Life without social media apps would be unimaginable today for most. Before Instagram, which launched in 2010, and TikTok, which debuted in 2016, there were apps such as Myspace and MSN (Windows Live Messenger) that seemed to be used solely by younger generations, predominantly for instant messaging. Now those days are gone, with these apps only ever mentioned in relation to what they once were. Even Facebook, which was arguably the breakthrough platform for how we use social media today, began to see a decline in everyday users at the end of 2021.
As apps such as Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, and Snapchat are named Adobe's top social media sites to be using in 2022, the online world is being utilized for more than its original purpose of keeping up with friends, with the global social media advertising market predicted to be worth $262.62 billion by 2028. Despite this, several consumers admit to being tired of advertisements across social media. 64% say that they're likely to stop using social media if they are bombarded with advertising, and 52% believe the effectiveness of social media as a marketing platform is at risk due to dishonest or unethical behavior from brands.
Digital marketing experts estimate that the average person sees 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day, and this number only increases with personalized retargeting ads that use consumers' data to showcase promotional content based on similarities to websites users have previously visited, products they have purchased, and posts they have liked. However, with ongoing controversy surrounding the ethics behind tech companies storing personal data, 90% of consumers believe that being able to determine who has access to their data should be a fundamental human right.
As a report by Maryville University states, "Users don't just log in and browse, they tell the platforms their name, and where they live, what they like and who they know, painting the most vivid picture currently possible for marketers looking to target specific consumers." As a result, consumers and brands alike are looking for new ways to connect without a consistent overhaul of sponsored and edited content, which has seen the rise of apps like BeReal, with a mission to bring back authenticity to social media.
BeReal rose to popularity in January 2022, with 74.5% of downloads occurring this year despite launching in 2020. The app takes a photo of both the front and back cameras, with no options to edit or filter images, encouraging users to reject harmful social media traditions like retouching pictures. The platform has been dubbed the "anti-Instagram app," enabling users to post a photo of whatever they are doing the moment they receive a notification prompt, and having to do so within two minutes.
Several brands, including iNNBEAUTY Project, Rare Beauty, and Starface, have all hopped on the BeReal bandwagon to authentically connect with their consumers. Evan Horowitz, co-founder and CEO of Movers+Shakers, believes Gen Z specifically craves authenticity due to being tired of fake, overly planned, and edited content on other social apps. "BeReal allows people to share their unfiltered, real lives, and now brands can offer fans the same level of transparency," Horowitz comments.
BeReal Brand Initiatives
iNNBEAUTY Project has been sharing behind-the-scenes snaps of product development, launches, and the general fun things its team has been getting up to on BeReal. The platform is allowing them to showcase elements of their business they would like loyal customers to temporarily have access to, as opposed to being displayed on a permanent social media grid. “Our main goal with BeReal is to share all the behind-the-scenes stuff happening at Inn. On BeReal, you share it, and it’s not like you can go back and find it a week from now or two years from now. It’s just gone, and no one else can see it. So it really feels like a sneak peek and private access to the brand for the people who are following us on the platform,” says Erica Livoti, iNNBEAUTY Project’s Director of Marketing.
Starface, best known for their wearable acne-eliminating Hydro-Stars, also used BeReal's bona fide qualities to launch their limited-edition Hello Kitty collection, hoping to connect with their target audience through a tight-knit community feel. For this particular launch, Starface launched a word puzzle on socials that customers could "solve" for a password that allowed them to shop the range early. The answer to the puzzle was revealed on BeReal directly to the brand’s 1,000+ followers, pushing a unique drop approach that helps build excitement among young skincare enthusiasts.
"When we think about where Starface shows up in the world, we imagine how you'd engage with a best friend. That mindset applies to our social media approach—all of our accounts are from the perspective of our mascot, Big Yellow, and we prioritize being first to experiment with emerging platforms before they're proven," Julie Schott, co-founder of Starface, tells BeautyMatter.
By revealing the puzzle answer on BeReal, Starface created a sense of exclusivity and allowed consumers to feel valued by the brand. Their other 21,400+ followers on Instagram were only granted early access to the drop if they had worked out the puzzle themselves. "As our customers are finding their way to BeReal, so is Big Yellow. At its core, BeReal is spontaneous and unfiltered, which is how we show up at Starface. We gained over 1,000 followers in the 24 hours prior to the post, and we have continued to see great engagement since then," Schott continues.
BeReal furthers the intimate connection between brands and consumers, with users only able to gain followers if they add them back as friends. Follower count is not displayed to users or those who interact with them on the app, meaning they must manually count how many friends add them over time to know their audience numbers. This lack of knowledge furthers the exclusivity ordeal, leaving fans feeling seen instead of lost among thousands (or even millions) of other followers on apps such as Instagram.
Schott believes the success of Starface's BeReal launch can be attributed to the platform's organic approach, which pushes the brand to be inventive, "especially when personifying Big Yellow in such a unique context. It also requires agility, so full credit goes to our social team, who are always at the ready whenever it's ‘time to BeReal,’" she concludes.
Pivoting on Other Platforms
Starface's unique approach to social media marketing is also reflected in its TikTok strategy. During their launch in 2019, Starface began marketing on TikTok, which was still relatively small at the time, predicting that the platform would take off and be the next big thing younger generations would gravitate towards. With self-acceptance and optimism being the core values of Starface, the brand felt TikTok was the social media platform to get behind due to the app's encouragement of self-expression.
Over the past three years, Starface has accumulated over 36.8 million total views across its TikTok content, with over one million followers, gaining attention from some of the biggest creators on the platform, such as the D'Amelio sisters and Addison Rae. The brand has created a culture where influencers and day-to-day customers are excited to use their patches as cute "wearables'' that deserve to be showcased in selfies across social media. Ultimately, the brand's social media marketing success comes from its persistence in being organic, and encouraging consumers not to shy away from their flaws but rather to embrace them, which is rarely seen online these days, especially in the beauty industry.
Cross-Platform Format Imitations
The triumph of apps like BeReal and TikTok has encouraged traditional social media platforms like Instagram to transform how they offer their users content. In 2017, Instagram added a Stories feature, where posted images disappear after 24 hours, a near-copy of Snapchat's traditional selling point. Therefore, it was no surprise that when TikTok gained traction, Instagram closely followed behind and began experimenting with video-based content, introducing Reels at the latter end of 2019.
Consumers began to question why this was happening, disappointed with Instagram's lack of originality, suggesting that the app should stick to what it knows. In one famous example, Kim Kardashian, who uses Instagram heavily to keep her fans up to date with her newest brands, shared a post urging her followers to sign a petition to "make Instagram, Instagram again." The petition urged Meta to make Instagram image-focused again, demanding they "stop trying to be TikTok, have an algorithm that prioritizes photos, bring back chronological timelines, and be a platform that listens to creators." The petition has received 312,496 signatures to date, with many content creators and everyday users still encouraging others to get behind the initiative.
In response, Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram, tweeted, "I need to be honest. I do believe that more and more of Instagram is gonna become video over time," he wrote. "If you look at what people share on Instagram, that's shifting more to videos over time, even when we stop charging anything. We're going to have to lean into that shift."
It didn't end there. In July of this year, Instagram added the dual-camera feature to their Stories editing options, allowing users to use the front and back cameras simultaneously. The feature is a clear testimony to BeReal; however, it misses the selling point by enabling consumers to use it at any time, furthering social media's elements of fakeness. Instagram has questionably furthered the distrust they're receiving from users by adding this feature, straying away from their original purpose and ignoring consumers' requests.
It is no wonder that Instagram uploaders are feeling disappointed. This feeling has only been furthered by the news recently published in CB Insights The Big Tech in Retail Report, revealing that Meta, which owns Instagram, "plan to develop themselves as a full e-commerce and shopping destination via social features like chat and live streaming as well as personalization tech like targeted recommendations." With information like this being shared, it can be argued that there is a need for the versatility of app offerings due to consumers feeling they are not being listened to on apps they routinely use, pushing them to apps that offer solutions for their desires, such as originality on BeReal.
Individualized and Influencer-Led Activations
In line with this versatility is also an increasing experimentation with interactive campaign formats. Successful social media marketing needs to be structured with consumers' actual wants and needs at the forefront of plans. Examples of this can be seen in advertising strategies like Urban Decay's Pinterest Personalization campaign, featuring the platform’s first-to-market beauty-related Creators Gallery Quiz experience, which matches users with the ideal eyeshadow palette for their alter-ego persona, which is determined via their choice of different preselected images to create a mood board.
Urban Decay also partnered with influencers on the campaign, who are valuable partners for creating authentic product connections. Although consumers do not wish to have ads constantly showcased on their social media, it has been reported that they do not mind viewing such content daily if it is advertised by one of their favorite influencers. 61% of consumers say they trust influencers' recommendations, compared to only 38% who say they trust branded social media content.
It can be suggested that consumers trusting influencers is the reason behind the success of apps like Flip, a platform created to be "the number one beauty shopping app," where influencers go to promote their affiliate brands. Addison Rae uses the app to connect with fans and give her opinions on products. Rae's debut on Flip saw the influencer promote an Item Beauty lash primer in a short video which now has over 1,000 views. Other big names have also taken to Flip, including beauty influencer Patrick Starrr, skincare guru Hyram Yarbro, and fitness influencer Sommer Ray. Flip also divides content into categories based on a creator's position in the industry, with one category explicitly created to allow brand founders to promote their products. Around 30-40 brand founders are using Flip, as the company reported a 500% increase in user growth since 2021.
Another platform contributing to the rise of brand and influencer collaborations is the e-commerce platform Shopify and its brand collaboration app Shopify Collabs, which allows approved creators to partner with Shopify and earn revenue. Currently only open to influencers and content creators in the US and Canada, the platform comes as several influencers have evolved into merchants, seeing the rise of affiliate programs that allow brands to track their sales progress. Shopify Collabs enables the approved influencers to choose who they connect with, requiring influencers to apply to the brand's affiliate programs in-app.
When an influencer and brand collaboration is successfully signed off, influencers receive a welcome package from the brand filled with products to review, alongside personal affiliate links that allow the influencer to earn a commission. The platform makes it easier for influencers with smaller followings to connect with their aspirational brands. This rules out the traditional influencer and brand crossover model that commonly sees only those with higher follow counts selected for partnerships. With micro-influencers able to generate 22 times higher interaction from followers as a result of more trusted relationships, Shopify Collabs gives lesser-known influencers the chance to collaborate with brands that may typically overlook them in their brand affiliation searches.
The platform's selling tool is available on TikTok and Instagram, with influencers providing link-in-bio prompts to followers, redirecting them to LinkPop, where they can click through and browse products showcased in content. The platform is also used by smaller, niche start-ups, meaning that influencers can tailor the brands they work with to what their followers want to see instead of the mainstream brands most influencers represent. One influencer using the platform is Cathy Ngyuen, who told her followers, "This is perfect for creators who are just starting and want to be in space … this is going to make our lives so much easier."
The increase in consumers and influencers straying from classic platforms like Instagram to apps built specifically for e-commerce and advertising shows demand for social media variety. The growth of such platforms also suggests that consumers want to have different apps for different purposes: Instagram for keeping up with friends and viewing aesthetic images, TikTok for videos and trends, BeReal for exclusive content, and Flip for product reviews. Without apps harnessing ideas from, and trying to create hybrid versions of, one another, there would be a much clearer pathway for customers to take in accordance with their consumer desires.
Lena Katz, Lead of Creator Integrated Services at Ampersand, tells BeautyMatter, "Brands using multiple forms of social media is actually much smarter than trying to figure out one content style, voice, or look that will somehow appeal to every type of consumer across every platform. Different demos have different tastes, triggers, conversations, and jokes."
Katz also makes the important point that classic brands such as ÉsteeEstée Lauder and Chanel, often associated with older demographics, will not drop their loyal consumers who can afford to make purchases every month just because we are moving towards an era of consumer culture heavily dominated by Gen Z. Brands are expected to keep their core customers happy with their traditional marketing methods, while also seeking, adapting, and creating new campaigns for the next generation of consumers. Kratz believes pinpointing specific social media platforms for individual product advertising is the way to tackle this challenge going forward. "Kicking off a whole new conversation or image for a product or a line on one social media platform, specifically to reach a new potential customer segment who has no pre-existing sentiment—that's smart innovation," she concludes.
Through apps like BeReal, brands such as Starface are still marketing their products, but the difference is that they're doing it in a way that best engages the consumer and takes into account the content they wish to see. This tactic encourages consumers to make purchases and stay loyal to the brand through a trustworthy consumer-to-seller relationship. The same goes for the trust created between influencers and consumers on apps like Flip. However, regardless of what predominantly Gen Z consumers and influencers want, there will always be people within these groups and members of the older generation who want to purchase cosmetics in traditional ways, such as in-person shopping. Yet, even those who enjoy physical shopping methods will still want to be able to use social media for its initial purpose—to connect with friends and family; another reason for Instagram and similar apps to stick to their traditional focus, personal photo sharing, to avoid overwhelming consumers with unwanted advertisements.
Overall, it is clear that brands must be prepared to adapt to what their customers long for and utilize multiple social media channels to reach different audiences to maximize their brand's potential. As for brands who refuse to expand across social media offerings, it is down to them to work alongside their consumers to advertise in the way that benefits both parties best. Essentially, as we move into a profoundly marketing-driven period, brands must stay true to their values and target audiences, making digital marketing decisions that align with these principles.
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