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Representation, ‘Nanocommunities’ and Convenience: How Retailers Can Build Real Relationships on Social Media

Just how much did the COVID-19 pandemic change people’s worldview? The short answer is a lot: 37% of consumers responding to the Culture Rising: 2022 Trends Report by Facebook IQ said the pandemic spurred them to reevaluate their purpose and priorities in life. Meta looked at some of the top trending hashtags and community behaviors across its platforms and uncovered ways for retailers to create meaningful interactions even as their expectations and attitudes are changing.

People haven’t run out of attention,” said Tomá Beczak, Global Content Strategy Lead for Facebook IQ in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They just need a good reason to spend it on you. People may not remember what you say, but they’ll always remember how you make them feel. Whether it’s an interactive poll, an AR experience or a full VR immersion, have a little fun and take chances so you spark an emotional response with your audience.”

Of course, a memorable interaction doesn’t have to be tech-driven every time. Retailers can build their audience by understanding what shoppers want and shaping their social media efforts to match these needs.

Inclusivity and Diversity are ‘In’

#RepresentationMatters saw 65% annual global growth on Instagram, and one of the ways retailers can better reach shoppers via social media is by directly championing inclusivity. Beczak called on retailers to “learn about the difference diversity in advertising can make.” But this isn’t solely a marketing effort, because such work needs to start internally. Beczak laid out two key elements for retailers looking to build an audience among shoppers who truly believe in representation:

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  • Connect and collaborate with people in the communities you want to represent to ensure efforts are authentic and inclusive; and
  • Lead with action first — Identify what you are actually doing to advance social justice. Only after taking action will your messaging resonate with credibility.

“To avoid associations like #Wokewashing, it’s usually best to take action before you start to advertise your commitment to a cause,” said Beczak. “Remember that change starts at home. Are you cultivating a radically inclusive culture at work? It’s not just about a diverse slate approach to hiring — it could mean educating yourself on digital accessibility best practices. It could mean becoming more mindful about running inclusive meetings, where you’re creating space for both extroverts and introverts to have a voice.”

The same general advice can be applied to environmental messages. #Greenwashing saw +124% global growth on Instagram, making it an accusation retailers certainly will want to avoid. Additional ways to build credibility on this front include collaborating with experts such as NGOs and “looking beyond ‘How do I reduce harm to the planet?’ to questions that sound more like, ‘How can I have a net positive impact?’” If this advice seems similar, it’s not a coincidence.

“No trend is an island,” said Beczak. “Environmental sustainability and business sustainability can (and will have to) go hand in hand. The magic so often happens when we bring multiple trends together. For example, combine ecommerce and entertainment, and you get live shopping. Combine social good with diverse creators and you’ve got a campaign that will resonate with new folks in new ways. When you see trends as building blocks, the possibilities for innovative and fresh thinking become endless.”

People Find Meaning in Groups, and Retailers Can Learn a Lot by Listening In

Retailers looking to make the biggest impact on social media also need a way to authentically connect with smaller groups. The study found that 600 million people are members of a Facebook Group that they consider meaningful in their life. Retailers that can appeal to these “nanocommunities” in a genuine fashion are likely to find an eager audience for their services.

No two brands will want to engage with the same set of groups or engage with nanocommunities in the same way. These tight-knit communities each have their own habits and preferences, and retailers need to think about both the group’s overall interests and the role a company may play in its members’ daily lives when formatting their approach.

“Sometimes it makes sense for a brand to found its own group,” said Beczak. “In many cases, though, it’s more strategic to explore what’s out there first and partner up with groups that already exist. Like in any relationship, it’s so important to listen. Based on this, we’ve seen brands make a meaningful difference by sharing their authentic expertise, adding value for group members. We’ve seen brands work with groups for research purposes, something akin to a focus group or creative muse. Brands have even collaborated with groups around innovation, co-creating new product lines with community members.

Beczak noted that retailers shouldn’t necessarily focus only on formal groups, since genuine communities can form in multiple ways. He cited people saying they found a sense of community around hashtags rather than specific groups, such as #MentalHealth (up 66%) and #NailsOfInstagram (also up 66%). Beczak described hashtags as a “small but mighty way for people to find others who share their passions, interests or needs.

I often say modern community is like water — it can take the form of whatever vessel it needs to — whether that’s a Facebook group, a group chat with your besties or even a hashtag for people to rally around,” said Beczak. “Even as people’s love of groups continues to grow, I think people increasingly appreciate less formalized types of community too.”

Convenience is Still a Top Priority Across All Channels

Once a retailer has delivered the right message to a receptive group, the next task is to turn that interest into conversions. Increasingly, this process can take place on the social media platforms themselves — #LiveShopping saw 90% growth on Instagram. Live shopping has been a growing retail channel at Meta, and it provides a great chance to sell products while building relationships with customers.

One piece of advice that applies no matter how retailers go about making the sale is that convenience is king, whether on social media, through a traditional ecommerce site or at a brick-and-mortar store. Retailers should strive to make their social media presence a useful tool that primarily exists to support shoppers.

“I think the key thing to consider here, regardless of audience segment, is reducing friction at every turn,” said Beczak. “Certainly this is particularly acute for working parents, who feel a real and constant time crunch. But there’s something interesting going on here whereby these seemingly functional, time-saving things can actually start to spark emotional connections with customers. Because time is precious, finding ways to give people time back can actually be quite a meaningful gift. It allows them to focus on things they want to do, like hanging out with their kids instead of running errands.”

The way to capitalize on every opportunity, from reaching new communities to building a live shopping presence, is to look for the right partners. Subject matter experts and influencers can lend a sense of legitimacy, and tech partners can help retailers get off the ground with unfamiliar offerings. These partners, and others, can help retailers tap into major trends and provide shoppers with what they need.

You know what they say: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, find a friend,” said Beczak. “The point is, no matter your business objective, there’s a strong chance you can do it better with a partner. It could be a set of diverse creators, members of an underrepresented community, an AR developer, an NGO or even a like-minded brand. And these days, we’re seeing every possible type of partnership, so the sky’s the limit!”

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