Twitter’s Head of Retail Predicts 5 Holiday Trends You’ll See on the Social Network

After year of product launches, it's all coming together

Headshot of Marty Swant

Black Friday is almost here, and as the holiday shopping season heats up, so does the advertising around it.

Twitter, which now boasts more than 100,000 advertisers, should make its mark more than ever in the marketing conversation. This year, the company launched a number of new products for users and brands. 

In February, it acquired Niche. In March, it launched Periscope. In June, it announced Autoplay. And in October, it unveiled Moments. Those and a slew of other advertising products will all come into play for retailers during the always critical fourth quarter.

According to Twitter, the holiday shopping conversation on the platform has grown 20 percent since last year. As 50 million tweets a month express some form of purchase intent—"I want," for instance, or "I need"—marketers have a huge opportunity to engage in the annual conversation around what users give and receive for the holidays.

J.J. Hirschle, Twitter's head of retail, spoke with Adweek about what advertising trends he's seeing on the platform this season.

1. Brands are becoming more visual than ever

Periscope, promoted video, GIFs and Vine are all part of the Twitter tree this year. As customers increasingly turn to "Web-window shopping," brands are utilizing "Web-showing" to build awareness around products in a way that's engaging. Earlier this month, Kohl's launched its holiday branding kickoff video that took on a more emotional tone than usual. Best Buy's humorous Promoted Trend offered advice on how to buy gifts for people of all ages. Target leaked its Black Friday ad weeks before Thanksgiving, using both website cards and video.

"Across the board, we're seeing a huge adoption of video as more of an upper funnel strategy for retail," Hirschle told Adweek. "So many retailers are looking to drive that lower funnel conversion, but video kind of serves that branding and upper funnel goal … across the board, we're seeing incredible adoption."

2. Brands are creating their own moments

This year, brands aren't just relying on Black Friday and Cyber Monday as key sales days—some are starting to create their own. REI is telling people to trade in aisles for trails with its inaugural #optoutside campaign, which included Promoted Trends, autoplay video and custom autoresponses with engagers. Nike also pushed for consumers to be more active with its #getouthere campaign. But Hirschle said peak engagement starts on Black Friday and continues for the following few weeks.

"What's interesting is that we see a very different type of conversation take place early in the season where it's more aspirational, [like] these are the things that I hope to receive," he said. "Then, as you work your way through the holiday, it becomes more and more urgent, you know, last-minute gift type conversations … but in terms of sheer volume, it's going to be around the Black Friday weekend and the two weeks after."

3. Collaborations are on the rise

The newly acquired Niche is a platform that pairs online creators (think Internet celebrities) with brands for promotions. Twitter has seen an increase in such partnerships in the fourth quarter, so it's proving to be yet another way for brands to reach a specific audience, especially millennials. Macy's and Aéropostale are both doing it, as is Target, and people like Robby Ayala and Bethany Mota are coming on board, Hirschle said.

4. Personalization is key

Creating highly personalized audiences to target with relevant messaging throughout the season is becoming more prevalent on Twitter, which says research it commissioned earlier this year found that brands that used a name in their customer service responses resulted in participants recommending the brand 77 percent of the time. Tailored Audiences, Twitter's retargeting product, continues to help brands target promoted tweets to users who have visited a brand's website or purchased from a mobile app (a newer capability for the platform).

"A retailer could have a tailored audience with everyone who has engaged with content around, let's say, a sporting event, knowing that they are interested in sporting, a specific team, and they'll kind of create this sporting enthusiast audience," Hirschle said.

5. Data-driven insights are critical

New measurement tools continue to show the impact various services on the platform can provide. Using an A/B test, Twitter's conversion-lift reports show advertisers how campaigns affect their bottom line. Brand Hub!, a new analytics dashboard, provides advertisers with more insight into how a brand is being discussed on Twitter. So it will be interesting to see what brands say about the usefulness of the data once the holidays have concluded.

"We're really excited about our Q4," Hirschle said. "It's really our Superbowl of the year. We're seeing incredible engagement from our clients."

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.