The advent and evolution of social media changed both legacy technologies and the way consumers use them. The camera, previously used to simply snap pictures or record videos for personal use, has become the lifeblood of every major digital platform. It now turns everyday users into content creators, allowing them to share visually-inspiring images with friends and followers across platforms. Social media has since become synonymous with visual content, and users now rely on those images to influence their lives and inform purchases. Everything from personal style and home design to event planning and gifts -- you name it, social platforms are inspiring it. As social, visuals and e-commerce continue to converge, companies will begin to implement technologies that better enable this new path for purchasing.
In order to understand how this convergence came to be, we must start where it began -- the creation of the camera. Upon its introduction, only the most highly respected artists could get their hands on a camera to assist them in replicating an image or to photograph prominent figures. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s, when George Eastman started Kodak, that average consumers were introduced to a compatible and affordable camera they could all enjoy. Even at that time, cameras were still limited and were primarily being used to capture images of loved ones and momentous events.
Flash forward to today, and you’ll find a visually-driven society where almost everyone carries a camera in their pocket thanks to the development of smartphones. The advent of the phone offered direct, hand-held access to the world (via the internet), and social platforms were soon developed to help consumers share all aspects of their lives -- where they were, what they were wearing, etc. The rise of early social channels like MySpace and Facebook provided a platform for consumers to easily share content, and early success drove further innovation with the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. In fact, Instagram users now share more than 95 million photos and videos every day. Because of this, social media has become a driving force for advances in camera technology as phone manufacturers recognize the power of visuals and focus their attention toward building superior cameras. For many today, the iPhone can replace a compact camera because it’s convenient and produces high-quality pictures.
As consumers continue to center much of their lives around creating and sharing content for social platforms, it has significantly impacted how they interact with brands and make purchasing decisions. For a long time, people were inspired by what they saw on television because it was their primary method for consuming content. Although they may still be effective, commercials can often be skipped altogether due to paid platforms like Netflix and Amazon or services like DVR. Alternatively, social platforms offer opportunities for inspiration during every interaction without the worry of being bypassed, whether consumers are browsing a friend’s recent post or scouring a favorite blogger’s feed. These actions help inform buying decisions because people are influenced by what they see -- a great pair of shoes on a brand’s account, a recipe from a favorite chef, flowers from a friend’s wedding, etc. The difference between TV and online is that the digital world offers the ability to take action from within the same device that’s already in hand -- no need to power up the computer, reach for the phone or walk to the nearest store.
This immediate access opens new doors for both consumers and brands. On the brand side, marketers can leverage AI-powered visual listeningto “see” images people are sharing, posting and consuming. With consumers sharing emojis alongside their posts, brands have the added ability to know whether the consumer had a positive or negative experience. On the consumer side, we’re already seeing direct connections being made with visual search tools such as Pinterest Lens, which enables consumers to find visually similar items available for purchase by uploading a photo from their stream or taking one on the spot.
The convergence of social media, visuals and e-commerce are prompting this shift in consumer buying behavior, presenting great opportunities. The key to success is finding a way to influence those decisions by embracing visuals and creating cohesive experiences that combine social media, visuals and purchasing. Brands that take advantage of this opportunity by leveraging visuals to help consumers make a purchase through an image the second they’re inspired -- no matter what platform they’re on -- will be the most successful in the end, whereas brands that fail to adapt to this changing landscape may be left behind.
This article was originally published in Forbes on 7th March 2018.