Panning for Gold: Trendsetters Know What’s on the HorizonThere's a (social) science to forecasting trends before they become widespread. And, for PR pros, cultivating this skill can make the difference between thought leadership in an industry or spotting trends after they become widespread. In this post, trend forecaster Janna Stark scans social media for trend cues. She shares additional tips for PR folks in our on-demand webinar, Secrets of a Trend Spotter Revealed.
In the search for the next big thing as it applies to your industry can be a challenge, but PR pros know that part of crafting brand messages includes predicting how the industry will evolve over the next six months, two years, five years, and beyond. That means that business strategy encompasses forecasting to see what is beyond the horizon. How will the winds change and how will the industry react?
Knowing where to start and then distilling all the information you’ve uncovered into meaningful gold nuggets can be a challenge. So, how does one start? Look for the seed of the trend. Where did it first pop up, how is it evolving, and how can we evaluate its trajectory? Let’s be honest, the deeper needs of humanity pretty much stay the same. Our resistance to change means that it happens slowly. By carefully following the evolution of a trend, and with research and analysis, we can predict its trajectory to see what’s next.
In our hats as forecasters, it’s important to be aware of the difference between trend spotting and trend forecasting. In essence, trend forecasting is spotting the changes that are happening in the zeitgeist, before a large segment of the population does. Trend spotting is seeing the shift in the mass adoption of the trend as the general public embraces the new product/service/lifestyle. So, how do you know if you are spotting or forecasting?
Spotting the Paid Influencer (Who Was Previously a Trendsetter)
It can get pretty confusing. If you are following paid influencers like Singapore’s Yoyo Cao @yoyokulala, who has over 230k Instagram followers and is gracing the covers of Elle Singapore as well as doing promotional videos for Chanel’s latest handbag, you are trend spotting. She’s now on a payroll to push brands and opinions that may not be 100% based on personal aesthetics. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan. She is adorable, and her interpretations and manipulations of current runway trends are impressive. It’s not that she was never a trendsetter, she was. However, once the sticky fingers of the media and brand advertisers have their paws on an influencer such as YoYo Cao, the perception of her point of view is immediately tainted by media manipulation. We can no longer believe that her opinions are entirely her own. Kudos though, her career is soaring! But, as a trend forecaster, I have to move on and find a more under the radar influencer or at least someone that oozes personal style and authentic opinions.
When a trend forecaster looks at street style or social media influencers, it is imperative to look for trendsetters rather than trend followers. A trendsetter, in fashion or otherwise, is someone who has a new perspective, a new idea, or a unique interpretation. Finding a trendsetter at the street level embodies the fashion industry’s “trickle up” theory. This theory argues that innovation is initiated from “the street” and then trickles up to the runway. It is a forecaster’s job to find these innovators when they’re at the street level, creating and often producing outside of their industry and usually without a financial incentive. In contrast, the opposing, “trickle down” theory comes off the runway into the street and adoption by the consumer market. Meaning, the trend has reached its pinnacle and is now being marketed to and adopted by the masses of fashion consumers.
When forecasting, PR folks must look for influencers that haven’t been tapped by marketers and advertisers, and it’s getting hard to do. Once an influencer reaches a certain level of popularity, they are often snatched up by big brands ready to tap into their vast audience. As PR pros engaged in forecasting, your job is to look for influencers with a sometimes small, but engaged audience, and a particularly unique perspective. It helps if they’re also smart in how they’re engaging with their audience around their content.
Take a look at Emily Elyse Miller @emilyelysem. She is the founder of Trends on Trends, a culinary trend forecasting and events agency with a focus on breakfast and morning rituals. By organizing global breakfast events prepared by chefs who don’t usually serve breakfast, she has created a platform for people to gather, meet, and connect. Her IG following is a mere 1,600 as I write this. She is also the curator of Food & Wines Around the World Network, and the Huffington Post has previously covered her, among other accolades.
Even though she isn’t flying entirely under the radar, her influence is slowly gaining momentum but hasn’t caught fire yet. For me, she is forecasting gold. At the top level, she’s creating a highly engaged community around ritual, she’s offering an experiential experience for her community to meet in real life, and she’s also forecasting culinary trends. On a more base level, who doesn’t love great food, great company, and a venue to meet and interact with like-minded folks? In a time where people are confused by the global political climate, doesn’t it make sense to nurture and promote face to face community building?
The Niche Community
Another great way to scan for trendsetters is to set your eyes on gathering places (either online or in real life) that serve as social communities for idea share. These act as crowdsourcing resources, offering thousands of perspectives in one nicely curated package. Tiny Atlas Quarterly is an online magazine as well as social media community where photographers from around the world share their literal global view. “Our atlas from your eyes” is the tagline of their IG, @tinyatlasquarterly. [Full disclosure, the founder, Emily Nathan, is a dear friend of mine and I have had the honor of watching her build this creative brainchild from the ground up.] Go to #mytinyatlas, and you will discover close to three million photographic perspectives from almost everywhere on the globe.
Posts reveal magnolias on the streets of London, children on bikes in the streets of Cartagena, a glistening Lisbon street car, a view from atop a Swiss glacier, and a couple dancing on the streets of Prague with the caption, “Dance like there’s no one watching.” There are likely more than a few gold nuggets among these millions of photos. Tiny Atlas’ community is gaining momentum and visibility with a new content series featuring travel adventures as well as some yet to be disclosed ventures. Right now, they’re growing organically and increasing their community size, as well as that of their wider audience’s reach. They’re not in bed with any large corporation, so now would be the time for a savvy PR pro to snatch them up for an embedded influencer relationship that would elevate both their brands.
For PR pros knowing what is coming up in their industry, whether that is who the biggest influencers are, what products or services millennials will be using next, or which social platforms boomers are gravitating towards, all this information is intel that can help comms professionals do their work better. Using these tips to go where niche communities are and looking at how creatives engage, as well as with who is the first step into the world of forecasting. To find out how you can predict trends like a professional forecaster, download our on-demand webinar, Secrets of a Trend Spotter Revealed.