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L2 Report Reveals Hair-Care Sector’s Social Media Struggles

L'Oréal Paris, Pantene, Garnier, Redken and Dove secured the top spots in the business research firm's ranking of hair-care brands' digital intelligence.

Hair still isn’t getting the attention faces are on social media.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by business research firm L2, which shows makeup and skin care outpacing hair care and color across an array of digital platforms. Hindered by structural constraints and legacy tactics, hair-products purveyors have had trouble grappling with devices infiltrating the lives of beauty shoppers, although they’re beginning to shift marketing and retail practices in acknowledgement that information and goods are increasingly traded virtually.

“They are always going to be a step behind cosmetics, but a lot of it historically has had to do with the viewpoint of these brands. For example, they have not wanted to distribute through online retailers,” said Giulia Prati, associate director of beauty research at L2. “And, if you think about how visual cosmetics are, it is natural that they have had huge success on social media platforms like Instagram. Those products really shine, whereas hair care is harder to represent and has lower brand loyalty.”

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After evaluating 72 hair-care and color brands this year, L2 determined 61 percent performed at average or below on its digital intelligence index, compared with 67 percent of 70 brands last year performing at those proficient to subpar levels. Combining the consumer and professional hair-care segments, hair commanded a 28 percent share of posts in the second quarter on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, a substantial fall off from color cosmetics’ 43 percent share. Color cosmetics dominated social-media interactions with a 76 percent share in contrast to hair’s dismal 5 percent share.

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“Brands are definitely accelerating and they are becoming smarter, it has just been a slower process with this industry than many of the industries we cover,” said Prati.

Big players rule L2’s ranking of the hair-care and color brands with the highest digital intelligence. L’Oréal Paris comes in first with Pantene, Garnier, Redken and Dove rounding out the top five. Judging by parent company, Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. is in the lead, and Proctor & Gamble slides into second. DevaCurl, John Paul Mitchell Systems and Moroccanoil are the only brands not owned by major beauty conglomerates identified by L2 in the upper 20 spots of its digital intelligence ranking.

Smaller hair-care brands have certainly made inroads on social media despite the fatter marketing budgets of larger competitors. DevaCurl and SheaMoisture have taken to Snapchat to break through the digital clutter. They are active, respectively, 3.5 and 3.9 days per week on the social-media network, accounting for more than one-third and nearly one-fifth of all the snaps assessed by L2. Also lively on Snapchat, Matrix and Redken trail DevaCurl and SheaMoisture by registering 3.2 and 2.5 active days per week on the platform, and capturing 8 percent and 10 percent of the total snaps.

“They are trying to create a story and connect with consumers on Snapchat,” said Prati of DevaCurl and SheaMoisture. “DevaCurl featured contest winners on their Snapchat, and they provided their hair-care routines for [different] curly hair types. The idea was to introduce the viewers and fans to other DevaCurl product users and show them how they are using the brand’s products. Snapchat is a great avenue for quick and easy tutorials. Content is a lot less curated. It’s very low-key and relaxed.”

In addition to DevaCurl and SheaMoisture, Prati pointed to emerging professional hair-care brand Olaplex as a social media standout. Despite generating only 3 percent of the Instagram posts L2 looked at, Olaplex captured 22 percent of the interactions on the photo-heavy platform. Typically, L2 found professional hair-care brands spur fewer interactions than parity for the number of posts they produce.

“We dug into what Olaplex is doing, and they feature user-generated content by stylists and a lot of before-and-after content,” said Prati. “It is very targeted to the hair-care professional, but they are unique in that user-generated content is a strategy successful beauty brands on Instagram have used such as Anastasia Beverly Hills, and this is the first time we see that model successfully applied to a professional hair-care brand. It is an interesting case study for others to replicate.”

While small brands often depend on the social media megaphone because they don’t have to shell out for traditional advertising, bigger brands are leveraging it to make waves in categories they generally haven’t been strong in. L2 discovered the brands Matrix, Head & Shoulders and L’Oréal Paris are trying to raise the profile of their products for multicultural women by investing in search terms that resonate with that customer base, notably involving co-wash. The co-washing concept skips shampooing and relies on conditioning, and has been embraced by people with thick, curly hair. According to L2, search volume on the term co-wash climbed 19 percent since July 2014.

“These brands are clearly recognizing that this is a group that has very specific hair care needs and it is a huge portion of the population, so huge sales can come from catering to that demographic,” said Prati. “Digital is enabling agility in the hair-care space. Brands are able to rebrand themselves more quickly and easily than they had in the past. By changing their Google search strategy, they can optimize for a category where they weren’t before.”

Where professional hair-care brands haven’t been much before is e-commerce. They’ve predominantly avoided online outlets, particularly Amazon, out of concern they would hurt their salon business. But the dynamics are changing as online purchasing expands. L2 emphasized e-commerce is the fastest-growing channel for hair-care sales, and that some professional hair-care brands (Oribe and Phyto are highlighted in the report) now officially distribute through Amazon.

“As brands start to be more friendly to retailers, we have started to see the barriers between the professional space and the mass hair-care space break down. We start to see brands that describe themselves as professional distribute at places like Amazon, which was unheard of a few years back,” said Prati. “After starting to distribute on Amazon, they’ve seen their salon sales go up because they are getting a lot of visibility on Amazon. They are almost seeing it as a media channel because there are so many eyes on Amazon all the time.”