social media

If you are a marketer in today’s fast-paced, digital environment, then you already know that social platforms are rapidly becoming one of your highest-opportunity marketing channels. The power of social platforms to drive sales continues to grow by the minute — as they see expanded reach and increased average daily time spent among their user base, platforms have recognized the massive corresponding commerce opportunity and are deploying robust functionality to facilitate it. From Instagram to TikTok, new ad units and commerce capabilities are being rolled out each month; the hard part is keeping up with the updates. So we have done the work for you: Here is a one-stop primer on the latest marketing opportunities emerging on key social channels: Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat.

1. Instagram

Instagram is the reigning social platform for product discovery. According to ForwardPMX — an agency specializing in high-level digital work for luxury retail brands — in the last year, users took more than 1.2 billion engagement actions directly from luxury brand profiles across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Notably, the lion’s share of those — some 1.16 billion — occurred on Instagram. With a thriving engagement and ad ecosystem, Instagram has begun building the infrastructure for direct in-app commerce, a game-changer that substantially reduces the length of a user journey from discovery through purchase.

E-commerce: In March, Instagram tested a limited rollout of revolutionary e-commerce capabilities, enabling in-app checkout for e-commerce purchasing. Functionally, this looks like an entire in-app branded web site accessible via posts and stories, with checkout utilizing Instagram’s new payment feature. Since then, Instagram has expanded this feature to more brands and most recently, added a double arrow symbol signifying posts where products can be purchased in-app — as shown in Kim Kardashian’s KKW Beauty Instagram store below.   

Instagram-Kim Kardashian

Instagram tested a limited rollout of revolutionary e-commerce capabilities.  Courtesy Image.

Once a user checks out and inputs payment information into Instagram for the first time, they have a single-click checkout available to them for all future in-app purchases. This undeniably tightens the purchase funnel: Adidas reported that despite having to pay Instagram a fee for the capability, they saw online sales jump 40 percent, which they attributed in large part to Instagram. And Instagram is just getting started with its in-app network of branded sites; in November, it launched Instagram-curated product collections as well as an @shop account consisting entirely of product posts.

2. TikTok

TikTok reaches more than 1 billion users.  Courtesy Image

The explosive reach of TikTok is all anyone who focuses on social media has been talking about over the last few months. From its rapidly growing user base — 1 billion users and counting, more than 27 million of whom are monthly actives in the U.S. — to the fact that most of those users are in the coveted Gen Z demographic, there is no denying that TikTok is an emerging powerhouse in social media with staying power. And as all marketers know, every explosive platform comes with its own iteration of influencers, brand marketing and, ultimately, ads. Here’s what is going on by way of brand activity on TikTok:

Ads: Some retailers, such as Hollister and Poshmark, have tested out ad campaigns that include a button opening an in-app shopping site. Many, like Fenty Beauty in the image above, have invested in growing their brand accounts and creating unique content for it. 

Social Commerce/Influencers: In the U.S., November 2019 brought the first opening of social commerce capabilities in TikTok, unlocking two features for testing: (1) accounts can include a URL to an outside site in their bios, and (2) influencers can embed a link to e-commerce sites within their videos, creating “shoppable posts.” These capabilities can be used for influencers to direct traffic to e-commerce sites, and for brands with growing followings to promote certain products and link directly to them from their bios. 

A lot more seems to be on the horizon for TikTok; in the Chinese version of the app, accounts that pass a certain threshold of followers can add a shopping cart button allowing their followers to purchase items. While buy buttons have historically resonated much more with Asian audiences than U.S. consumers, there are a variety of promising use cases including influencer-driven product-specific campaigns. 

3. YouTube

Ads: Many shoppers look to YouTube for reviews before purchasing a product. Now, when you search for product reviews, a Google Shopping ad may be triggered to display suggested products based on the search terms used. These Google Shopping ads display before the video results as well as between videos on the YouTube homepage. Shoppers do not need to look specifically for a brand to see that brand’s ads; shoppers can search relevant terms like “running” or “sports,” and Google’s algorithm will serve up ads with several different interfaces: they can be text only, product images or videos. The YouTube Shopping ads have been added to the Google Display Network, which includes Search, Shopping and other partner web sites. 


Some shoppers look to YouTube for reviews before purchasing a product.  Courtesy Image.

4. Snap

Social Commerce: The Snapchat app has more than 180 million daily active users and counting. Snap has long been focused on new ad options for marketers, and in October 2019, Snap released Dynamic Ads to automate advertisements for e-commerce retailers. Before Dynamic Ads, e-commerce retailers could only use the Catalog function to manually choose formats and displays for content. With Dynamic Ads, there are more effective creative displays and a higher degree of audience relevance. Dynamic Ads not only automate the templates for existing ads but also adjust themselves based on the effectiveness and conversion of results from other users. Snap claims that “more than 75 percent of the 13- to 34-year-old U.S. population is active on Snapchat” and Dynamic Ads enables e-commerce retailers to reach this audience more effectively.

5. Pinterest

Visual Search/Commerce: Pinterest’s value to marketers continues to grow as it expands its discovery and purchase capabilities. Most recently, in September 2019, Pinterest announced enhanced Lens capabilities for its camera, which can now identify up to 2.5 billion different fashion and home items for visual search. And Pinterest went a step further, combining this with shoppable Product Pins that provide price information and links to e-commerce web sites where the item can be purchased, as well as offering recommendations of similar products. Marrying shoppable pins with Lens search results unlocks a unique opportunity for marketers in fashion and home by enabling brands to tap into visual search in a way that offers a clear path from discovery through purchase. And this pathway is of exceedingly high value: 80% of “Pinners” — Pinterests’s lingo signifying active users — and more than half of “non-Pinners” begin their shopping journeys with visual search.


Pinterest’s value to marketers continues to grow as it expands its discovery and purchase capabilities.  Courtesy Image.

If you are a marketer, as you look beyond hitting your holiday 2019 KPIs, these five platforms and the emerging opportunities on them should be a focus of your 2020 planning.

Dana Gibber and Caroline Klatt are cofounders at Headliner Labs.

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