Social media without algorithms: What does this mean for fashion?

Social media without algorithms: What does this mean for fashion?

When social media platforms face limitations on using algorithms in the future, how will fashion and beauty brands deploy their marketing strategies? Under pressure from regulatory bodies, social media platforms are offering users more choices about the content they see on their feeds – with both advantages and disadvantages for fashion and beauty brands.

Social media without algorithms: What does this mean for fashion?
Social media without algorithms: What does this mean for fashion?

Summary of content: Adapting to algorithmic culture TikTok content The era of content pollution How are brands changing their marketing strategies?

Illustration. Source: Vogue Business Algorithmically suggested posts have shaped content on social media platforms’ feeds for the past few years, presenting both challenges and opportunities for fashion and beauty brands. This could change – at least in some regions – as forthcoming digital regulations seek to control the amount of data tracking and user profiling that social media platforms typically engage in. For brands, this brings about another turning point in their strategies.

In early August, TikTok announced that users in the EU would soon be able to turn off the algorithm that determines the content they see on the “For You” page as TikTok races to comply with the region’s new Digital Services Act before it takes effect on August 28. Twitter (now X) and Instagram have shifted to allow users to switch between algorithmically curated feeds and feeds containing posts only from accounts they follow, displayed in chronological order. With the recent launch of Instagram’s text-based social platform Threads in July, users quickly requested and were granted a similar feature.

For brands that have relied on these algorithms to reach hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – of users, these changes could have a significant impact. Joe McDonnell, Insights and Lifestyles Director at trend forecasting company WGSN, said, “If users move away from algorithmic content, then, of course, they’ll discover less content from brands.”

Designs by House of Sunny. Image: Vogue This could also bring about certain benefits. Sunny Williams, founder of the independent women’s clothing brand House of Sunny, said, “As a small independent brand, we’ve worked very hard to build authenticity, family, and community. Our main goal has always been for our followers to see our content rather than reaching new audiences. While the ability to reach a large audience can be a major advantage through algorithms, the biggest disadvantage is that our community of brand enthusiasts often doesn’t get to see our latest content.”

Adapting to algorithmic culture Facebook was the first platform to begin organizing content on people’s feeds using an algorithm – testing this algorithm in 2009 and launching a more complex machine-learning version in 2011 – in an effort to improve the quality and relevance of the content users are viewing and, broadly, to prolong users’ attention. TikTok has closely followed suit since its launch in 2016 with a sophisticated algorithm learning from user behavior to continually adjust their content experience on the platform.

For fashion and beauty brands, this presents an opportunity to push content higher on users’ social media feeds. Brands have learned to “play” the algorithm by keeping up with the latest viral trends, including using sounds, as well as creating engaging image-centric marketing campaigns. A recent advertising campaign for Maybelline’s Sky High mascara featured a double-decker bus and an underground train in London adorned with fake eyelashes at the front. These fake eyelashes would be brushed with a large realistic mascara wand as the bus or train drove past. Produced by AI software, the video garnered 71.4 million views on Instagram and 500,000 on TikTok.

McDonnell said, “The concept of ‘algorithm’ has deeply penetrated consumers’ minds.” “It’s not uncommon to see TikTok users commenting [on a video], ‘this is just for the algorithm and to trend’. We all know about it and how to exploit it, and brands are no exception. Typically, if you look at the TikTok account of a major brand, you can hardly recognize their presence on the street. If you don’t create trends, quickly catching up with them is the only way to maintain visibility online.”

One of Broken Planet’s offline activation activities for its customers. Source: Indre Narbutaite The streetwear brand Broken Planet, launched during the Covid lockdown in 2020, attributed its successful launch to the TikTok algorithm and leveraging viral trends to enhance brand awareness. Indre Narbutaite, co-founder and brand director, said, “Just in the first month of actively creating content, we got lucky when one of the videos went viral a week before Broken Planet’s official launch.”

The video shows Narbutaite watching a video clip of two people crossing the street wearing Broken Planet labels with the caption “when you see someone wearing our hoodie.” This was a clever trick to create virality at that time. The trick was to create a video commenting on others and accurately analyzing what makes viewers pay attention in the content and context. This type of content garnered 10,000 followers on Instagram and 30,000 on TikTok overnight at no cost.

TikTok content By providing the option to turn off algorithms, new brands without any support from investors or industry contacts – like Broken Planet at the time of its launch – will lose the ability to enhance brand awareness and capture demand for their products. Narbutaite continued, “Thanks to TikTok’s wild algorithm, we now have an amazing global community.” “We can introduce new products, understand more about what people like [or] don’t like about the products, and simply have a personal connection with brand supporters.”

The era of content pollution These changes are largely driven by the EU’s Digital Services Act, which calls for increased oversight of the algorithms used by social media platforms and major search engines, including how they moderate content and suggest information to users.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was summoned before Congress earlier this year. Source: Vietstock US lawmakers are also trying to regulate social media platforms. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was summoned before Congress earlier this year to address concerns about the app, including the risk that its algorithm could spread harmful messages. Chew responded that TikTok uses 40,000 content moderators to monitor harmful content as well as an algorithm that flags controversial content. He added that the company will engage third parties to review its algorithms. However, the state of Montana has banned TikTok on all personal devices, effective January 1, 2024.

Critics of social media algorithms have also vehemently opposed mandatory algorithms. Last year, Instagram users protested when the app attempted to mimic TikTok’s algorithm. Some TikTok creators have complained about the phenomenon of #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, where the app is accused of encouraging users’ excessive consumerism.

As brands have learned to adapt to algorithms and pursue virality when creating content, critics have pointed out that the decline in creativity contributes to a mass boredom with social media content.

Influencer and creative strategy studio co-founder Lydia Pang said, “In a world where everyone is screaming for attention, fighting for a piece of the algorithm, brands copy what’s working (often too late), creating bland and identical brand consumables.”

Social media has the potential for incredible creativity and connection, but we often see brands reflecting and mimicking culture rather than truly shaping it. Clichés lose all meaning, and artistic playfulness is lost.

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