How do we bridge the gap between influencers, consumers, and companies?
A case study exploring a solution to make the process of buying within social media applications easier in a way that benefits all parties: the consumers, the influencers, and the companies. Includes high-fidelity mockups, user flows, and personas.
Introduction and Research
“Influencers” is a term that we throw around often nowadays. Companies have been relying on influencer marketing to push and promote their products because it allows them to reach a more targeted audience and has an 11x higher ROI (return on investment) in comparison to more traditional forms of marketing such as TV and print ads. Initially, the success of influencer marketing was presumed to be heavily reliant on the numerical reach of the influencer themselves, i.e. how many followers they have, number of subscribers, and number of views. However as time goes on and the realm of influencers becomes more saturated, it has become apparent that anyone can be an influencer no matter how small their online reach is. Furthermore, as social media applications like Instagram attempt to draw the attention away from numerical data, like number of likes on photos, and companies start paying less attention to follower count, there has been more of a focus on rates of engagement. It has even been said that “Engagement is the new impressions. It matters as much, if not more, than someone’s reach”.
47% of overall purchases made by millennials are influenced by social media. Though social media marketing has drastically changed the business world, and social media marketing tactics have begun to go through its own changes, social media applications have yet to come up with a proper way to link influencers with both consumers and the companies that they work with. Influencers are the middle man between the two and it is up to them to do many tasks, including display the product in an interesting and creative way, relay the information about the product to the consumers, give their personal opinion of the product, link the product, and reveal their coupon code if there are any available. A lot of the time, the only ways that companies track the effectiveness of an individual influencer is through their personal discount code’s usage or through their personalized affiliate link. This leaves a lot on the shoulders of the influencers with not many resources or features to help them in their process. This also only allows for bigger influencer accounts that are personally contacted by the company to reap the benefits, even though smaller accounts that may not have as many followers, aka micro-influencers, still hold some persuasive power over consumer purchases.
Now there are different approaches to a solution for this problem and they vary depending on the application. In this article, I will be talking about Instagram specifically. Instagram has already began to implement features that would bridge the gap between brands and their consumers. As of March 2019, Instagram now allows companies to tag their products within their posts, allowing consumers to buy directly from the app. However, this is feature is currently limited to brands only and excludes influencers.
Though Instagram’s in-app purchase feature was created to boost sales for retailers through a shortened checkout process, they still have a long way to go before it becomes a well designed and user friendly feature. As of right now, the process between finding a piece and buying it is still way more tedious than it should be. Below is a user flow demonstrating the current process that it takes for a consumer to find a garment and purchase it on Instagram.
An alternate version of this current user flow is one in which after step 2, the consumer clicks on the link within the brand’s bio and searches through the company’s website for the particular product before buying. This is the more preferred method over the in-app purchase because it allows for people to see reviews, sizing guides, and a wider variety of other products from the retailer.
This process also completely cuts out the influencer, who is often the reason why consumers are brought to brand pages in the first place. 72% of fashion, beauty, and style-related purchases are made after seeing referrals on Instagram. As influencers, it is their job to tag the company that manufactured the product that they are trying to promote or show off. Most of the time, style influencers tag the brand without listing the actual name of the product, making it more difficult for consumers to find on their own. As for the micro-influencers that may not meet the requirements to be included in paid company affiliate programs , there are no systems put in place for them to receive compensation or acknowledgement for their influence and content creation. The consumer must also go through a lot of unnecessary steps in order to purchase the product with this current method.
When it comes to many beauty industry products, i.e. clothes, hair products, makeup, skincare, etc, a big reason that consumers look to Instagram is so that they can see what the product looks like on a variety of different body, skin, and hair types rather than relying solely on that of one model. With this current user flow, the user is also seeing a limited view of the product.
Influencers are already attempting to tag their clothes. However, Instagram has not fully caught up to the influencer marketing trend. The current process insists that brands are the driving force behind many of the company’s purchases, when in reality the exposure really comes from influencers. Their inability to tag the individual products themselves and only to source the brand means that consumers cannot purchase directly from the Instagram accounts of the influencers that they follow, which hurts the influencers both big and small in reach.
Consumers should be able to purchase directly from the Instagram accounts of influencers, making it a lot easier to track where purchases are coming from, who has the most user engagement and effective content creation strategy.
This would mean that Instagram would essentially have their own affiliate links embedded in their posts which would allow for accounts with a smaller reach to start making profits off of their Instagram posts. If the influencer is indeed affiliated with the company, then their individual promo code should be available through buying from their post specifically. Everyone is already an influencer, but in this case everyone would be paid for their influence. This would also benefit the consumers because it would make the buying process simpler. Instead of clicking on the company’s link on their bio and then searching through their entire online catalog for a particular product, they would be able to have a direct link to the product and possible pay for it through Instagram.
One of the problems that I always face is when I have a particular product that I want to buy, is that I will look on Instagram for other examples of people wearing the product to get a better idea of how it fits and how it is styled. That requires looking through hundreds of the company’s tagged posts for the product, saving the pictures as I find them, and then comparing them in my saved bookmarks once I have found quite a few. It also means looking through the company’s feed for the item if I want to purchase using the in-app feature.
It would be beneficial for Instagram to implement a feature where people can see all of the posts tagged with a particular product. This way, people do not have to spend extra time scrolling through the brand’s tagged posts to see real life examples of the products being used. This feature would also contribute to company efforts promote their products in a way that they already use. Online fashion retailers like Fashion Nova and Revolve already have features within their sites that display the clothes featured in Instagram posts. In order to do this they must employ people to sift through thousands of the brand’s tagged Instagram posts, find and match the individual items with the appropriate listing in their online inventory. Rather than sifting through all of the tagged photos, the majority of the photos shown in the “As seen on Instagram” features are from those within their affiliate programs, in which they are sponsored to speak highly on the products that they promote. Implementing a feature where users can see all of the posts tagged with an individual product would allow consumers to see a wider range of examples of the product in use before they buy. It would help influencers without those affiliate programs to be featured on the the site because companies would be able to find and identify the products easily. In addition this feature would help more influencers become discovered through the products that they are tagged with, rather than being buried within thousands of tagged brand posts. Further down the line, this would allow for Instagram users to have a more personalized experience when it comes to shopping as more products that they would like are recommended based on their liked products and the spending habits of of those that like the same items as them. The explore page would also be able to promote a wider range of influencers that use tag the products and brands that they like regularly, meaning influencers would be promoted to a more targeted audience as well as the products that they feature. 61% of marketers also reported difficulty in finding relevant influencers for a campaign. With this feature, companies would be able to pinpoint a more targeted audience for products and would easily be able to locate the influencers that cater to that market.
These updates would essentially make Instagram compatible with most sites in the same way that Facebook aimed to make itself essential outside of the social media platform. In addition to being a social media website, Facebook serves as a middleman option for logging in and signing up to most sites. This is one of the reasons that though I no longer use Facebook, I have not deleted my account because if I did, I would lose access to a lot of other personal accounts. (Without Facebook, I would not even be able to log in to my Medium account and write this article.) In this way, Facebook has made itself indispensable. Instagram though it already has cemented itself as a staple social media application, has the ability to cement its use outside of the app in the same way by becoming a necessary feature in most online retailing and providing real life examples of products in everyday use.
In conclusion, adding additional tagging features to Instagram would benefit all parties. Consumers would be able to make purchases easily. A wider range of influencers would be able make a profit off of their content creation and would be more easily discovered by their target audience. This feature would drive up company sales and ease their efforts to promote their products. It would also be in Instagram’s best interest to implement this feature because it would make Instagram posts a necessary component of the online retail experience on and off the app, as well as making the user’s experience easier and more personalized.