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Gen Z's alternative social channels

Social index jb

As Facebook and Instagram have become well established for retailers, and consumers spread their social attention to new platforms, Drapers looks into the success of four alternative platforms: TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch and Pinterest.

The social media landscape is on the move. In recent years, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have monopolised the sector with massive growth and massive commercial power over consumers – but a different generation of social platforms is rising in significance.

While the “traditional” social channels are still overwhelmingly dominant, young consumers in particular are embracing alternatives and the growing popularity of a different kind of social platform – focusing on entertainment and individuality.

This shift, in turn, is catching the eye of brands and retailers, particularly those targeting a younger demographic – and this new type of social necessitates a new, less commercially focused approach.

Generation Z, in particular, is searching for its own spaces on social media and embrace multiple platforms such as TikTok, Twitch, Snapchat and Pinterest at speed, says digital marketing consultant Paul Sutton: “The younger demographic wants to have somewhere that is their own territory. They don’t want to be on the channels that older people are on. They want their own place.”

Phoebe Russell, social media manager at young fashion brand Nasty Gal, says: “They don’t appreciate a hard-sell approach. Individuals are headstrong, especially Gen Z. They’re more interested in buying from brands that represent the same values as they do.”

The kind of content being consumed is also changing. Video is becoming the dominant media of communication. TikTok, Twitch and Snapchat all revolve around video and Pinterest is seeing increased video engagement on the site. Additionally on Instagram, Stories are continually growing and is used by 500 million Instagrammers every day.

For brands targeting younger demographics, a knowledge and understanding of these social spaces is essential.

“Brands need to know their audience,” says Carly Stringer, founder of social media consultancy Keystone Visual. “Spend time on the platforms that [your customer is] on – it’s really knowing about them in a lot of detail. Once you know the exact sort of person you’re interacting with, you can create the kind of content that’s right for them.”

Ellie Hernaman, CEO of social media agency Truffle, believes now is the perfect time to start working on growing platforms, but also cautions that success is measurable in a less tangible way than on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

“Fortune favours the brave,” she says. “The brands that are more willing to get in there [on newer platforms] from the get-go and become early adopters are the ones that can make real headway.

“We are seeing more and more brands open to working with newer platforms – places where it is a trial and error approach. They are experimenting with engagement and the objective of brand awareness rather than driving sales. We are measuring success via engagement rather than sales, looking at likes and comments, the general response rate and sentiments of reactions.”

Drapers takes a closer look at four of the “other” social channels that brands and retailers should have on their radars.



Vital statistics

Launched: in China in 2017

Users: 500 million monthly users worldwide, 188 million new users in Q1 2019

Demographic: 41% of users aged 16 to 24; 44% female 56% male

What is it?

TikTok is a social video platform where users create and share short, snappy videos, which are often comedic. Users take part in #hashtag challenges where they complete certain tasks and share with others.

What you need to know:

The growth of TikTok has been astonishing. In Q1 2019 the app picked up 188 million new users globally, up 70% compared with the same period last year. For the same period, it was the most downloaded app on the IoS App Store with 33 million downloads, reports app data provider Sensor Tower.

Thanks to its wildly growing popularity and overwhelmingly young user base, it has become a platform where retailers – including River Island, and PrettyLittleThing – are keen to make an impact.

Rl tiktok diana silvers 1

Ralph Lauren’s #WinningRL campaign on TikTok

However, with its core user base made up of a generation savvy shoppers wary of commercial motives, TikTok requires a different approach from traditional social media.

“Brands are tapping into younger audiences by appealing to their interests, which are much more about authenticity,” explains Ellie Hernaman, CEO of social media agency Truffle.

“The audiences are growing up in an age where they are very aware of the tactics marketers are using to win their business. Customers are very much getting behind the mission of a brand.”

She highlights Ralph Lauren as one brand that has performed well on the platform, with its campaign during the US Open tennis tournament in August. The #WinningRL challenge encouraged users to share their own winning moments in life on the platform.

“These younger audiences were feeling like they are really part of the brand,” she says. “That’s the kind of buy-in that brands are really looking for.”

The importance of this collaborative approach is key: building rapport so consumers engage on an emotional level and build all important brand loyalty – all the while maintaining their own personal identity.

“The one thing TikTok has over many platforms, is its promotion of authenticity and collaboration,” says Jacob Quirke of social consultancy JC Social Media. “Users can create content that provides a visual representation of who they are and we all know the importance of video content on social media platforms at the moment.”





Vital statistics

Launched: in the US in 2011

Users: 310 million monthly users worldwide

Demographic: 73% of users aged 18 to 24; 61% female, 39% male

What is it?

Snapchat describes itself as a “multimedia messaging app” – users share videos and images to their stories, which their contacts can only view for 24 hours. There is also a “Discover” section where brands can show ad-based content.

What you need to know:


Another platform dominated by Gen Z is Snapchat.

The app reports that 90% of all 13-to-24-year-olds in the US use the app and 2.1 million “snaps” are created every minute around the globe.

Paul Sutton, digital marketing consultant, explains Snapchat’s rise as characteristic of an increasing demand for “entertainment” on social media from a younger generation of users.

“Users are not going on Snapchat to be educated: it’s about fleeting moments and keeping up with what your friends are doing,” he explains. “All of these social platforms are purely about entertainment.”

As such, for businesses to make use of the platform, he advises a focus on pushing fun, engaging content rather than overt selling.

“It’s not a sales approach at all,” he says. “Social media works with little nudges towards something that might eventually convert a person to a sale.”

JC Social Media’s Quirke agrees, and notes that Snapchat’s success is fuelled by creativity, playfulness and authenticity: “Businesses should not be afraid to show off their fun side. Although they may wish to prioritise advertising their products, the most engagement, regardless of platform, always comes from providing an audience with engaging content that doesn’t bombard them with shameless self-promotion.”

Being on the platform and providing content on a regular basis allows brands to become part of the worlds of their customers. Success on Snapchat lies in ensuring you are “front of mind” for when your audience looks to make a purchase, says Sutton.




Vital statistics

Launched: in the US in 2010

Users: 300 million monthly users worldwide

Demographic: 34% of users aged 18 to 34; 70% female, 30% male

What is it?

Pinterest allows users to create virtual mood-boards by “pinning” images of products, inspirational items and general other items. Clicking on these pictures takes users back to the source website of the image.

What you need to know:

There has been an increasing buzz around Pinterest in recent months, as the platform upgraded its analytics tools in July, which allow businesses to better trace interactions with their users and the success of their presence on the platform.

Nasty gal pinterest

While it may not be used as widely as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, Pinterest is an extremely powerful tool for driving traffic to brands’ websites. Research from Truffle show the platform drives 3.8 times more sales than any other platform – largely thanks to the ease with which purchases can be made.

Truffle’s Hernaman explains the appeal of Pinterest for users stems from its lack of overtly sales-orientated content – tying into a growing move towards platforms that allow for expressions of individuality, without an obvious overlay of commerciality.

“Pinterest is purely there for inspiration. People use it to create mood boards and build their own identities,” she explains. “It is incredibly effective as it does not come across as sales driven. The call to action isn’t to follow the link in a bio – you just click on an image to go straight to the source.”

One retailer that uses Pinterest regularly is young fashion brand Nasty Gal, which has more than 10 million monthly users on the platform.

Phoebe Russell, the brand’s social media manager, explains the different approach the platform requires: “Pinterest is the new Google Images, but on steroids.

”Pinterest is a long-lead platform, as opposed to Facebook and Instagram, where you can see a sale almost immediately. Pinterest matures over a four-to-six-week period.”

“In contrast to Instagram, where ecommerce photography is an absolute no-go, Pinterest users love the ease of ecommerce photography – how clear it is to see the product and how it fits the model.

“Pinterest acts as an extension of our online shop but for users who didn’t even know they were missing something from their wardrobe until they pinned it. Attracting new shoppers is always a KPI year on year, and Pinterest helps us achieve exactly that.”




Twitch (1)

Vital statistics

Launched: in the US in 2011

Users: More than 15 million average daily users; 505bn minutes watched in 2018

Demographic: 37% users aged 13 to 17, 37% aged 18 to 34; 19% female, 81% male

What is it?

Twitch is a livestreaming social video platform. Primarily focusing on videogames, users watch livestreams of other players as they play games and can interact with them and others watching. Popular games on the platform include Fortnite and League of Legends.

What you need to know

Twitch represents a relatively untapped space in the social media landscape, and neatly encapsulates many of the aspects that have driven the growing popularity of other social channels.

Adam Harris, Twitch’s director of custom solutions, explains: “[Twitch] takes advantage of what Gen Z wants: it’s an active, lean-in experience where you are part of the content. We call it multi-player entertainment – you’re not just there watching, you are part of it.”

With such an engaged, growing user base, the platform is increasingly working with brands to create commercial content on the site – appealing to the network of gamers that Harris says were “ignored” by brands for years.

The site offers pre-roll adverts, which play before main videos, but also encourages branded content – for example, prominent gamers wearing or using a brand’s products while they play. However, the importance of creativity, and of engaging users in the right way is equally important on Twitch.

Harris says he tells brands not to “dad dance” when they engage with the platform: “Brands have a tendency to think they know how to speak to this audience, but it’s very nuanced,” he says. ”We tell people to work with creators and to work with people that are embedded in that culture and community. Then you will have a meaningful connection with the audience.”

A recent example of this is Adidas’s collaboration with Twitch star Ninja, who has 15 million followers on the platform. Details of what the multi-year partnership are yet to be announced, although a trailer video hints at exclusive products accessible for Twitch users who complete certain tasks. 


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