Conquering Social Media with Visual Image Search

Social media spend has ballooned in the past few years, representing tens of billions of dollars in ad money across the globe. It’s a rapidly changing landscape that you now need to stay on top of in order to succeed, especially in e-commerce. And that means that more and more time and energy is going into figuring out different approaches to different platforms — a constant battle as in-favor apps and regulations change constantly.

social media

This is a smart move for companies, but it is only one part of the battle. Optimizing ads and content for social media is one thing, but tapping into the heart of what makes social media tick means that you can optimize content for social media users.

Apps, rules around posting, and social trends will come and go.
But what’s here to stay is the trend that social media has been growing into for years: visuals. Social media users want and expect images and visual platforms and experiences. Focusing on catering to what your customers are drawn to about social media will restructure your customer relationship and create a low-friction experience that is exactly what all your scrolling, snapping, following, posting customers want.

Image-heavy websites mimic social trends

Social media has become more and more visual over time. We started with email threads and AIM chatrooms that were almost entirely text-based. But as the social web evolved, it started to lean more and more towards images. YouTube started to explode as a legitimate haven for web video. Facebook had you upload, then mobile upload, then tag pictures, then Facebook Live video of your friends and memories.

This is just the tip of the iceberg — which is no surprise to anyone who understands the way the human brain works, as we are highly visual creatures.

From a business perspective, this means that consumers are driven to visuals and expect content across all their digital interactions to be more and more visual. They expect to see coordinated visual efforts across channels, and they want those visuals to be striking. Yes, that means you have to have an attractive photo for your Instagram, but for e-commerce retailers, it also means that your web design, in and of itself, needs to cater to the visual impulse.

Let’s say you’re DSW. You might show this sponsored post as an ad to a user on Instagram:
IMG_3327And your Twitter feed might look a little something like this:
Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 3.21.28 PM If the website looked like this, cluttered and overly gimmicky, it would be a huge miss and a waste of money from a business perspective:

But DSW doesn’t make that mistake. Their website fits right in:

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 3.10.35 PM (1)It’s got the same visual appeal and tone as their Instagram. The products speak for themselves and the website is mostly devoid of text. That’s a seamless brand experience. They’ve built a visual story around it that carries from channel to channel to channel and have encouraged people to return to their e-commerce site to shop.

Crafting your content to appeal to the same pleasurable aesthetic experience as social media is a great way to follow in its footsteps.

Image search caters to social media users online

Social media users don’t just look at images that other people produce. As social has gotten more visual, consumers have been able to do more and more with their own images and image collections.

Social media users “like” images, they screenshot, they save to desktop, they reblog and tag, pin, retweet and send them to their friends. Collecting images has never been easier, and people do it across platforms and devices. Who among us does not have a desktop absolutely littered with random photos?

screenshot 2Someone needs to make some desktop folders…

To optimize this social media behavior means catering to users who collect images. A great way to do this outside of social media advertising is to put a digital image search on your e-commerce site. This makes searching for a lookalike item as easy as DMing one of your friends a screenshot: you simply drag and drop a photo and go — or as simple as seeing a compelling Instagram picture and tapping on the profile to get more pictures just like that. What if shoppers could click on a clothing item they liked and immediately see more of the same? They can:

The ease of saving and sharing images on social needs to be part of any e-commerce strategy worth its salt. People don’t want to sit and sift through preset search options, they want to see what they like and then go out and find it immediately. This is a behavior pattern that has been heightened by social media and isn’t going away anytime soon. To tap into it, look beyond what you’re doing on social.

Image search captures social media habits

Just as everyone is saving images from others, they’re also snapping them out in the wild. High-quality photo and video are as easy as whipping out pretty much any old cell phone.

This democratization of photo and video has seen an explosion in street style, fashion blogging, and vlogging. Moreso than ever before, people are taking sartorial and shopping cues from other regular people with cameras. They’re taking photos of each other, they’re taking photos of merchandise, and of themselves.

Once they have photos, they’re tagging them with brands, friends, influencers or even metadata information. Having images contain enriching information is expected. So why do so many e-commerce sites just stick up photos and call it a day?

What if you actually took advantage of the same actions that people use and expect by tagging images to help people search and shop from the picture itself? Bingo:
Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 4.16.04 PM (1)Tag-embedded image search is a natural extension of social media habits and a great way to showcase products. Even platforms are now adding these types of features, like Instagram’s product- tagging features, which let advertisers embed additional product information in photos:
IMG_3920-576x1024 (Source)

When updates like this appear on social but not on e-commerce sites, it makes e-commerce seem like it’s lagging behind. Consumers want easy shopping experiences and they want to have the same intuitive features across their digital lives. Incorporating image search with embedded tags is going to become standard for this very reason.

Monkey see, monkey do

The relationship between social media and e-commerce is complex but intertwined. As people build habits and expectations on one platform, they will bleed to the other. The rise of image-heavy social media has created behaviors that e-commerce retailers can now tap into. From web design to product tagging, e-commerce needs to follow the path that social has carved.