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How will Visual Search Impact Social?

Amongst the latest trends in the digital world, visual search is still very much in its infancy. Yet technology is improving all the time and usage is expanding across multiple platforms. From a social perspective, Pinterest and Snapchat are the frontrunners.

Below, I will look at some of the latest developments in this space and consider what the future will hold for Paid Social.

The growth of visual search

Voice Search has grown rapidly in recent years, driven by devices such as Amazon’s Echo and voice assistants such as Siri on mobile devices. Visual Search is still relatively new to the wider market, however there are signs of increased adoption.

In a 2018 study by ViSenze, 61.7% of 21-34-year olds said they would be comfortable adopting visual search as part of their digital shopping experience. Furthermore, a recent article in Campaign claimed that “74% of consumers agree that text-based keyword searches are inefficient in helping to find the right product online”, suggesting there is a demand for image-based search and therefore huge scope for growth.

Pinterest Lens

In 2017, Pinterest introduced Lens, a way to search for relevant pins on the platform via an image. For example, taking a picture of a specific dog breed would show related images and information. Between Feb ‘17 and Feb ‘18, monthly Visual Lens Searches grew 140%, from 250m to 600m. Since its launch, various upgrades have been made to Lens, meaning it can now identify 5x more products than in February 2017.

This bodes well for Pinterest, given that they plan to leverage Lens as one of their key advertising tools. Currently, it is one of their differentiators between their competitors. If the uptake on visual search is as expected, Pinterest will be well positioned to take advantage.

Snapchat/Amazon Partnership

Earlier this year, Snapchat announced a partnership with Amazon in the US which allowed users to Snap a picture of a product and use the image to find the product on Amazon. In terms of functionality, this is very similar to Pinterest’s Lens, however the fact it drives directly to a product page on Amazon highlights the capabilities for Visual Search as an e-commerce tool.

Snapchat’s major focus this year has been on how they improve the platform from an e-commerce perspective – partnering with a giant like Amazon and utilising Visual Search technology goes a long way to helping them stand apart from the competition.

Snapchat have also been pioneers in terms of Augmented Reality (AR), introducing Shoppable AR Lenses earlier this year. There is potential for Visual Search and AR to be heavily integrated in the future.


So, where do Facebook fit into all this? TechCrunch ran an article last month detailing the work Facebook have done since they introduced the Marketplace on the app. Launched two years ago, Marketplace is a dedicated section of the site where users can buy and sell products directly.

The next steps on Marketplace’s roadmap include A.I. categorisation, dynamic price range suggestions, and visual search. Facebook say they will be able to categorise items based on the photo and description, meaning that users will be able to search for relevant products based on an image.

A Facebook blog post details an example of what this might look like, claiming “say you liked your friend’s headphones and wanted your own; you could snap a photo of the headphones and Marketplace’s AI technology could recommend similar listings for sale nearby.”

Looking forward to the future, they believe that “AI could help simplify tasks like completing an outfit or home design project. For example, you could upload a photo of your living room and get suggestions on furniture to buy based on your layout and size.”


Visual search is yet to truly permeate the social space, although foundations are being laid. It’s almost certain that Facebook will be working on more than they have revealed so far, with Pinterest already having dedicated technology in place for 2 years.

It remains to be seen how normalised visual search will become in the future, however a confident prediction is that it will be a major disruptor in terms of e-commerce across these channels, completely changing the way people browse and buy online.