Which professional haircare brand has the greatest social media mindshare? A visualisation
by Rob Parkin and Jess Owens
I’ve only once bought anything regarded as ‘premium’ haircare, says Jess Owens.
While studying for my Masters degree I decided that this was the time to make a radical change in style and go blonde, really blonde. This was an arduous process which involved spending about 6 hours in the salon, head wrapped in foil, bleach burning my scalp, as the trainee stylists tried everything possible to lift my hair from dark brown, through sunset yellow, to a passably fashionable shade of white-blonde. Of course my hair was almost destroyed by this process, leaving it with a texture somewhat akin to candyfloss – fluffy, brittle, and rough to touch.
Except one day, when my stylist brought out a pale green tube. She washed, she cut, she blow dried – and at the end of the process I touched my hair and was astonished. It felt soft. Soft! How on earth had she done that? Kerastase Ciment Anti-Ursure was the answer, the premium anti-breakage range for chemically treated hair. Reader, it cost something like £20 a bottle – but I bought some. And I kept using it until I had to get a proper job and stop having interesting hair.
Marketing premium haircare is interesting, exactly because of this sales process. Unlike your usual Pantenes & Aussies, it’s not something women just pick up and buy off the shelf in Boots. Instead it’s a sale rooted in a relationship, between a young woman in a chair nervous about whether her style is going to work out, and miracle-working Michelle at Toni & Guy Islington. I’d have never made the purchase without her influence.
So how do you market premium salon haircare on social?
Who do you market it to?
In order to understand this complex intersection of brands, hairdressers and consumers, we worked with P&G to track the premium haircare category and understand it not just as a ‘conversation’ but in network terms. Here are the results.
What are you looking at?
Rob writes – In a very basic sense the network shows people mentioning premium haircare brands as nodes, signified by the dots. The lines between them represent a relationship, in this case retweets (A’s post was retweeted by B). And the size of the nodes reflect the number of retweets they received overall.
P&G were interested in which brands were leading their premium haircare conversation in social. We could have shown this as a pie chart for share of voice… But looking at it as a network allows us to understand who is leading the conversation – and which brands have captured which key influencers.
So we coloured the nodes in accordance to the brands the people are discussing, and also coded if they hadn’t mentioned any brand, or mentioned more than one.
(If you’re unfamiliar with network analysis, do check out some of our previous blogs diving into this in more detail.)
What did we find out?
1. Premium haircare isn’t really a ‘community’ in social media
Looking at the graph we can see that the category attracts a fragmented Twitter population, with lots of individuals posting about the topic, but not getting any retweets connecting them to other people. There’s product awareness, but not actually much we’d call a ‘community’ – an interconnected, self-identifying group.
2. Different brands have different community structures.
Kerastase (yellow) and Redken (pale blue) have broadcast networks, with a small number of highly influential accounts driving their discussion. These accounts generate a high volume of retweets (the feathery-looking lines in the visualization) and are slightly apart from the dense cluster in the middle, telling us that they’re generating awareness amongst a different audience than those engaging with main cluster.
3. Salons, not the brands, are driving product mentions
It’s a very industry led conversation. Hairdressers and salons, are leading the majority of the discussion talking about products, training and awards.. For the most part, consumers are notably absent.
4. Where are the consumers?
Where consumers are involved it’s mainly to participate in competitions. Retweets from competitions are responsible for producing Kerastese’s and Redken’s broadcast networks in particular, as retweet competitions are one-off engagements and have no crossover with the industry discussion central to the category.
These network insights reveal opportunities for haircare brands’ social strategies
Currently it’s the discussion around salons creating the most community interaction in the category, whereas competitions are generating the closest there is to consumer engagement. There is a real opportunity to bridge the gap between the two.
Salons and hairdressers should be capable of creating really inspiring content, telling stories about hair care that could appeal to a wider audience of beauty fans, not just beauty professionals. The main issue here is content diffusion – the solution may be for haircare brands to pay for Twitter promotion in order to get these tweets in front of a consumer audience that both currently lack
But brands also need to recognize that social media has upset old hierarchies and sources of authority, and there are new influencers on the scene that they need to build relationships with. Bloggers, vloggers and the Instagram-famous are all busy inspiring women’s fashion and beauty looks, and brands have to build partnerships here as much as they did with top stylists.
Finally there’s very little connection between consumers in the category so far, as women don’t tend to talk about “professional hair” or “salon hair” in so many words. Brands could benefit from understanding consumer language from the wider haircare, beauty or fashion conversations and understanding where their category really fits into people’s lives.
Staying ‘premium’ on social media
The challenge for premium brands with social media is how to maintain the right balance between exclusivity and accessibility. By their very nature these brands rely on exclusivity – they’re selling products that consumers aspire to own; the distance from everyday shopping is part of the appeal. In contrast to this, social media opens brands up, and makes them accessible to the crowd.
To maintain an air of “specialness”, pro hair care brands may want to take a slightly more reserved tone when engaging on Twitter, using an “expert” voice rather than the “best mate” or “sisterly” voice of mainstream hair brands. However, in exchange for a little more accessibility, they could harness the opportunity to advise consumers about which products to buy and how to use them effectively. Crucially, as this research has found, they cannot rely on salons’ social accounts to communicate this information effectively on their behalf.
Learning from premium brands in other verticals
Swarovski is another premium brand that doesn’t always sell directly to consumers. Looking at their social strategy there are lessons that could easily be applied to the pro hair care discussion. What do we think they’re getting right?
First they’re opening the brand up to a wider audience by encouraging participation through user-generated content. On Twitter @Swarovski is facilitating an on-going dialogue with consumers through the hashtag #SwarovskiLook, encouraging people to post images showing off their takes on specific styles. This is valuable because it’s not limiting the conversation to the brand, jewelry or crystals per se, but allowing it to traverse a wider and more varied aesthetic landscape.
Swarovski are also using bloggers to provide the voice of the ‘expert consumers’ – enough elevated from mainstream consumers not to damage a sense of exclusivity, but also fostering a more personal connection than mainstream PR can allow. Alongside fashion designers and celebrities, bloggers have been integral to Swarovski’s social strategy throughout, and Swarovski creates content that celebrates them – including video tutorials showing off Swarovski jewelry and a blogger picking out winners of the #SwarovskiLook competition. The brand is also highly active in sharing blogger content & boosting its visibility.
To sum up
There’s a lot to be said for looking beyond your immediate category when trying to inspire conversations in social media. This is especially true if your category is like premium haircare and isn’t currently eliciting widespread engagement outside of a small circle of industry figures. Really it’s about stopping being “me-centric” and thinking from the perspective of what matters most in your customers’ lives. In the case of fashion and beauty, it’s not a stretch to assume that consumers care more about new styles and how to achieve them than they do which brand they use.
And remember that offline influence doesn’t always translate online. In the case of the traditional business model used for selling pro hair care products, hairdressers can be assumed to have offline influence over their consumers, but they’re not the advocates brands need in social. Don’t underestimate the value of bringing influential bloggers onboard to support your online efforts.
Finally, this project really showed us the value of network analysis in social media category research, allowing us to directly connect the “what” and the “who” of haircare discussion to identify hubs, gaps, and opportunities. The visual output also provides a graphic, colour-coded illustration of the category at a glance, in a way that highlights what matters most – the people behind the discussion – in a way a wordcloud never can. A really useful addition to our research toolkit, we hope you agree.
Looking for opportunities in social media comms planning? Send me a message at Jessica@Facegroup.com and let’s talk about how we can apply this method for you.