pinterest and added the option to “Bookmark” posts and save them as “Collections.”This means that you can “Save” or “Favorite” posts of your choice by tapping the bookmark logo at the lower right of any Instagram photo or video, and access them via the same bookmark button at the top right of your personal feed.
You can also categorize them according to “Collections” of your choice, by tapping and holding on a saved post to add it to an existing collection, or starting a new product category. This means that all your saved posts can be separated by product category, general inspiration, or even simply for personal use. (So no more “screen-capturing” these images on your phone and wondering where you find them again!)
- Pocket: This amazing free app and web tool allows you to bookmark any article or link and organize them according to categories so you can read them later.
This comes in handy when browsing blogs, magazine articles or social media images on your desktop or mobile and want to save them for future reference.
After all, how many times are you reading something on your mobile while waiting in line, and simply don’t have time to finish the entire article?
Pocket Bonus: whatever you save on your app can also be accessed on your computer, and vice versa.
Insider Tip: Now take your newfound product trend information culled from social media and the web and combine that with your in-store sales data. Are things matching up? Use insight from both taken together to inform your product buying and merchandising decisions.
Step 3: Double Down on Two Channels to Help Your Business
Now that you’ve mastered product trendspotting on social media, it’s time to leverage these same channels to support your business.
Here is the main question most retailers like yourself have when it comes to social:
With an overwhelming amount of social media platforms available, how can you cut through the clutter and determine which platforms to focus and double down on?
“Independent retailers should focus on two platforms: Facebook and Instagram for visually-driven products, amplified with paid acquisition and influencer marketing,” suggests May.
Insider Tip: Facebook and Instagram use the same ad management dashboard which allows you to run ads on both platforms (and their different audiences) with one click. In order to run ads on either platform, you’ll need to makes sure you already have a Facebook company page for your shop.
How can you decide which platforms are best for your target audience?
“In order to understand where your efforts are best spent, treat each platform as a ‘micro-business’ and run a 3-month test to identify which platform creates the highest ROI for your business. Like a business, each platform has a different target market that requires nurturing and understanding.” – Larissa May
Social media and branding strategist Jasmine Star has a similar take:
“Social media marketing is most effective when used where customers hang out. For instance, clothing retailers for females between the ages of 18-34 should — without a doubt — use Instagram. Why? That’s where their customers are. Conversely, a retailer for men’s fishing outerwear may not fare as well on Instagram as it might on Facebook.”
“Ideally, a company chooses a platform where their ideal customers spend most of their time online, build a large following, understand how to engage, then try to parlay similar success on other platforms.” – Jasmine Star
Let’s consider Facebook as the “low-hanging fruit,” or the easiest way to cast a wide net on an already existing network.
Johnson explains: “Facebook is the top platform that every business needs to not only exist on, but advertise on too. If you run your ads right, this can create the most buyers. Pinterest is actually my next favorite because it drives traffic to the website. It also has longevity, compared to other platforms. I have had some of my pins still getting traffic and ‘saves’ five years later!”
Investing in some Facebook and Instagram ads allows for measurable results and the ability to target your posts to a specific audience.
Step 4: Instagram Tips & Tricks for Retailers
Instagram is an obsession for many — specifically, 700 million users monthly — especially with the addition of Instagram Stories last year. And with over 95 million photos uploaded per day — up from 70 million in 2016 — the opportunities for engagement are staggering! (Statistics via Omnicore.)
We spoke with photographer-turned-brand-strategist Jasmine Star about some easy ways for brands to make noise on Instagram by driving traffic to your online shop or retail location(s).
Here are 6 tips courtesy of Star, to help you earn Instagram success:
- Show up consistently.This might seem basic and obvious, but it’s often overlooked: show up. According to Star, you need to “Post something at least once a day. Regularity helps educate your followers about what to expect from your account.”
Insider Tip: Keep in mind that it’s quality over quantity. So if you have nothing to post one day, don’t post something for the sake of posting. People will sooner unfollow you for posting something that doesn’t resonate with them, then if you are radio silent for a few days.
- Reiterate what makes your brand unique.Star continues: “Let’s face it, there are too many businesses that sell the same things you do (clothing, decorative pillows, notebooks… you get the point!). So how can you stand out from the crowd? Showcase what makes your business different or special. Highlight your unique approach, techniques, messaging, or social causes that will invite followers to invest in your business because it closely aligns with their values.”
- Pay attention to the photos you post & choose wisely.Star is a photographer by trade, so she understands and appreciates the importance of killer visuals — especially on a platform like Instagram.
“Unlike any other social platform, photos on Instagram matter above all else. Instagram is a highly visual platform, so it’s key to use imagery that resonates with your audience, attracts buyers, and causes them to stop scrolling. Invest in good photography and your return on investment will be priceless.” – Jasmine Star
- Care about what your followers want.“We know selling on Instagram works,” Star says, “but you shouldn’t think that simply posting a photo of an item will make it sell. You need to understand how your audience wants to be sold to. Speak to them in a way they understand and cater to their needs in a way they want.”
- Engage, engage, engage.The most successful retail accounts on Instagram are those that communicate with their followers. Star explains: “Answer questions, start conversations, engage in chatter — these are all ways to build trust. And when a follower trusts your account, they’re more likely to buy.”
- Don’t sell, educate.
“It’s too easy to cultivate an Instagram account that simply sell, sell, sells. Anyone can create a series of marketing photos within the app, but in order to curate a solid feed, gain more followers, and boost engagement, it’s best to be social. Mix posts to reflect current cultural trends, share memes related to your industry, share helpful or educational content. These are much harder to create, but it’s the best way to increase sales!”
We also got some valuable wisdom from Larissa May regarding Instagram sales:
”Instagram calls for Call-to-Action Copy. Businesses that are verified for Instagram are able to increase sales by adopting Instagram’s BigCommerce or Shopify integration, which tags products in posts through the new Shoppable feature. However, for the majority of non-verified brands, call-to-action copy is key. Consider ending a caption that directs your followers to your bio (‘Link in bio’ or ‘Shop now in bio’).”
Insider Tip: Convert your profile to a free business profile – if you haven’t already. Once you do, access Insights by clicking the icon resembling a bar graph at the top right – between your handle name (in the middle) and the cogwheel to access “Options.”
Step 5: Pinterest Tips & Tricks for Retailers
When Pinterest launched in March 2010, it started out as a “virtual corkboard” — it has since morphed into a visual discovery tool.
Today, Pinterest boasts 150 million monthly active users, 81% of which are female.
And to emphasize the power of Pinterest: 87% of pinners have purchased a product because of Pinterest, while 72% of pinners use Pinterest to decide what to buy offline. (Statistics via Omnicore.)
Social media expert Johnson schooled us about Pinterest.
- Pin actual photos from your website (campaign and product photos).
Before curating photos from other accounts, make sure to pin images from your own website to your brand’s dedicated Pinterest account. “This brings Pinterest users directly back to your online shop,” Johnson explains.
- Use keywords, not hashtags.Remember, hashtags are not relevant on Pinterest, but keywords are. This is because Pinterest acts like a search engine more than a social media channel. Johnson suggests thinking about the keywords you would use on Google to search for the products you’re pinning. Make sure you use these keywords in the pins’ descriptions in order to direct users where you want them to go.
Insider Tip: as for Pinterest boards, the titles should be simple, direct, and keyword-driven. Save the quirky copy for your website and marketing materials!
- Make sure what you “pin” is what you get.Be sure to pin a specific product and direct people to the specific page on your website where they can purchase said product. Don’t send the traffic to the home page of your website or, even worse, a completely different item. If someone clicks on a certain product on Pinterest, then they’re likely interested and want to be taken to that same item on your website!
- Use a scheduling tool or app to stagger your pins.Use the Tailwind App to pin one item to many different boards, and stagger it for days or weeks. This gets the same item in front of many different users over time. Johnson explains: “Let’s use a colored diamond ring as an example. This item can go in the categories of ‘colored diamonds,’ ‘diamonds,’ ‘rings,’ ‘bridal,’ or ‘jewelry trends.’ Make sure you have all those boards and pin this item to each of them using Tailwind. You can pin to all of them at once, but keep them staggered.”Larissa May adds that this scheduling strategy of planning your pins (which can also be done with Buffer) allows businesses to “optimize their pinning strategy and receive an in-depth analysis to understand what resonates best with consumers.”
- Optimize and repurpose your images.
Vertical or portrait images work best on Pinterest as they stand out more (the maximum vertical aspect ratio is 2:3, or 600 pixels wide by 900 pixels high), which means that when people are scrolling their Pinterest feeds, vertical images get repinned and garner higher engagement than horizontal ones. Also, keep in mind that in addition to repinning the images from your website, you can also repurpose any images you post on your Facebook or Instagram channels (if you also play in these platforms).
- Consider investing in Promoted Pins and/or Buyable Pins.If you have some extra dollars in your marketing budget, consider running some Promoted Pins to increase your brand’s reach and exposure. Promoted Pins are like regular Pins, only you pay to ensure they are seen by more people. As for Buyable Pins, these allow people to buy products directly from Pinterest. When you spot a pin with a blue price, it means it’s buyable. (You’ll need to ensure your website allows for Buyable Pin integration; for example, it can be done if you use Shopify as your e-commerce platform.)
- Curate other people’s content.“Re-pinning” other content you find will drive traffic and followers to your Pinterest page — and establish your company as a go-to industry authority.
- Convert your personal Pinterest account to a “Business” account. ASAP.This allows you to put money behind a pin and deeper access to analytics on how your pins perform.
By mastering product trendspotting on various channels you’ll not only become an expert on what’s going to become a best-seller – but also become completely comfortable on the channels you’ll end up using to support your business.