The beginner’s guide to spotting consumer trends early
by Infegy Research Team on August 7, 2023
Social media apps like TikTok have a way of making you fall in love with various types of trends. From skits, to dance challenges, to using a sound of Tariq singing about his love of corn. These trends exploded onto the cultural landscape with hardly any warning and became mainstream seemingly overnight. Some trends are here to stay, while others are thankfully, no longer around.
If you’re on a brand strategy or research team, this may be all too real for you. You might search and search across massive amounts of data for that needle in a haystack trend. By the time you find out about a trend, it’s already too late. But what if you could spot early trends in the endless sea of data before they become mainstream?
Using social listening tools, like our platform, Infegy Atlas, offers fast and impactful ways to identify consumer trends in the early stages.
Whether you already use a social listening tool, or not, we’ve outlined some key considerations below to help you to better understand and spot consumer trends. With the steps noted below, you’ll be amazed at what you can reveal hiding in all that data.
Consumer Trends Happen in 3 Phases Online
To identify a potential trend worth watching, you first must understand how trends evolve in online conversation. Consumers typically express enthusiasm, thoughts, or feelings about products and new trends in three distinct stages online: Introduction, Growth, and Maturation.
Before we move on, it’s important for you to know that the best way for you to learn about new and emerging trends is to find them in the Introduction phase, before they get wider appeal. Consumer behaviors can be “predicted”, but only if you find the trend first.
Now, let’s look at each one of those in more detail:
Introduction: Your best chance at finding trends early
The Introduction phase is where a breakthrough happens. Here, a new trend emerges and captures the attention of a small subset of online voices. A new product launches or a video goes viral.
This is your early trend indicator. It could hinge on a specific audience and/or on a specific social platform (for instance, millennial moms on Pinterest).
Trends that are in the Introduction phase are homegrown. Average people with relatively quaint followings boost a new idea - a recipe, an interior design craze, a new product, a challenge, or a lifehack. And the next thing you know, it’s huge. The nature of social channels allow this to happen.
Pinterest is actually one of the best places to pinpoint a trend in the Introduction stage. This is especially the case for trends in ingredients, flavors, fragrances, and recipes:
Social listening platforms are ready-made for analyzing the conversation from average people to find those trends. The data is gathered from unsolicited online posts and public bios. You can look at specific audiences or channels to identify trending topics within them.
Say you want to know the trends about sustainable eating or demographic data about Coca Cola drinkers. People talk. And if you find what they’re saying on these topics in the early stages, you can get in on the trend.
If you have a social listening tool, this stage is where you can be best positioned to spot something that’s about to take off and capitalize on it for your brand or business. If you know your audience well, you can even closely monitor those audiences for their conversational topics and see the trend about to rise in popularity before it does.
Growth: The trend catches on with a larger audience
The Growth stage is where a significant portion of a consumer base adopts and/or promotes the trend online, but before it gains widespread attention. Here, the amount of conversation will start to expand and spread out to other channels.
You may start to hear rumblings from your target audience or even major brands here. And this is where most jump on the trends and start understanding what’s driving the excitement around the trend.
In this stage, you’ll find brands jumping on the bandwagon and trying to capitalize on it in their campaigns and product launches. Social listening is still great for understanding how brands are participating in the new trend and can influence your approach as well.
- A music producer, festival, or DJ can incorporate AI-generated music as it grows 876% in post volume over the last year.
- A fast-casual restaurant brand like Chipotle or Starbucks could predict the next big foodie trend, like easy meal-prepping
- A cell phone carrier can paradoxically release a phone with fewer features to meet the growing demand for flip phones
Maturation: The trend becomes commonplace
Finally, the Maturation stage is where the trend becomes mainstream. It gets absorbed into everyday life (like the iPhone), slides into the background, or possibly falls out of favor for something else (like the Facebook Like button).
You can spot trend maturation by declining growth acceleration. Obviously, trends mature when post volume decreases. To spot the maturation beforehand, you can look at growth rates. If you see declining growth rates within a particular trend, know that the trend is likely peaking.
If your goal is to be a leader on new trends, you’ll want to find your trend in the Introduction phase.
Example: See evolving trends in real life
You can use social listening to make data-driven predictions on consumer behavior and pinpoint how specific topics or categories may evolve in the future.
Here are a couple of real-world examples of how we used social listening to identify trends:
AI music on the uptrend
AI-generated music covers have become a sensation, evoking positive sentiments among listeners as they enjoy the ability to revive their favorite artists and experience innovative genre fusions. AI can "write" music by analyzing artists' styles and characteristics through deep learning, generating fresh covers with new elements and interpretations. More importantly, for the purposes of this blog, AI-generated music’s growth on social media has been exponential.
Interestingly, we can also look to other growth factors (not just post volume) to identify an emerging trend. With AI-generated music, we also took a look at Engagements (how often users are liking, sharing, and reacting to the content). We found an even higher growth rate (49,108% growth over the last 3 years).
Despite the excitement, there is also some disbelief about the technology's capabilities. AI-generated music challenges the traditional music landscape, empowering smaller producers and songwriters, but careful consideration and clear guidelines are needed to ensure a harmonious coexistence between AI and human creativity in the future of popular music.
The rise of sportsbetting amid legalization
The legalization of online sports betting by the US Supreme Court in 2018 led to a significant increase in post volume and engagement on social media. With this one, we saw a pattern a bit different than the AI-generated music trend that we looked at before.
Instead of exponential growth, we saw steady growth over the last 10 years. This generally means the trend has more pronounced strength if it developed steady versus one that flared like a flash in the pan.
Demographic analysis revealed that the target audience for sports betting is primarily male, aged 25 to 34, with slightly above-average incomes. Additionally, there is an overlap between sports betting and crypto-investing communities. While sentiment around sports betting is generally positive, there are concerns about the risks of gambling addiction and potential mental health issues associated with losses.
Researching and finding new and emerging trends within the massive abyss of endless data can feel overwhelming. We know you already have a team of experts who know your category and industry inside and out, so this means you’re in position to spot a trend with the right tools. The good news is that you can be a little better prepared for eying an emerging trend before it happens, thanks to social listening analytics.
If you are already convinced you need this data for your team, or want to see more social media use cases, contact us here to get a free customized demo, and we’ll show you the ropes.