Brand discovery via social media overtakes search engines and TV ads

Brand discovery via social media overtakes search engines and TV ads

Duncan is an award-winning researcher, with 20 years experience of analysing the technology industry, specialising in cloud computing, edge computing, blockchain, cybersecurity and marketing technology.

Shoppers are discovering brands and products via social media ads, recommendations, and updates from brands’ social pages more so than other channels, with over a third (38%) discovering brands via these methods, more than search engines (37%) and TV ads (35%). 

This is according to the latest Social Media Trends Report from consumer research company GWI, which highlights the evolving habits, thoughts, feelings and actions of social media scrollers.  

TikTok is key for brand discovery, while Pinterest leads ‘inspo-driven’ shopping 

Consumers depend on social platforms like TikTok and Instagram to both discover products and brands and to make purchases. The number of consumers using TikTok to follow or find information about products and brands has more than tripled since the end of 2020, reflecting its significant rise in popularity. And it’s doing great things for brand exposure, with over two fifths of consumers who’ve bought an item on TikTok Shop saying they last purchased from a brand or seller they discovered using the in-app feature. 

Even with its increasing influence in mind, TikTok isn’t the only platform consumers are using to find new brands. Gen Z shoppers are driving this shift to inspiration driven search on social media and are increasingly using platforms like Pinterest to inform their purchase decisions, with almost two in five (39%) Pinners using the app for style inspiration. Gen Z are 54% more likely than average to use the platform, and despite Instagram and TikTok being more popular overall, Pinterest is growing at a faster rate amongst this generation.   

Shauna Moran, Trends Manager at GWI, said: “Social media’s role in the purchase journey and product discovery is stepping up, especially among younger groups who like the customised content that platforms have on offer.

“42% of Gen Z say they mainly use social networks for shopping-related research, and they’re 16% more likely than your average scroller to use them to find things to buy. There’s a clear opportunity for brands to inspire this generation of shoppers and bring their visions to life.

“But this space never sits still, and brands need to keep on top of changes in users’ relationship with social networks if they’re to resonate with them. An audience’s motivations for logging on each platform and what they want to see on there don’t just vary a lot, they also evolve – with apps like TikTok being used more for product research. Knowing the why and how behind each site will definitely help brands engage with their customers effectively.” concludes Moran.

The influencer effect on Gen Alpha and Gen Z 

Younger generations are most likely to follow influencers, with many already using social platforms to share the latest trends and, increasingly, to search for products. For instance, the number of 12 – 15 year olds in the UK using social media to find products to buy has risen by 22% year-on-year, and they often turn to influencer content for recommendations. 

The influencer effect is particularly notable with the rise of ’clean beauty’. This trend has seen minimalist makeup and skincare grow in popularity, as influencers have advocated for and endorsed beauty brands that lean on this aesthetic. Globally, 20% of women aged 18 – 24 are buying skincare products as a direct result of influencer endorsements, and the number of European females aged 12-15 who say they’re interested in beauty has increased by 13% in the past year. These findings also show skincare is now the top category bought after getting an influencers’ stamp of approval, after clothing. 

But it’s not just Gen Z and Gen Alpha that are receptive to influencer marketing. In the UK, influencer audiences as a whole are 81% more likely to say they use social networks to find products to buy and 17% more likely to have bought a product or service online within the last week, compared to the average social media user.

Trust outweighs clout when informing purchase decisions  

However, while influencer marketing has its place, it should be used strategically. In the UK, while one in ten consumers say influencer recommendations would most increase their likelihood of buying a product online, this rises to 43% for discounts. The findings show that clout alone isn’t enough to convince consumers to buy. Rather, it’s trust and authenticity that resonates best. For all influencer-driven buyers, influencer trustworthiness is the third most considered factor when it comes to purchase decisions, following value for money and brand reputation.

Matt Klein, Head of foresight and methods at Reddit, added: “Marketers desperately need to rethink the ideas of ‘influence’. We’re no longer in a top-down media environment when single, centralised sources are wholly trusted.

“On Reddit, the hive-mind consistently and democratically sources answers from people they trust. 93% of those who come across a Reddit recommendation were ‘more than satisfied’, and therefore trust social platforms more than TV ads and salespeople,” he summarises. 


GWI Core is the platform’s flagship survey. It is the world’s largest ongoing study of online audiences, is refreshed every quarter and is packed with insights you won’t find elsewhere. All figures in this report are drawn from GWI’s online research among internet users aged 16-64, or 16+. Our figures are representative of the online populations of each market, not its total population. Note that in many markets in Latin America, the Middle-East and Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region, low internet penetration rates can mean online populations are more young, urban, affluent, and educated than the total population. 

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person? Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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