How I Use Social Media to Buy Better Gifts for My Friends

Lindsey Lanquist
How I Use Social Media to Buy Better Gifts for My Friends
Photo: Allison Kahler.

I have a confession to make: I’m really bad at gift-giving. Like, so bad at gift-giving. I usually try to coax my friends into doing group-wide Secret Santas—that way I only have to focus on one gift at a time. But even under the most promising of circumstances, I fail to follow through. One January, I literally resorted to Venmoing my Secret Santa $50, because by the time I’d gotten to the carefully curated wishlist she’d passed along months earlier, everything was already sold out. Yeah, the situation is that dire.

But one day, as I sat on the subway mindlessly browsing Instagram, I realized something: I could use social media to buy my friends better gifts.

Our social media profiles are, essentially, concise collections of the things we love most. Our Instagrams capture the prettiest stuff we surround ourselves with; our Twitters communicate the things we find funniest; and our Facebooks, though waning in influence, offer the photogenic highlights of our social and personal lives. We distill our entire personalities into these feeds—which makes them perfect fodder for gift ideas.

Before I felt comfortable parroting this theory to anyone who would listen, I wanted to put it to the test—to verify it, in some way. So I used it to guide my gift-giving endeavors this holiday season. I bought gifts for seven of my closest friends, and used their social media profiles for inspiration every step of the way. And guys, I think I nailed it.

Jane

Jane is my roommate—and arguably my easiest friend to shop for. Since I live with her, I’m hyper-aware of her love of all things New Agecrystals, tarot cards, sage, etc. The issue is, once you have those things, you don’t really need more. Jane only needs one deck of tarot cards, a handful of crystals and a sage bundle or two—she’s pretty much set.

A scroll through our Instagram DMs reminds me how much Jane loves astrology. In fact, in August, she DMed me a photo of a book called “The Mixology of Astrology.” Bingo. Anthropologie has tons of astrology-themed items on offer right now, so I browse the online store and land on a zodiac sign-themed candle (Capri Blue Moon mini zodiac candle, $14 at Anthropologie).

We’re big fans of candles in our apartment, so I select the Capricorn option (but not before verifying Jane’s birthday on Facebook to confirm her sign) and add it to my cart.

I’m of the mind that a couple small gifts combine to create one seriously great gift, so I browse Jane’s Instagram feed for additional inspiration. And there it is: a photo of the basil plant Jane attempted to raise in our window this summer. Thankfully, Anthropologie has a garden-in-a-can kit on offer (Modern Sprout flower garden kit, $14 at Anthropologie). So I select the lavender option, add it to my cart and call it a day.

(FWIW, this isn’t an ad for Anthropologie; their gift selection is just tops.)

Amory

After Jane, I move onto Amory—who’s perhaps my most challenging friend to shop for. Amory is my other roommate, but she’s not really concerned with aesthetics and material stuff; she also rarely posts on social media. Still, Amory’s Instagram feed acts as an encapsulation of her greatest interest: her loved ones.

Amory’s most recent post is a photo of her and her boyfriend, Woody, which gives me the idea to get her a gift they can enjoy together. I remember seeing a bunch of DIY kits at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, so I browse both sites to see what my options are. I land on a DIY s’mores kit (Campfire s’mores kit, $28 at Anthropologie). Remembering Woody loves sweets (an IRL insight—not a social media one), I add the kit to my cart.

But what to do for gift two? The rest of Amory’s feed reminds me of how much she loves the place she grew up, North Carolina. When I was feeling particularly homesick earlier this year, I bought myself a Homesick Candle (yes, these exist, and yes, they’re as magical as they sound). I couldn’t imagine a better gift for Amory.

I browsed the Homesick Candles page on Amazon to see if they offered a Raleigh, N.C. option. They didn’t, so I went with the statewide candle, instead (North Carolina Homesick Candle, $29.95 at Amazon).

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8:21 a.m. Cosmo Kramer crater gazing.

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Shauna

I jump straight from Amory to Shauna, my former roommate and one of my closest friends. Mostly because I know Shauna would love the North Carolina Homesick Candle as much as Amory would (a conclusion I’m able to reach without any help from social media) (North Carolina Homesick Candle, $29.95 at Amazon). I add the candle to my cart and head to Shauna’s Instagram feed for a little help with gift two. 

Shauna’s Instagram feed is pretty evenly split between two things: artsy AF imagery and photos of trips she’s taken. So something artsy or wanderlusty is definitely on the menu. I spend some time mulling this one over before remembering a mental note I’d made a month or two before; a podcast I’d listened to had mentioned a book that encourages people to upend their lives and travel the world—and offers them a field guide to doing so.

This seemed right up Shauna’s alley, and thanks to the quick Instagram browse, I remember I definitely wanted to give her that for Christmas. I hop back on Amazon to find the book and add it to my cart (Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, $10.87 at Amazon).

Nicole

Next up: Nicole, one of my best friends from college. Nicole’s Instagram is full of idyllic imagery—photos of cute places, cool events and…dogs. Nicole loves dogs. The dog to human ratio in her Instagram feed is out of control, and I suddenly remember a photo she posted on Facebook a long, long time ago—one that showed her wearing a crossbody bag that looked like a French bulldog.

Immediately, I’m reminded of an Anthropologie mug with a French bulldog on it that I’d seen literal months ago. And thankfully, it’s still in stock (Molly Hatch Icon mug, $14 at Anthropologie). That one’s a no-brainer.

Then, I struggle for a second. What else should I get her? I consider buying her a book or two, but her feed is totally book-less—and honestly, she and I haven’t talked about reading in a while. She posts a bunch of vacation photos, so maybe something travel-oriented? Then again, if she already travels a lot, she might be set in the vacation must-have department.

Eventually, I settle on a candle (Monogram candle, $24 at Anthropologie). This one’s not social media-inspired, but the candle’s cute—and the scent description sounds promising. Plus, candles are basically no-fail gifts; when in doubt, shop candles.

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Bonjour! ✈️ 🇫🇷 🥐 #southernfrance

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Ingrid

I move on to Ingrid, Nicole’s roommate and one of my best friends. Ingrid is incredibly hard to shop for, both because she has a clearly defined aesthetic and because she hates clutter. You’d literally be doing her a disservice if you got her a mediocre gift; it’d probably be better to give her nothing at all.

The stakes were high, and Ingrid’s carefully curated Instagram feed just reminded me of that fact over and over and over again. And then I saw it—a photo I’d taken of Ingrid months ago when we traveled to France together. On our first day there, we’d made a charcuterie platter and used a slotted cutting board (which we discovered in the cabinets of the house we were renting). I’d never seen one before, but Ingrid had, and the two of us straight-up fawned over this thing for an hour.

I do wine and cheese nights with Ingrid often enough to know she doesn’t have a slotted cutting board of her own—but that she’d definitely benefit from one. Thankfully, Amazon had one on offer (Bamboo slotted cutting board, $12.99 at Amazon).

I took things a step further and got Ingrid some cheese markers, too (Arrow cheese markers, $32 at Anthropologie). I figured I was already elevating her wine and cheese game—why stop now? Anthropologie had a few options in stock, and I went with the most minimalist option.

Then, I topped things off with a sleek black candle (Standard wax mood candle, $28 at Anthropologie). Because honestly, why not?

Kim

After Ingrid, I decided to shop for my friend Kim, who is one of the funniest and most cerebral people I know. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea what to get her.

Kim’s Instagram feed reminded me she loves cute shit, so I thought some of the glitter picture frames I’d seen at Urban Outfitters might fit the bill. Unfortunately, most of them are Instax-geared, and I was pretty sure Kim didn’t have an Instax camera. Back to square one.

I mindlessly browsed Anthropologie until I found a mindfulness journal I thought Kim might appreciate. She spends a lot of time writing, and I know she’s interested in adjusting her habits with mindfulness and personal growth in mind. This seemed like a pretty good fit. I debated between the “mindful,” “habits” and “dreams” options before settling on the “mindful” one—the color felt very Kim, and the topic felt a little more authentic than the other two (kikki.K inspiration journal, $29.95 at Anthropologie).

For the record, I didn’t use social media to land on this gift—at all. But Kim has tweeted about writing and mindfulness, so if things had gone really wrong, I could’ve turned to social media for help.

I decided to get Kim the same zodiac candle I’d gotten Jane (Capri Blue Moon mini zodiac candle, $14 at Anthropologie). Kim’s also a Capricorn, and she loves astrology, too. This wasn’t really a social media-inspired choice, though I guess Kim’s Instagram feed did remind me of her love of cute stuff.

You win some, you lose some—and this one was definitely a loss for my theory. Still, I walked away with a couple solid, Kim-worthy gifts in my cart—and that was what really mattered.

Jocelyn

My final challenge was to shop for my friend, Jocelyn, who recently moved to Boston. This proved incredibly easy.

Jocelyn’s Instagram reminded me that she recently took a break from Instagram—mostly to be mindful of her in-person relationships and to spend more time with the people around her. I figured a gift in the same vein as Kim’s mindfulness journal would be perfect, so I added a 100-day happiness planner to my cart (The Happiness 100-Day Planner, $30 at Anthropologie). The gift seemed perfect for Jocelyn, though the mint color I wanted for her was sold out.

While searching for this journal, I stumbled upon a set of pineapple bookends (Pineapple bookends, $48 at Anthropologie). No one I know loves books more than Jocelyn, and no one I know loves pineapples more than Jocelyn—talk about a perfect fit. Though I didn’t need social media guidance for this one, it would’ve been at the ready; Jocelyn has posted tons of photos of pineapples, and one of her permanent Instagram stories is a collection of books she’s recently read.

So, did it work?

If you took the time to read each section of this article, one thing certainly became clear: While you can’t rely entirely on social media to guide your gift-giving process, it definitely helps. And most of the work it’s doing is just triggering certain memories—stuff you might not have otherwise thought of.

I’d forgotten all about Jane’s window basil plant—and the slotted cutting board Ingrid and I were obsessed with in France. And I wouldn’t have remembered either without a nostalgic scroll through Instagram. Not to mention, while I know basic facts about my friends—that Amory and Shauna love home, that Nicole loves dogs, that Jocelyn is constantly thinking about new ways to be mindful—I don’t think I would’ve made the connection that these insights make for literally perfect gifts without a little social media refresher.

TL;DR: I’m definitely doing this again, for every birthday, holiday or other gift-giving occasion on my calendar. Because I just slayed gift-giving season for the first time in my life, and it feels damn good.

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