In the social-media world, video is king. The past year has been one of tremendous growth for many of the platforms, as they introduced numerous tools for users to create and share moving images. And consumers are devouring the content.
This huge shift in the way we use social media is due in part to how people shop. Customers want to forge deeper connections with the businesses they invest in. They want to get to know you, hear your story and understand the reasons why they should buy from you. And increasingly shoppers are turning to their cell phone’s social-media apps for those answers.
New video tools allow retailers to tell a story through social media, and turn content from bland and one-sided to engaging and profitable. When you a show a broader perspective through the lens, including your face and voice, you will build deeper connections with viewers, which in turn can lead to more sales.
Crystal Vilkaitis, Founder of Social Edge, a company that teaches social media to retailers, agrees that video content is more important now than ever before.
“There’s so much content; businesses must work hard to stand out and connect,” she says. “Posts that tell stories or have a consistent theme tend to perform better than other types of posts, and the ripple effect is driving traffic and sales to the business.”
Below are the top three video tools that will dominate social media this year. And to help you better understand how you can use them in your own business, four savvy bridal industry social-media influencers share how they create effective content.

Instagram Stories
    Instagram Stories is leading the pack when it comes to tools that small businesses are utilizing this year. This feature allows users to share short videos and images throughout the day, which disappear forever after 24 hours.
    If you’re not sharing content through the Stories feature you’re missing out. According to Facebook, more than 300 million accounts use Instagram Stories everyday, and Stories has contributed to an 80-percent increase in time spent watching videos on Instagram.
    So how do you find content you can share on Stories? Just look to your racks ­– your store is chock-full of Instagram-worthy content from glittering new arrivals and accessories to upcoming in-store events and sales.
    “Putting one of our staff in a gown on a quiet afternoon and shooting a quick video gets a huge response and lots of girls asking ‘Who makes that? How much is it? Can I come in and see it on Saturday?’,” says Andrea Whitehead, owner of House of White Bridal in Newburgh, Ind.
    In the brief videos Whitehead shows viewers different ways a gown can be styled by adding different accessories, such as a belt or cape. This gives customers a little taste of the services offered at the shop and leaves them excited for more.
    “If we go to bridal market or on any ‘adventures’ for the store, Stories is a way for us to take our brides along with us,” says Lindsay Finter, owner of North Fork Bridal Shoppe in Wading River, N.Y. “Often we have brides come into the shop asking about a new designer we are going to carry or an event we are having and they already know all about it since they have been watching our videos. They’re already excited about it, just by us making one video that reached a large audience simultaneously.”
    The Stories feature on Instagram has become so popular that users are skipping over the traditional image feed and watching their followers’ Stories first when they log into the app. To avoid those images and details getting lost, Liz Cox, marketing director at Twirl Boutique in Lexington, Ken., uses Stories to double-post the details. She usually shares a screen shot of the store’s Instagram page and a comment that encourages them to view the new post. This allows for better engagement and contributes to the algorithms, keeping Twirl Boutique appearing high in people’s feeds.
    Stories isn’t meant to talk at customers; it’s a great way to get them to talk to you. For example, Instagram recently introduced an interactive poll sticker that lets you ask a question and see results from your followers as they vote. Cox says the feature rolled out just before her visit to bridal market and she used the tool to ask followers for their opinion on the new styles they were considering buying. To her surprise, followers voted against several dresses she and storeowner Ty McBrayer thought were a sure thing.
    “It was awesome for us,” she says. “Ultimately those are the opinions that matter the most to us. And it gives people an opportunity to be heard in a way that is comfortable for them.”

Live Streaming
    Thanks in part to Facebook algorithms, Live streams are starting to get a huge organic reach. The way it works is Facebook algorithms look at more than 100,000 items to determine who sees what on Facebook. Certain types of content, such as live-streaming videos, have a heavier weight, meaning they’ll be shown to more people.
    “The nature of live-streaming video makes it easier to reach more people, because the post has a good chance of becoming ‘popular’,” Vilkaitis says. “Facebook determines if a post is ‘popular’ within the first 30 minutes of it being published. If within those 30 minutes the post is getting more activity and engagement than normal, Facebook will bump the video to the top of users’ feeds, giving it even more reach and exposure.”
    Using this tool is an easy way to increase your social-media footprint. Cox recently went live on Instagram during a road trip with McBrayer. The two have just started to incorporate live streaming into their social-media strategy and thus far have been pleased with the results.
    “We had our first two lives last week,” says Cox. “They were different, and very laid back. We want people to know we’re real people.”
    Cox and McBrayer planned a casual Q&A session to give customers an opportunity to see their more personal side. By allowing viewers to ask questions it also kept the focus on what they wanted to hear. Cox says the stream featured both women with no makeup and casual clothing, speaking from the heart about how they started in the business and their take on upcoming trends.
    “This is real life,” Cox says. “This is relatable. And people loved it. We got more engagement from that. I think live streams are such a great way to feel like you are having a conversation with people instead of saying ‘here are my announcements for the day’ on Stories.”
    Beth Chapman, owner of The White Dress by the Shore in Clinton, Conn., uses live streaming on Facebook and Instagram to show off the full breadth of a designer’s collection. She recently set up gowns from Antonio Gaul to promote an upcoming trunk show she was hosting with the designer. Chapman walked viewers through each style and talked about different features of each gown.
    Promoting upcoming live streams is beneficial, as you can’t count on everyone stumbling across them at the correct time. Cox promoted the road trip live stream through Instagram Stories the day before and saved it so that anyone who didn’t catch the stream live could see it as they scrolled through their feeds later on.
    Chapman also promoted a recent live stream by creating a Facebook event that invited followers to RSVP beforehand. The live stream was to reveal the cover of the book she co-authored, “The White Dress: Destinations.” In the video Chapman and her co-authors casually chatted for 20 minutes about their inspiration for the book and what readers can find inside. More than 6,000 people viewed the stream.

Video Posts
    With all these new tools popping up, it’s important to remember your traditional feeds, and filling them with videos is a must this year. Videos create more engagement, and your followers will spend longer viewing them.
    “Being able to hear someone’s voice creates immediate connections,” Cox says. “That’s what millennials want – connectivity to what they are investing it. They want to feel at home with you.”
    It may seem like your social media is headed for a video overload with all the content you’re posting but the efforts will pay out.
    “Video content is entertaining and keeps people interested in what is going to happen next; they can literally be wherever you are, experiencing and following along with you,” says Finter, who created a video about her shop and services, shared across multiple social-media platforms and her webpage.

Beyond Video: Chat Bots
    This year retailers are using messages as a way of selling and communicating with a more targeted group of consumers. According to Vilkaitis, retailers and businesses can set up Chat Bots through Facebook Messenger that allow them to send promotions and other marketing materials, as well as respond to customer-service inquires quicker and more direct.
    “Messenger is also a mobile app, which is where majority of people are accessing Facebook,” she adds. “I see a lot of opportunities here, but it will take some time to set up.”
    Vilkaitis recommends the tool
    While the trend hasn’t yet taken off among bridal retailers, Facebook says it’s an increasingly important part of the connection between businesses and people. Their research shows that 55.4 percent of U.S. social-media users say they prefer messaging channels over e-mail, phone and online chat.
    You may not be making direct sales through Chat Bot technology if you’re in the bridal industry, but it can become an important tool for you to begin communicating and marketing more directly to potential customers.

What’s Out for 2018
    Just as quickly as they are hot, social-media platforms can fizzle out. This year an increasing number of bridal retailers are passing on Twitter and Snapchat.
    “We have a Twitter handle but we do nothing with it,” Cox says. “It was always just about linking back to a blog post for us.”
    And that wasn’t enough. This year, Cox will focus on the platforms that allow her store to better connect and interact with customers. They plan to launch a private Facebook group for customers where they can ask questions and speak to other Twirl brides about anything wedding related.
    For Whitehead, Snapchat is out.
    “We decided to opt out since it felt like we could achieve the same goals with Instagram,” she says. “And we heard a lot of feedback that Snapchat was becoming less relevant. So we decided to lean into Instagram and the results have been great.”
    Also out in 2018: Using stock photos in posts and ads, Vilkaitis says. Across all platforms, consumers want real, original content that is more meaningful to you and them.