By Dr Jitin Chadha, Director, Indian Institute of Art and Design
Social media today has become a potent medium for information, communication and collaboration. The proliferation of smart devices, the emergence of next-generation technologies and ubiquitous internet connectivity have fuelled the rise of several social media platforms in the past few decades. Their accessibility, ease of use, versatility and ability for two-way communication in real-time has aided their exponential growth. Over 60% of the world’s population was online by the start of 2020, out of which 4.14 billion are using social media, according to the Digital 2020 October Statshot Report (a joint initiative of Datareportal, We Are Social and Hootsuite). The COVID-19 lockdown has invariably given a fillip to the digitization and also led to a surge in screen time, with netizens spending an average of 2.5 hours daily on social media. The report also highlights that an additional 180 million people used social media between July 2020 and September 2020, vis-a-vis the previous quarter, implying an average increase of approximately two million users per day.
A Potent Tool to Inform, Connect and Engage with Customers
Social media has disrupted the design landscape by allowing a flow of information like never before. For this visual-centric and consumer-first industry, social media platforms allow for a customer connect that is more personalized and intimate as opposed to fashion runaways and design events that may be comparatively less accessible to a layperson. The sharing of photographs and videos of live events and collections on platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest enable design aficionados to stay abreast of the latest developments from anywhere and anytime. It also aids designers in gaining real-time feedback and voicing their opinions on important issues about the industry. The use of social media in design has also ushered the democratization of the creative process, with customers becoming more exacting in their choices and increasing their participation in the design process. A New Research and the 2020 Sprout Index survey highlights that 89% of consumers prefer buying from brands they follow on social media. About 69% of marketers put brand awareness as the primary reason for leveraging social media. The rise of social media bloggers and influencers has given a new dimension to the design industry. These professionals help in popularizing designers, influencing trends and keeping the audience engaged with the design fraternity. Social media posts, be it on picturesque landscapes in multiple hues or a glimpse of a recent vacation, also serve as an inspiration for designers for their upcoming products and services. A recent Kalypso study has highlighted that social media has fostered product innovation for nearly 46% of companies while generating new product ideas for 43% of them.
Building Brands and Strengthening Consumer Loyalties
Design professionals, specially novices, are increasingly leveraging social media to identify and build a consumer base, secure their loyalty through regular interactions and events and weave a seamless recall across multiple platforms. From merely serving as a communication and networking tool, the role of social media today has witnessed a paradigm shift to marketing products and services, building a brand personality, generating sales and building a loyal consumer base. Vernacularization and transcreation have emerged as formidable social media trends in design to reach out to diverse audiences across geographical regions, languages and culture. Social media analytics such as the use of relevant hashtags, tracking likes, shares and comments give a strategic insight to design professionals on what their consumers like, what new features are likely to resonate with them and gauge their sentiment towards the brand. The leveraging of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in social media is an enabler to fuel creativity, adopt innovation and enhance the customer experience in the design industry.
Challenges that need to be addressed
Nevertheless, some challenges remain in the use of social media in the design industry. Foremost among them is the breach of copyright by copying designs blindly and portraying another individual’s creation as one’s own. The breaching of copyright hampers creativity, dents the industry’s reputation and incurs massive costs due to protracted legal battles. In an era where consumers are increasingly vocal about their opinions and choices, the design industry needs to portray the intent behind their initiatives, and also be careful of what is put out on social media. Even a slight miscommunication or not tailoring the content according to language, geography, or culture may backfire and harm their reputation. A spate of cybercrimes such as hacking, phishing, etc are also formidable challenges for individuals and businesses worldwide. These uncertain times of the pandemic, has necessitated the design industry to adapt and evolve in tune with the changing requirements over time. It has also underscored the need to go the extra mile through creativity, out-of-the-box thinking and innovation to survive and thrive.
Nevertheless, the interplay of technology, innovation and conducive policy landscape presents an exciting time for the design industry’s evolution. The leveraging of social media in the design process is here to stay, given the thrust on digitization, the advent of newer technologies and a conducive policy landscape. The future will hinge on how designers and their companies use social media to navigate the dynamic environment and stand out from the competition.