Traditional, mass media is rapidly losing it's influence. The idea of broadcasting one message out across a few key channels and repeatedly shouting at your consumers is over, no one's listening anymore.
The power has officially shifted back to the people. Social platforms that foster connectivity and creativity are turning everyday consumers into modern day publishers with authority and influence.
Influence is the driving force of commerce, and so for any brand story to spread, social is no longer an option. It's a critical weapon in an organization's arsenal.
With this change, it has become all about the social media influencer. If mass media is about shouting, influencers are about conversations - and they don't just start in a vacuum. Influencers have built up a trusted following, based on an authentic lifestyle that they feel passionately about. Their credibility is through the roof, and the numbers are in on influencer effectiveness.
Rather than belabor the point, let's consider what the next shift will be in social media and how that will affect commerce. If manufacturing swung from mass to niche, and media has done the same, what does the future hold for media? Here's some food for thought.
Stories For The Win
It all started with posts. These beautiful considered, stylized and sophisticated photographic posts delightfully swarmed our Instagram and Facebook feeds from the get go. And we liked them, but then, it all started to feel a bit too structured and rigid. It didn't have that authenticity we craved. It was too formulaic and too contrived.
And then Snapchat happened.
With stories that could disappear after a short window, nothing had to be perfect, they could be messy, silly and careless. We liked it because it felt real. We weren't being sold to, we were being given a backstage pass into all the weird, wonderful and wacky stuff that humans do. Suddenly, brands, influencers, and celebrities were allowing us to see things we weren't meant to see, be it a designer mucking around with their designs, a celebrity hyping themselves up before stepping on stage and an influencer trying an energy drink (and wincing) for the first time.
We liked this authenticity. On Snap, the NBA allowed us to go all the way into the locker rooms with the stars, courtesy of player takeovers, Everlane gave us an insider's look at their upcoming product lineup with "Transparency Tuesdays", Warby Parker even released limited edition glasses that you could only track down by a URL found only in their story.
Stories Combine Urgency & Entertainment
Lots of brands and influencers are doing stories right. The best ones put urgency into the consumer experience, and combine it with things that are genuinely entertaining - you have to watch it, play it or buy it now, or else you miss out.
One brand on top of the entertainment and urgency mélange is Me Undies - they created a series of entertaining skits featuring things like pumpkin carving competitions between their staff and reenactments of the Risky Business movie scene (with Tom Cruise apparently wearing a pair of Me Undies).
Now and then, they included a link to purchase. And it worked. Conversion rates were as high as 16%.
GrubHub created a scavenger hunt that went on for an entire week - each day they would post a challenge that asked followers to do things like submit their best 'hangry' face or draw a food scribble on their Snap, to go into the draw to win a $50 voucher.
The hunt was entertaining, and also made consumers act immediately. And it worked. GrubHub's following grew by 20% in one week. By focusing on creating engaging content, laced with moments of urgency, brands are winning in the story space.
Influencers Like Stories
The Stories format is not only beneficial for consumers and brands, influencers are also highly receptive to them.
After taking the time to build a credible base, influencers are reluctant to throw it all away by polluting their feed with too many sponsored posts. But stories are different - they come and go, they can be done on the influencer's terms (more so than a post), and are in the same raw tone as all stories, sponsored or not.
For example, New York-based fitness and lifestyle influencers Elizabeth and Dale (AKA @sweatsandthecity) recently did a protein powder tasting on Instagram Stories. Rather than show us a perfect product shot and a flattering caption describing the impeccable nutritional benefits of the product, Elizabeth took a couple of bites and called out how one of them tasted 'Chalky, but it's kinda nice. You can feel it working'.
In the traditional media world, a brand would pay hefty sums to bury this statement, but now it's there for us to see, and it's powerful. We know we're getting the truth, and can buy into this product if we're the type of person that likes our protein a little bit 'chalky'.
Story Shopping Is Here
So stories are here to stay. Consumers like them, brands like them, and as it happens, influencers are more receptive to working with them compared to regular posts. So now what?
Recently Instagram made it possible for verified accounts to include a 'Swipe Up To Link' option in Stories, enabling influencers to direct viewers to related product pages direct from thr Stories feed.
They've recently expanded this option to more users - it's not available to all as yet (reportedly it's now available to non-verified users with more than 10k followers), but it is becoming more widely available.
This little piece of robust functionality is a game changer. Now we can see just how powerful influencers are, and so far the number are impressive. Conversion rates are between 15-25%, and 1 in 3 Americans claim to have purchased something through sponsored content. Effectively this means influencers are shopping hubs, and with custom links, they now have a very real incentive to drive conversion honestly.
To do this, they'll need to double down on creating content that engages, entertains and carries a sense of urgency. Unlike traditional media, the goal is to become even more entertaining and conversational; not pushier.
With more Instagram accounts getting access to the 'Swipe Up to Link' option in Stories, this will change commerce as we know it.
Suddenly everyone can be an influencer; and it's likely that the more micro, the more powerful. Within friendship and family networks, people can cash in on their position as the one 'in the know' and make money off recommendations that they're likely to make anyway. In this new environment, the brands that will win will be those that are genuinely making interesting, useful and valuable products, stuff people want and need. On top of that, those that recognize the shifting sands early and offer incentives to micro-influencers to share their message will come out on top.
There's a lot of change flying around, but the bottom line is this: Stories are a more real, raw and powerful form of social media, compared to a regular post. And now that we can shop within stories, this feature is likely to spread.
The best way to convert users from a story is to link and drive conversion that's entertaining - and lace that entertainment with urgency. It sounds easier said than done, but the best bit about stories is that you can take the risk, make mistakes and try it all over again. It's a constant process of learning and reiteration, and one that affords its creators a lot of creative freedom.
Starting is always the hardest part, but as these trends are here to stay, there's every reason to do it now.