5 charts: How millennial women explore trends across platforms

By Rob McLoughlin, VP, Consumer Research, PopSugar

If you’re into running–and you love pizza–you may have heard of Kelly Roberts, a fitness influencer with 15,000 followers on Instagram and a talent for goofy, inspiring selfies. Strong, feminine beauty has been a mainstream movement since 1990, when Nike debuted its “Running” campaign. But those who know Millennial women see that influencers like Roberts embody a departure from the prevailing “strong is beautiful” messaging.

“Funny fitness,” a subgenre of fitness coverage that acknowledges that the struggle is real, is having a moment. Traffic to funny fitness stories on PopSugar rose by 1,427 percent this year, indicating that the cross-over between aspirational fitness and emotional validation is a powerful motivator.

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But you wouldn’t know that if you weren’t keeping a close eye on this quickly escalating trend.

Trend watching used to be a slow burn. Trends edged out of the far corners of society and gained momentum slowly and over years before tipping into the mainstream—gay rights, for example, or body acceptance. Now, thanks to hyperactive social media churn, trends take shape faster than a brand manager can say “make the logo bigger.”

And they can come out of left field, too. David Berkowitz, CMO at agency MRY, points out that the first billion-view YouTube video was a Korean pop hit. “If you’d said that people would be riveted by ‘Gangnam Style,’ a song whose lyrics few of them could understand, no one would have believed you.”

How then can brands find these trends before they peak? PopSugar surveyed 800 readers to discern just how millennial women define trends, on what platforms they discover them and where they go when their interests are piqued.

Before they’re trending, they’re niche
Since 60 percent of the survey’s respondents consider themselves to be trend “followers,” it’s not surprising that a similar majority said a trend is “popular” or “everywhere.” But those respondents who consider themselves “trendsetters” picked “niche” or “exotic” more often (30 percent versus 13), suggesting that early adopters see new trends emerging from just beyond the mainstream.


Today’s trends “come from places where brands are not necessarily hanging out,” Berkowitz says. So brands have to try harder to keep up. “The first step is making it a priority and saying, ‘You know what? We want to understand our culture better.’”

Trends look less like a bell curve, more like a hockey stick
TV everywhere, social media influencers and the quick moving digital publishers that cover both have given audiences instant access to the information they crave.
PopSugar has seen the move’s effects first hand. While “popular” topics don’t change much week-to-week or month-to-month, its “biggest movers” metric is more revealing.

Below, charts from our trend calculator shows that while celebrity fashion is a perennial favorite, Amal Clooney (and her husband, George) spiked as influencers last week.

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(You can check that calculator out here.)

Social platforms go wide, but publishers go deep
Overall, the survey supports the notion that social platforms remain the chief tool for discovery. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they discovered a trend via social media, more than chose TV, print or even friends and family.


Of the usual platforms, Facebook leads the pack. Thirty-five percent said they’d interacted with trend content on Facebook by posting a comment. Following were Pinterest and YouTube. Instagram did better with self-described trendsetters than it did overall.


Thirty-two percent of survey respondents said they are more likely to discover trends on platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with Instagram overindexing among self-described “trendsetters.” So it’s clear where brands looking for, say, the next Snapchat Lenses or the successor to the rate-everything-including-people trend should set up their radars. “Tell me something new,” as Berkowitz put it. “Tell me something I didn’t read in The New York Times.”

But once emerging trends have piqued their interest, young women overwhelmingly follow up for more information, sometimes with the very publishers introducing them to their social feed. It makes sense. You scroll, you stop, you click to read and learn more.


Is it a moment or a movement?
It could be that funny fitness is just having a moment. Or a brand might pick up on the trend and set off a movement of its own. Survey respondents chose these 2014 trends, including the ice bucket challenge, which had its moment, but is now over.

The lesson: Don’t jump the gun. “Not everything that’s buzzing on Twitter or Facebook is a trend,” Berkowitz said. It might just be a fad. “A company doesn’t build a business model around a fad,” said trends expert Daniel Levine.


How good are our readers at predicting trends? Respondents, who answered in 2014, picked flared jeans as one of the undiscovered trends that would go wide this year. That trend, which picked up this fall, was second only to natural beauty. Trends they most wanted to die: High-waisted pants, skinny jeans and the Kardashians.


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