Beauty and the Bots - Can A.I. Satisfy Hungry Instagram Audiences?

Beauty and the Bots - Can A.I. Satisfy Hungry Instagram Audiences?
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Jenny Wolfram, CEO and Founder, BrandBastion

By Jenny Wolfram, CEO and Founder, BrandBastion

At the height of holiday sales, beauty brand Sephora is catching the smoky eyes of online fans, and raising some perfectly-arched eyebrows on Instagram. Using Instagram Stories, the new ‘Want It, Win It’ sweepstakes lets friends tag one another for a chance to win products in daily prize draws. And Sephora has even employed the use of chatbots on the anonymous messaging app Kik, helping to inspire tailored conversations based on personal information, such as such as age, brand preferences, and ‘product you can’t live without’.

Sephora is the most engaging brand on social media, according to a recent report from Shareablee. The beauty retailer topped the charts with 2.4 million consumer interactions across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sephora is looking good on social media, and it’s on Instagram where the brand truly shines.

A combination of visual aesthetics and lively communities makes Instagram a perfect canvas for beauty brands to connect with fans. But a demanding audience poses several problems to brands. There are online trolls spreading hate speech and animated communities with huge levels of interaction, beyond the management of community moderators. So, what are these fans after, exactly? And can evolved AI perform to this level, keeping the conversation clean and engaging new viewers with intriguing discussions?

Beauty brands win big on Instagram

500 million monthly active users that are particularly vocal make Instagram an attractive platform for brands. Brand engagement on the social network is ten times higher than Facebook, and 84 times higher than Twitter. Users on Instagram also engage more frequently than other platforms and exhibit the highest conversion rate from browser to shopper of any social network.

Beauty is the third most successful industry on Instagram in terms of interactions, replacing old glossy magazines with Instagram communities, swapping and sharing tips and asking questions. So, what’s driving the conversation?

BrandBastion conducted a study of eight of the top cosmetic brands on Instagram; Kylie Cosmetics, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Tarte Cosmetics, Too Faced, NYX Professional Makeup, Benefit Cosmetics, Urban Decay and Maybelline. We analyzed a sample of 5,000 comments for each brand, categorizing some 40,000 Instagram comments, to explore the types of conversations, and the potential threats that brands face.

83.87% of comments were positive or neutral -- with fans reacting to images they liked, helping to reinforce positive branding and increase reach on the platform. Comments such as “I love the colors” and “I really need to get this”, complete with emojis galore fill conversations. However, 16.13% of the comments were potentially harmful to brands; one in ten of these comments were posted by accounts that led clickers to spam, malware and scams. There were also competitor promotions, hijacking the conversion to boast their own sales, as well as unauthorized selling via third-party sites such as Amazon.

Keeping up with the community

Social media conversations move quickly, and keeping up with the community is a mammoth task. In the sample, we found 1,972 (4.93%) comments were direct inquiries, and brands had responded to just 13.54% of these at the time of audit.

Brands received comments like, “Is this also avail in store? Canada specifically?”, “How long does it take to ship items?? No one in customer service is responding. But they have my money” and even “CAN YOU GUYS PLEASE ADDRESS WHY YOUR ENTIRE WEBSITE IS SOLD OUT INSTEAD OF IGNORING YOUR CUSTOMERS smh”. For those that don’t speak Internet, smh means ‘shaking my head’; ignored audiences are not happy, and failing to respond is a big oversight, on a global stage.

Inquiries were split between purchasing questions (37.63%), product detail (31.8%), experience and service (18.91%), other (9.43%), and animal testing (2.23%) -- with comments like “hmm reminds of SKINNED RABBITS” and “Are all of these formulas vegan?”

While there is a huge opportunity for brands to deliver information to engage demanding users, there is also a need to respond quickly to potentially hazardous comments that threaten brand reputation. This means round the clock monitoring and quick responses. As a result, we are seeing an emergence of new intelligence, with brands using bots to keep the conversation alive.

Human-like interactions power conversations

Emerging conversational commerce, bolstered by an online preference for messenger apps over social media public conversations, has given rise to a new army of bots.

During the 2016 election run-up, the use of Twitter bots made up an estimated one in five election-related tweets. Campaigners used social bots to stimulate conversations and engage the connected world. Advanced forms of artificial intelligence (AI) can converse at a level that is indistinguishable from humans. While this form of AI strikes fear on the political scene, for customer service reps and social media brand managers, it brings a welcome relief.

Bots can be used to analyze and categorize comments, while also flagging abusive content in real-time. The caveat here is a need for personalization. Beauty brands have a huge opportunity to deliver interesting and useful conversations, but bots backfire when they fall into automated templates, or fail to understand the context. Responses need to be quick off the mark, but also tailored, providing an end-to-end journey, remembering user preferences and even instigating new chats, tagging relevant influencers and more.

Computer vision means brands also employ object recognition to gather insights directly from the image to inform educated conversations and answer basic queries - such as availability, product information and store opening times. In the public forum, this means every member of the community is exposed to this information. If the conversation switches to direct message chatbots, for example Facebook’s beauty advisor ModiFace, which uses augmented reality to help people try different cosmetics, nail polish or hairstyles.

Instagram audiences have proven that beauty is more than just skin deep, and a rise of bots tuned to respond to hungry audiences are ready to power new engagements. These machines aim to kill the hate speech and ugly trolling that threatens brand reputation, replacing this with engaging visuals and intelligent conversations that focus on beauty.

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