In this post, GlobalWebIndex's Strategic Insights Analyst, Olivia Valentine looks at the role social media has played, and continues to play, in shaping the beauty industry, and what brands need to know so as not be left behind.

The beauty industry has always been one of the most competitive commercial spaces. Pre-social media, beauty brands relied on major ad campaigns to target consumers, and make-up counters or shop shelves to sell to them. Fast forward to now, and it’s very different. Social media is reshaping this long-standing industry, bringing a whole host of new opportunities and challenges too.

Beauty brands have new ways to market their products
The most obvious change is that social media has provided a wealth of new ways to target more refined segments of consumers — and not all of them cost a fortune, some cost nothing at all. This is especially impactful for smaller or start-up brands which don’t have huge marketing budgets or those without an offline presence.

When looking at which brand discovery channels are more effective among the beauty buyers segment, the impact these are having is clear. For example, consumers are around 41% more likely to be discovering new brands or products via ads seen on social media, and 47% more likely to be doing so via updates on brands’ social media pages.

Beauty buyers are ahead of others for finding out about new brands or products via reviews/opinions of others too — whether in the form of recommendations / comments on social media, posts from expert bloggers, or celebrity endorsements. And with 45% of consumers in this segment saying they mainly look to consumer reviews for online research prior to purchase, the impact of brands being able to encourage this organic boost to brand awareness is very clear. Especially when it’s almost 1 in 2 who say they’re motivated to complete purchases online by reviews from other consumers.

The use of influencers/celebrities as a marketing medium shows no signs of slowing down. The beauty industry has adopted this tactic more fervently than any other. Influencer marketing on social media has clearly become one of the most effective ways to build brand awareness and helps to bring beauty products to life.

Online-only beauty brand Glossier says this method is a main reason behind its growing success, with a loyal and engaged fanbase on Instagram of 2 million. The brand regularly shares user-generated content and it’s even shaped its product design; the brand has started creating packaging and labels that help products look good when consumers photograph them.

As a high touch industry, there are some cases where social media can only go so far in fulfilling consumers’ journeys up until purchase, but as social ads can offer so much more than standard ads - like AR, VR and filters - its role is also to try and direct footfall in-store to give consumers the full experience.

Social media has put the brand-consumer connection at the forefront
Just as social media has changed how beauty brands market products to consumers, it’s completely shaken up how brands build connections with consumers. With around half of beauty buyers following their favourite brands on social media, there’s still the evergreen opportunity for brands to directly engage with consumers — alongside the influencer marketing approach.

Beauty buyers clearly like engaging with brands on social media — and more so than the average internet user too. Around 1 in 5 asked questions to brands on social media last month and a similar number shared a brand’s post. But although this is great news for brands, there is pressure on brands to be present in two-way conversations and be personable.

Social media pressures brands to respond to important topics
As social media has reached universal heights, it’s become a hive of conversation around cultural and societal issues and is proving invaluable in driving change. Social media gives people one of the biggest platforms to speak out about issues they care about — and there is a real pressure for brands to enter the conversation.

Sustainability and the environment is one of those topics, and the beauty industry is in the firing line. Consumers are becoming more aware by the day of how their behaviour is impacting the environment, making them question just how concerned their favourite brands are too. 25% of beauty buyers want their favourite brands to provide eco-friendly products, and a similar figure says they would be motivated to purchase online by knowing the product/company are environmentally friendly.

Social media has also been instrumental in bringing awareness to issues of diversity and inclusivity — including race, body positivity, sexuality and gender. The beauty industry has traditionally been very “male versus female” in terms of how products are created and marketed, but there have been huge steps away from this in the last decade for many reasons.

Male makeup artists, such as James Charles, who have found fame on social media are helping to re-define the cosmetics industry as one that is inclusive. L’Oreal is one of the best examples of a well-known beauty brand that continues to strive to market beauty for all. The brand has had a few well-documented campaigns that tackle these issues, and social media has been central to the spread of its positive message.

The impact social media has had, and continues to have, on the beauty industry is significant. Brands can be more creative with their narrative across platforms and consumer touchpoints throughout the purchase journey — including inspirational and positive social campaigns or content simply with the purpose of saving consumers’ time searching for a certain make-up shade in store. Social media gives brands an opportunity to both channel trends, and create them, but they need to react quickly to not be left behind.