What can we learn from Online Images?

How visual social media posts can be used as a source of insight.

We wondered if there was a way to generate insight and practical recommendations about a company’s products, campaigns or events by looking at visual content posted by online users. Many monitoring tools track visual media posted on channels like Instagram, identified from captions or hashtags. However, some specialist image-tracking applications focus on identifying logos, so that images are captured even if the brand name is not tagged or captioned. We recently used such proprietary technology from DittoLabs to investigate image-sharing in relation to luxury brands.

Using Chanel as a case study, we sourced image content from Ditto. The large amount of data sourced meant that we decided to limit our focus to the UK and US only, randomly selecting a sample of images. We created an analysis framework to classify the relevant images by topic, social-demographic and engagement levels, in order to help us derive users’ desires, aspirations and motivations.
What we uncovered was the existence of hidden online communities. Exploring these online communities helped us examine the relationship between brands and their customers in a new light.

Millenials and Zs are the most active sharers

We found these communities were mostly comprised of US-based Millennials and Generation Zs. Indeed, women under 24 years of age were the most likely to share pictures of Chanel in both the UK (64.7%) and the US (66.7%). However, our analysis showed that Generation Zs or those under 17 accounted for over a quarter of US sharers. This suggests that the brand is already resonating with social-savvy American teens, whereas interest from UK consumers seemed to rest with young adults.

In both markets users were also most likely to post images of the company’s fragrance and beauty ranges such as perfumes and lipsticks; the main difference was users’ motivations for sharing content.

We found that 52% of users in the UK posted images of products they actually owned or desired to own, while only 31% of users in the US expressed such interest.

Images of celebrities interacting with the brand and edited memes were far more popular, accounting for 28% of all US content. This was especially true for the under-24s category, with 46% partaking in such activities, against 67% among the under 17s.

Overlapping cults: “celebrity fangirls” and “follower cravers”

Younger social media users no longer conveyed a desire to own a Chanel product, but instead valued the brand’s cultural significance in elevating their own social status and attracting influential followers online. Social media users in the US shared images of celebrities promoting Chanel, or posted their own edited images of influential celebrities such as Kirsten Stewart and One Direction. While Chanel’s products were no longer a focal point of these posts, the brand’s status and values were associated with these celebrities as “unofficial ambassadors” through the use of a Chanel logo as users felt these celebrities relayed the essence of the brand.

For instance, fans of 5 Seconds of Summer heavily retweeted posts from fan account @5SOStag’s images of official pictures of band members with logos of luxury brands pasted on.

The trend was also seen beyond the celebrity realm. Users shared a photo of an unofficial Chanel iPhone cover, telling others to “retweet this or you’ll never meet your fave”. The image gathered more than 9,700 re-tweets since being uploaded on July 26th yet only 37.5% were from users expressing a desire to own the product. The rest came from users who were after new followers, including getting the attention of celebrities they associate with the brand. As such, younger users where far more likely to see Chanel for its cultural importance than for luxury items they would want to own.

The US market showed a shift in how young people interact with luxury brands online, where status has become more important than actual physical products. As such, tech-savvy online prosumers have started to embrace the cultural value of brands within their posts. Even if creative industries expert Dr Hye-Kyung Lee believes that this ‘translation and distribution […] represents a new model of cultural work that cannot simply be imitated by the industries’ commercial operation” (2013), brands should learn to harness this ever-growing social trend in order to solidify their cultural significance within the daily lives of both Millennials and the Generation-Z if they hope to expand their current market.

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Gaelle Bertrand
Head of Social Media Intelligence

Call me +44 (0)20 7264 6307