In 2016, e-commerce fueled over $360 million in sales within the United States. Experts believe that the value of products sold to consumers will reach $638.1 million by 2022.

The way that retailers acquire customers online has changed significantly over the last decade. The days of mass marketing have ended. Today, brands need to find more authentic ways to connect with their existing and potential customers.

Companies that don’t keep up with the latest trends will have difficulty reaching their goals. Perhaps even more importantly, retailers will likely find that their savviest competitors find ways to thrive by tapping into the growing online market.

The following three customer acquisition trends should play crucial roles in 2018.

Social Media

Not surprisingly, social media platforms will continue to play an important role in customer acquisition. Considering that Facebook had more than 2 billion active users and Instagram had about 800 million monthly active users by the end of 2017, it’s practically impossible for retailers to remain successful without using social media.

Simply posting advertisements on a platform like Facebook, however, doesn’t ensure success. Instead, brands need to build meaningful relationships with customers. That requires understanding the interests of customers and giving them engaging content.

Some advice for creating social media awareness for brands include:

  • Identifying a target platform.
  • Crafting a tone that reaches targeted audiences.
  • Focusing on valuable content such as tips for choosing products.
  • Building connections with social influencers who can attract more followers.
  • Measuring progress to determine what does and doesn’t work.

Consumer Preference for Socially Responsible Brands

Many of today’s consumers prefer buying products from companies that they consider socially responsible. The trend towards supporting responsible corporations is especially strong among millennials, 70 percent of whom say that they spend more money on brands that support the causes that they care about.

Social responsibility for brands needs to feel authentic to consumers. Companies should support causes that they truly believe in, and that are aligned with their mission. Otherwise, consumers will see through the marketing ploy. If supporting a cause doesn’t feel genuine, then potential customers will walk away feeling as if they’ve been lied to.

User-Generated Content

Expect to see user-generated content (UGC) become even more common in 2018. This trend helps retailers improve their trustworthiness and it helps control marketing expenses.

According to one survey, 85% of consumers find visual UGC more influential than brand photos or videos. Given that the average consumer gets exposed to about 3,000 brand messages per day, it’s easy to see why they’ve grown weary of advertisements. Additionally,86% of millennials consider UGC to be a key indicator in the quality of a brand.

Consumers do, however, trust each other. Social media posts, product reviews, blog posts, forum posts and other types of UGC have a bigger influence on consumers than marketing materials that come directly from brands.

Harnessing the power of UGC gives retailers opportunities to improve their trustworthiness. Effective UGC includes a mixture of positive and critical perspectives. Without some criticism, brands look like they’re trying to manipulate the information that consumers rely on to make smart choices. In other words, retailers need to accept criticism before they can look honest.

UGC offers other benefits that retailers should consider when developing their customer acquisition plans. Some benefits of using UGC include:

  • Increased social engagement
  • Higher conversion rates
  • Better brand advocacy

Retailers can even use UGC to improve their SEO and social media visibility.

It’s impossible to know precisely how trends will change over the year. It seems fairly certain, though, that these three customer acquisition trends will play important roles throughout 2018 and the years beyond.