Social media in recent years has presented itself as a major selling point to brands looking to create a more authentic connection with followers, but the extra draw continues to be the potential of social commerce integrations to streamline the customer journey and create new revenue streams. And while the clarity of that potential largely remains hazy, apps like TikTok are placing bets that the social commerce door is wide open for Gen Z.
This week, TikTok began teasing its intentions to build its own product fulfillment centers in the U.S. and had posted several job openings to LinkedIn to help kickstart the process, per findings reported by Axios. The job postings suggest an “international e-commerce fulfillment system” that could help some sellers on the ByteDance-owned platform ship products out to consumers faster in a play likely supported by the app’s blossoming ads business.
A massive move to close its social commerce loop, TikTok’s bet on the strategy speaks to the untapped potential social commerce could have. By 2025, social commerce is expected to hit $1.2 trillion with a growth rate three times that of e-commerce.
Platforms lately have evolved in efforts to sway both marketers and consumers ahead of the holidays — TikTok recently added three new ad formats to its portfolio and Instagram quickly followed behind it. Research by the Meta-owned platform found that 90% of its users follow at least one business, signaling intent, and additional tools like augmented reality filters and machine-based learning could make finalizing a purchase enjoyable, and above all else, convenient.
But being shoppable and actually making a sale requires a strategy well-suited to the users of such platforms. For example, when developing an in-app commerce integration, brands may consider abandoning traditional call-to-action statements to maintain a throughline of authenticity and avoid corporate jargon likely to drive away Gen Z users.
“Gen Z who are using social media understand how to shop on the internet,” said Zellie Vaz, managing director of organic social at Power Digital. “They don’t need to be told ‘click here to check out,’ they already know the link is in the bio or to tap on the product. I think CTA’s are going to retire.”
While social commerce faced some downturns prompted by shifting privacy concerns and return to brick-and-mortar stores, investing in the integration could offer a massive advantage for the ability to not only keep consumers on one screen, but also on a single platform.
“Being able to shop in the app means never having to leave someone’s ‘cage,’” said Lauren Lyons, senior strategist at PSFK. “... Five, six years ago, everyone was talking about social shopping but nobody was really into it … Now I feel like we have a better experience where social and shopping are both seamless, convenient, perhaps enjoyable.”
Winning Gen Z
Marketing to Gen Z on social platforms requires a pulse on the emotion and vulnerability the young cohort craves. Such traits were amplified in part due to COVID-19, but even as consumers seemingly have transitioned out of many pandemic habits, Gen Z’s desire for authenticity has remained strong. Perhaps stronger, though, is the ability to spot an emotionally empty activation.
“The thing about Gen Z is they are extremely aware,” said Lyons. “They’ve always grown up with marketing and advertising online. They know how to spot the things that feel inauthentic very easily.”
When compared to millennials, Gen Z is less trusting of what they consume on social media, Vaz said. Increasingly, the cohort will use social media as a place to research brands they are considering buying from to see who tags them in posts, what other customers are saying and whether or not they tick boxes in other causes they care about, namely sustainability and diversity — the two causes Gen Z cares about the most, per a Gen Z study by GWI.
“These are all factors the audience is looking at,” Vaz added. “Does this company give back? Does [it] care about its customers? Can I have a long-term relationship with this company, am I going to be more than a number?”
Central to building trust this year continues to be the use of influencers, with 30% of Gen Z following at least one influencer or other expert, per the GWI study, and spending on the strategy set to top nearly $5 billion this year. But perhaps the rising star this year, the use of nano influencers, or those with less than 5,000 followers, has become the fastest-growing segment of influencer marketing.
Enlisting nano-influencers offers the benefit of covering more ground, usually for less spend, and typically allows marketers better contract terms and the ability to reuse content later. In return, consumers no longer have to battle through corporate jargon to discover a brand, instead feeling a sense of connection to the creators they interact with that could drive sales — 73% of consumers aged 18-40 in the U.S. trust product reviews from people who “seem like them,” according to a study by creator commerce company Whalar.
“You’re really developing that social community of people that are really raving fans of your brand, that have a lot of influence in their friend group and less of that authority of being an ‘influencer,’” Vaz said.
Spreading influencers throughout various communities could also help with the effectiveness of trend following. As brands analyze their social strategy, they should take note of how various trending topics could be translated depending on who is interacting with them, Lyons said.
“[Gen Z] has a foot everywhere,” she said. “Everything’s a trend, not just one thing. If it’s not cottage core it’s coastal grandma, but apply that to literally everything.”
This year, Instagram will remain the No. 1 platform for influencer marketing with marketers projected to spend 2.23 billion on the app ahead of $948 million on Google’s YouTube and $774.8 million on TikTok. Going forward, Lyons said platforms and brands could start exploring subscription-based offerings, allowing some consumers “extras” like behind-the-scenes content, pending payment or perhaps high levels of engagement.
Some may explore using text-based apps, like Twitch or Discord, to create more of a one-on-one connection, she added. The UFC in September partnered with social messaging app IRL (“in real life”) as its official group messaging platform, for example.
Make it fast
Short-form video continues to be the darling of social media strategies, with TikTok continuing to grow as the top social platform for the feature. Others this year have invested in the strategy, with YouTube adding a short-form video offering in June and Facebook shutting down its live-shopping feature in favor of shorter video content. Instagram even fought backlash recently for copying TikTok’s video-driven algorithm.
Despite unfavorable feelings, consumers are far from likely to abandon traditional platforms like Instagram, said Chuck Byers, marketing professor of practice at Santa Clara University. And as social platforms evolve to changing tastes, marketers should also ensure their content fits the mold.
“After 60 seconds, people’s minds begin to wonder,” Byers said. “If you really want to connect with the consumer, you have to accommodate that. Anything more than a minute’s going to be trimmed out.”
Emerging platforms this year have also tapped into the growing desire for quick bursts of entertainment — namely, BeReal. The app has grown to become the No. 2 free social networking offering in the app store, ahead of TikTok, at the time of publication, with brands like Chipotle and e.l.f. among the first major brands testing the platform. WeAre8, a cause-driven social platform that encourages people to spend just eight minutes per day watching content, has seen investment by brands like Nike, Heineken and Budweiser.
As platforms continue to evolve, Vaz predicts there will be a stronger emphasis on audio, with many brands increasingly creating original clips of their own or prioritizing utilizing viral sounds that could lend a creative edge. For example, McDonald’s played off the virality of its Sprite offering by partnering with rapper Tisakorean for an original tune on TikTok.
Looking ahead, Gen Z is likely to have an influence on the next big play by social media platforms. As marketers hone in on today’s trends, they’re best to keep an eye on what’s around the curve.
“I could see Gen Z being the next to hack social media to be what they want it to be,” Lyons said. “I’m kind of waiting for that.