Last week Hook Research attended the 2018 MRS Social Media Summit, and spent a fantastic day listening to stimulating talks about the current social media landscape and brands’ places within it.
Running throughout the collection of interesting topics were three big themes that we will certainly be thinking about over the next 12 months…
Obscurity & Anxiety: a need to lift the veil on social media
One message rang loud and clear throughout the 2018 MRS Social Media Summit: social media is a black box, and this obfuscation has exacerbated the distrust that users feel towards the big players in the industry.
Cordelia Hay from Britain Thinks pointed out how dense Ts & Cs, a lack of understanding around how social media works, and uncomfortable power dynamics have all helped weave an obscuring veil that hangs between social media platforms and their users.
Following this thread, many other speakers also noted the pernicious fakeness that has been gnawing away at the foundations of each platform – whether that manifests in the accuracy of ‘news’ shared on social media (according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63% of respondents admitted that they don’t know how to tell the difference between ‘fake news’ and quality journalism), the growth of spurious dark advertising, or the increasing prevalence of bots. Which content is truthful? Which users are just lines of code? All of these factors have contributed to consumers’ unease and mistrust of social media companies.
To buck this shadowy reputation, the necessary response seems clear: Social media platforms need to lift the veil and humanise their companies. Anna Wilmot and Lucas Galan from Flamingo pointed out that ‘Personability’ is key for brands operating on social media – shouldn’t that be true also for the platforms themselves?
The authenticity of irony for Gen Zs (or the importance of producing comms with depth)
Jess Owens from Pulsar spent a highly engaging 30 minutes discussing the importance of irony in young peoples’ digital lives. Today’s young people have become particularly fluent at reading content at many different levels – from a straight surface level reading, to a deeper, more nuanced examination.
In the modern digital age, this is an important skill: Spotting the difference between real and fake news may be hard enough, but could you spot the difference between real and faked video content?
Take a look at this video (it’s an article about porn, but pretty SFW).
Did that look fake to you? Reddit and Pornhub have just banned the posting of these ‘deepfake’ porn videos to their sites, videos created by using cutting-edge AI to apply celebrity’s faces to porn-stars’ bodies.
Fake porn isn’t the only area that requires an astute eye: From running Rinsta (highly curated Instagram accounts) and Finsta accounts (an un-curated account that you share only with your close friends), to the ironic appreciation of “spicy” memes Gen Zs are regularly encountering content in the digital landscape that speaks to them on many different levels. Owens argues that the astute analytical skills that this fosters in younger consumers now requires brands to build similar depth into their own communications – to embrace a marketing strategy that is more multi-faceted and nuanced than previously thought palatable among young audiences.
Social listening needs powering up… and qual research can help
From Kantar to Lightspeed and Join the Dots – perhaps the strongest thread stitching together the agencies talking at the 2018 MRS Social Media Summit was an appreciation for the power and scope of social listening. Yet behind each of these case studies and success stories was the sense that while social listening was great at casting light on the contours of the research landscape, it couldn’t elucidate the entire picture.
As Tricia Wang points out in her 2016 TedX Cambridge in Boston, “Relying on big data alone increases the chance that we’ll miss something, while giving us this illusion that we already know everything.” A digital prophet for the modern age, big data has been lauded as a new business oracle that can answer any question about consumers and point out brands’ pathways to success. Yet presenters at the MRS Social Media Summit pointed out how social listening, while powerful in its own right, needs to be augmented with something a bit more qualitative in order to fully understand the human context between the bits and bytes (indeed, that’s why we teamed up with data science company Signify to develop our own Social Intelligence methodology).
It will be exciting to see how these two different, but incredibly complementary, skillsets are used by research agencies to uncover powerful results moving forward!
Going beyond the 2018 MRS Social Media Summit
Do you have your own questions about the social media landscape in 2018, communicating with digital audiences, or creating comms that stand out? Get in touch with us at Hook today!