Keeping up with the trends

How influencer marketers can practically take advantage of viral social media and emerging digital marketing trends

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We are all susceptible to emerging trends such as the Miami Vice days of shoes without socks to the Macarena and Game of Thrones ‘Watchalongs’. 

The popularity and allure of these cultural trends, particularly in today’s fast-paced social media age of TikTok and Instagram, as well as emerging digital marketing trends such as AI, can be practically exploited by influencer marketers in their campaign strategies. 

Experts at Meltwater believe the first stage in successfully utilising trends is via AI powered social listening tools. These can help marketers and brands analyse the range of conversations taking place across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok to assess emerging trends amongst existing and potentially new customers. 

The tools can measure the spread, geographic trajectory and demographics by which a trend spreads allowing marketers to get a quick understanding on whether the trend is going to be a niche event or something with real global reach. These trends can be online challenges which go viral, to a new buzz product, a new or resurrected fashion style, words, tunes, images or sounds. Anything which captures peoples’ imaginations and can boost a brand’s followers and customer numbers and sales.

We look at how a trend could apply to specific brands and the audiences they are trying to reach

Tiah Slattery, account director, Buttermilk

“We want to look at data showing us the audience demographics and engagement metrics around a trend. Is it being liked by Gen Z or millennials for example? Are they commenting and are they sharing?” says Tiah Slattery, Account Director at influencer marketing agency Buttermilk. “If we take the recent ‘Tube Girl’ trend which has gone viral on social media she has quite a broad audience including, surprisingly, many older people. We look at that and see how that trend could apply to specific brands and the audiences they are trying to reach. Is it relevant?”

Remain relevant

Tube Girl is Sabrina Bahsoon, who posts Tik-Tok videos of herself dancing on London Underground trains. It’s been copied by social media influencers with brands such as alcohol-free drinks group Days Brewing posting a video of their bosses dancing away whilst drinking their product, boosting follower numbers and sales. The airline Air Baltic has also responded with Tik-Tok videos of dancing female pilots called Plane Girl.

Indeed, on a practical level for marketers it is either recreating an organic trend for use on a brand’s social media plan or creating an original trend to be used on a brand’s website and/or influencer’s feed. “Brands can create, for example, a Tik Tok sound as part of a product launch which can be re-used by consumers,” Slattery explains. “You can use a third-party creative studio to create a song or a sound/reusable noise. An influencer can use that sound on their own content and track engagement.”

One example from 2022 was chewing gum brand Trident which worked with singer Chloe Bailey to create a song for its new Vibes product. Customers were challenged to chew to the beat of the track and post their efforts on TikTok.

Paid media is an option marketers can utilise when hoping to exploit trends, but Slattery believes using influencers can provide a more authentic connection. “It is more personal, and influencers have more trust and credibility with their audience,” she says. 

59% of consumers say they will not buy from a company they don’t trust. Learn more from Klear’s State of Influencer Marketing Report.

Danielle Wiley, founder and chief executive of marketing agency Sway Group, agrees that influencers tuned into audiences and with high engagement rates can make a difference. She believes that it can enhance the message and lend more credibility to the brand looking to exploit the trend.

She says brands and agencies can use influencers they already work with to recreate or launch their own trends and/or bring in new creators more closely aligned to the trend. They can best be found through keeping an eye on social listening on trending hashtags, posts and topics on social media.

“If brands have deep pockets, then they could work with influencers who are well-known at being successful with trends,” says David Skilling, CEO of influencer agency Premier Mission. “They could wear their clothing or hold their products whilst they are creating or following a trend.”

Agility is key

Whatever the option, speed is of the essence. “These viral trends can be over quickly, so you need to be agile,” says Slattery. “You don’t want to be the brand which saw a trend three weeks ago and has only now got up and running with content. Customers will think that you are behind.”

Wiley adds: “You need a system set up for quick approval when a trend is bubbling up, not only in the marketing team but the whole company. What is the process to getting influencer content contracted and posted? Also have money set aside in the budget to jump on emerging trends. A trend could be gone by the end of the week.”

Sway worked this Summer with US fast-food chain Sonic Drive-In to take advantage of the WaterTok trend where social media users highlight different flavoured water recipes. Influencers went on TikTok to help promote Sonic’s flavoured drinks such as Mermaid water. “Sonic Drive-In has a great system in place to move quickly when trends pop up,” says Wiley.

But missing out on a trend is only one danger. Slattery warns that the trend content has to be aligned to the brand and current campaigns or face customer disillusionment. “If the trend does not align with your objectives and your audience then it is best to let it pass rather than try and fit it in,” she explains. “Social media audiences are very savvy and are aware when brands are trying too hard. You need to remain true to what you are trying to achieve.”

Skilling agrees: “You can over-saturate as a brand if you jump on every single trend that pops up. Some viral trends can also take a negative turn which could lead to a backlash for those associated with it.”

Getting the wrong influencer behind the trend campaign could also damage the brand. “Do all the due diligence you would normally do. Vet people, look at their previous posts and make sure they have not posted anything inappropriate. It can be riskier because you’re looking to flip the content faster,” Wiley says.

See how Klear can mitigate risks in The Total Economic Impact™ of the Klear Platform

Trends don’t just mean being aware of new bucket or cat stroking challenges – it also means keeping tabs on changing digital marketing trends. That means AI as well as augmented and virtual reality and the use of CGI.

Beauty group Maybelline used an AR TikTok clip this summer showing a London tube train complete with eyelashes under a Mascara wand. It was viewed around 300,000 times in its first month. However, online fashion firm ASOS had to later delete similar TikTok AR content where it turned a tube train into Kylie Cosmetics mascara. 

Be authentic

“Asos’s campaign was poorly executed,” says Slattery. “It wasn’t authentic and even the influencers it chose to share the ad were not aligned with the3 product. It felt like they were in a rush.”

Other trends influencer marketers can take advantage of include the increased use of micro-influencers and niche content specific to a very small audience of committed customers.

“Always be aware of changing trends and be ready to be surprised,” says Wiley. “At the beginning of this year I would have said YouTube Shorts videos would be the big thing, but I don’t think it has panned out as a great option in terms of sponsored content. But look at everything all the time. We have a strategy team tasked with staying on top of trends and how to incorporate them into client programs. It is about being ready to move.”

Learn how to be successful at influencer marketing:

Illustration: Sara Gelfgren / Audience analyst: Tony Bennison