Which Emerging Social Platforms Will Win Big This Holiday Season?

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This post is the latest in our “Holiday Blitz” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of November, including topics holiday shopping behavior, year-over-year trend analysis and retail strategies. See the rest of the series here

Retailers looking for an edge this holiday season are testing the waters with newer, emerging social platforms in a bid to generate awareness and market their products to huge audiences of tech-savvy teens and twenty-somethings.

On TikTok, a mobile app for creating and sharing short videos, retailers are poised to connect with a base of more than 500 million users. Since starting in China in 2017, TikTok has grown to become the most downloaded app in the US. But fostering engagement on the video-sharing app, and turning online awareness into in-store sales, isn’t easy. It’s especially hard during the holiday season, when consumers are being targeted by retailers at every turn. Many consumers are growing weary of the constant stream of advertising and marketing pitches across social media.

Driving Generation Z engagement on TikTok, Instagram, and other emerging social platforms means getting creative and developing original content that’s fun for people to watch and share. TikTok, in particular, isn’t about polished, perfected videos. The most popular videos on TikTok are ones that are silly or wacky, like a video demonstration set to music, posted by the beauty brand Lush. Another brand that’s found success on TikTok is e.l.f. Cosmetics. The company’s decision to commission a song as part of its TikTok campaign is an example of a brand that understands one of the core elements of what makes TikTok different from other video sharing.

While social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are brimming with brands looking to capture people’s attention, TikTok is still a relatively untapped market for retailers. Only a very small number of brands are on TikTok today.

“My general advice to marketers trying to use TikTok to generate sales for this holiday season is that if you’re not already on TikTok, if you haven’t been generating an understanding of the community, then your time on TikTok this holiday season is better used getting smarter,” says Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate, a platform that provides brands with tools to help consumers discover their next purchase.

For retail marketers who believe they’re ready to jump into the world of TikTok, even though they haven’t spent much time on the platform before, Gupta recommends using this season to form a point of view, to craft some experiments, and to become someone who can add to the creativity of the TikTok community.

“While large audiences are a marketer’s catnip, marketers are also becoming increasingly appreciative of the fact that people value authenticity,” he says.

Retailers’ current interest in TikTok is part of a larger push that extends beyond the holiday season. Gupta is seeing a lot more brands take an “influencer-first” approach to dabbling with emerging platforms. Many brands have recognized there are content creators who have an intuitive understanding of what resonates and what feels natural on these platforms. Leveraging these influencers serves as a great way for brands to dip their toes in before taking the plunge and spending big on lesser-known social platforms.

“For brands who have started to lean into these emerging platforms, we’re seeing these brands having a better understanding of what’s unique to the platform,” Gupta says.

Outside of TikTok, Gupta expects to see retailers continue to use Instagram this holiday shopping season. He predicts that product posts, both in traditional posts and Stories, will become a bigger percentage of the posts that brands create on the platform. He’s also seeing a larger number of brands and retailers bringing inspirational content from emerging social platforms onto their own websites, apps, and emails, and making that content shoppable in those environments.

“There’s a growing awareness that brands can’t just compete on transactions, they’ve got to win at inspiration. And inspiration can’t just happen on social where a million other brands are vying for the attention of people. It’s also got to happen on owned channels as well,” Gupta says. “This all really suggests that the future of social content won’t just be on social.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.