FeaturedInsightsMarketingMediaOpinionSocial Media

Within a fragmented landscape, loss of predictability is also the birth of opportunity – by We Are Social’s Jim Coleman

Brands and creatives can find opportunities in a shifting social media landscape

By Jim Coleman, UK chief executive, We Are Social

It has been a wild ride for the last two years with the world embracing digital and social media in ways we would never previously have thought possible.

Social has always been fast-paced, but hype cycles are accelerating faster than ever before.

In 2016, a Twitter trend would last for 11.9 hours. Four years later, in 2020, trending topics had a shelf-life of just 11 minutes and that rate has been increasing since then.

And while the English-speaking West used to dominate global culture, that’s now changing with Squid Game (Korean) the most-watched show on Netflix; Bad Bunny (Puerto Rican) the most-streamed artist on Spotify; and Khaby Lame (Senegalese-Italian) the most-followed person on TikTok.

Think Forward 2023, the annual report from our cultural insights team, highlights several key shifts in how people are using social media and digital spaces, all of which indicate a kaleidoscopic vision for the future.

Individuality is no longer the main pull of social, instead platforms are encouraging collaborative creation, creating space for effective community building, while creators are flexing their own products and IP to support more open self-expression in online worlds.

The outcome of this extended period of disruption is that we have all become more confident dealing with fragmentation and choice.

Exploring new worlds and spaces

We’ve seen a huge rise of niche internet micro celebrities (or NIMCELs) – people who have a cult following in niche online communities.

Not TikTok or YouTube megastars chasing Hollywood fame, but meme account admins, hyper-local Twitter celebrities, founders of a popular Discord server and so on. They represent a growing and important element of the shifting attention economy.

Experimenting with our identity

The likes of Harry Styles and Timothee Chalamet are ushering in a new era of masculinity with emotional vulnerability and gender-fluid fashion.

Harry Styles became the first male to feature solo on a US Vogue  cover back in 2019, posing in a Gucci dress and, in doing so, openly challenging gendered fashion norms.

Meanwhile earlier this year Chalamet strutted his stuff on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival in a stunning red backless halterneck jumpsuit.

Collaborating and creating our own stories

In the past few weeks, we have seen the little known Scorcese movie Goncharov trending on social media. There are film trailers, posters, a soundtrack, reviews and even a video game based on the movie.

But no-one has seen it because it never existed. The work has all been created entirely by Tumblr users in painstaking detail, showing just how much people love to come together in communities to create, with their creations often taking on a life of their own. So successful was this stunt that Scorcese himself has now (jokingly) confirmed he made the movie.

When it comes to discovering new content we are increasingly more confident to break out of our filter bubbles and explore things we wouldn’t normally see in ways we wouldn’t normally experience.

While this fragmentation has led to fewer predictable patterns for brands to follow, it has instead thrown up a world of new creative opportunities.

Bringing people together in new worlds and creating content around their niche

Spotify Island, launched on Roblox in May, is a collection of islands themed by different music cultures and genres – so far Spotify has confirmed K-pop and hip hop-themed islands.

The vision for this experience is to be a place where people come not only to listen to music but also to create and perform their own work.

Collaborating with fans to build the brand for the future

Lego is a brand that has evolved to deal with fragmentation. As well as competing with other toy makers it is also up against video games and social media in the fight for attention.

Meanwhile its audience is already out there creating stories featuring its toys on platforms such as online social reading site Wattpad, where users post their own stories about Lego characters such as the ninjas from its “Ninjago” franchise.

In response, Lego developed World Builder, a dedicated platform to harness this energy and talent. World Builder opens up a direct line from fans to the brand, inviting them to propose ideas for new Lego storylines and toy ideas.

Lego has said it will buy the ideas it likes and has budgeted $500,000 annually – for at least the next three years – to pay the platform’s users when it likes their submissions.

The global social landscape has been shattered into many fragmented realities and brands head into 2023 facing the challenge of appealing to people across multiple interests and realities, all of which overlap.

Marketers should be excited about this dramatic consumer-led evolution in social media because while a fragmented landscape creates a loss of predictability, it also brings the birth of opportunity

A version of this article first appeared on Campaign UK.