The Edge
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The Edge

What’s happening with social media?

Joe Gizzi, Executive Director, Creative Strategy at Accenture Interactive

Do you remember what Facebook was like when you created your account in the first decade of the 2000s? Most of your Facebook connections were your family, peers, and friends who had also recently joined. You probably wrote a few statuses updates a day, posted messages on your friends’ profiles, and then all of those games and quizzes came along at some point (Farmville anyone?). It was a place to connect with others, share, to socialise. Fast forward to 2022 where every click you make is turning into a new datapoint for advertisers to target you, social media platforms are dedicated to becoming a smart newsfeed, NFT becoming the word of the year in 2021, and Facebook changing its name to Meta — betting everything on building their own Metaverse.

In order to understand how we got here and where we’re going next, we’ve talked to Joe Gizzi, Executive Director, Creative Strategy at Accenture Interactive: “I’ve been working in social marketing for 15 years; I’ve seen a lot. Our agency (MXM, acquired by Accenture Interactive in 2018) was the first social media agency in the world. We worked with clients that really wanted to be bleeding edge, we experimented a lot and were the first to get active and sell on different social platforms, experiment with AR, VR, and 360 content, and everything else you can imagine. It spanned the life of social media.” So, let’s get into it — the good, the bad, and everything in-between with Joe Gizzi.

The search for the new

Social media fatigue, polarisation, doom scrolling. The political and social events from the past years combined with advanced algorithms have led to our social media feeds mainly showing us what we like to see. We look at things that represent our views and we miss out on other perspectives. We lack curiosity. Everything is suddenly very “other” to us if we don’t see it in our feed on a regular basis, and we don’t seem to bring up the interest in exploring “the other.”

This has led to, especially among younger people, hunger for unique communities where they connect with others based on common interests. Platforms such as Twitch, Discord, NTWRK, Supergreat and Flip are more focused on niche communities and experiences rather than overstimulation through news, brands, and politicians that they don’t trust. Simultaneously, there’s been a rise of social audio platforms such as Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and podcasts that are trying to encourage conversation between people with different perspectives and thought patterns, “which can be really interesting and refreshing if it’s facilitated and moderated in the right way”, according to Joe. It is also going back to social media’s early promise: giving people the power to speak and share.

“I have a colleague (who is a Gen Zer) who took a whole finance course on TikTok last night. It’s about finding your bliss!”

One social media app that no one has missed in the past years is TikTok, arguably Gen Z’s favourite, giving its users bite-sized video content that can be anything from educational, informative, funny, mind-blowing, replacing the news, and sometimes leaving you thinking ‘what on Earth did I just watch?’. “TikTok is interesting because it capitalises on doom scrolling in a different way. How often have people told you that they didn’t realise they were watching videos for the last 1,5 hours? I have a colleague (who is a Gen Zer) who took a whole finance course on TikTok last night. It’s about finding your bliss!” What TikTok has done right is that they stick to what they do and what they’re known for whereas many other platforms are trying to reinvent one another over and over again. TikTok is customer-centric and has so far stayed true to itself, giving its creators the tools and power they need to produce great content. “But they have to be careful now as they monetise and develop, letting brands enter the circle. That’s where a lot of platforms get lost because the greatness of the community is often about how people build the culture organically.”

The importance of brands being intentional

The changing social media landscape has had a huge impact on brands and marketers: “We have to be very bespoke in where we go and how we do it. Social media was always meant to be a two-way communication; not community members feeling like brands are spitting content at them. Which is what it has become in many cases. People are exhausted. So, we need to create meaningful experiences that are emotional and relational. As a brand, think about who you want to interact with, who is your community, and how you create emotional and engaging bonds with it. That’s where social media needs to move to again instead of allowing everyone to feel targeted once they log on.”

“When brands and marketers started using social media it was very exciting to be able to engage with consumers directly through different means of communication. The way it’s evolved now though is that it has become a sea of sameness.”

Joe brings up make-up brands as an example: “They have loyalty programs, letting their most loyal customers test products before launch, using social (media) as a focus group, engaging with them one-to-one through asking questions and showing their customers that they care and that they are listening.” As a customer, you feel acknowledged and appreciated and you will most likely continue to engage with the brand and buy their products. Unfortunately, we see less and less of this: “When brands and marketers started using social media it was very exciting to be able to engage with consumers directly through different means of communication. The way it’s evolved now though is that it has become a sea of sameness. All platforms are competing to have the same functionality and be relevant for advertisers. We used to be able to create something in a bespoke manner for customers using dynamic video for example but between GDPR and cookie environments that’s not a reality anymore. Platforms serve advertisers and as the old saying goes, if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” Essentially, if you engage on social, you’re being sold to advertisers.

“That’s why Meta, TikTok, Twitter, and others are increasingly trying to drive commerce experiences such as live streaming with native transactions. They want to lock you in for hours to compete with traditional television and streaming and build communities around that. Brands have been hesitant to engage in social commerce without a clear view of what their customers are doing there. They don’t have access to the data they need to remarket to their customers, and in order to reach them, they need to repeatedly pay for platform advertising to gain access.”

New kids on the block: Metaverse and NFTs

“One of the most common questions I get from clients is ‘What is the Metaverse, how do I get in there, and what role do NFTs play in it?’ and it’s interesting because suddenly these new worlds are also a part of the social media landscape.”

Covid has had a huge impact on our interest in the Metaverse. When we couldn’t meet in person anymore, we wanted to find new ways to connect. “We were suddenly trying to figure out how to help kids have birthday parties in the metaverse or how we could create social communities that felt more face-to-face and experiential. We’ve been going that way with AR and VR for some time now, but this is about the complete immersive experience where we’re creating a new way to connect through virtual worlds — especially, when not being able to connect in the real world.”

One thing’s for sure, NFTs have gone through the roof in the past year. They open a whole new, different, and strange world of how people place value on things that are intangible, and lead to questions about ownership, what it means and what the long-term value of an NFT is. Instagram is trying to get into the game, brands are experimenting with it, and it’s exciting for many people. For brands, it is important to know how to engage within this new space and create value for their customers and themselves.

“The other question I get a lot is how brands can start building a community, bringing their customers together, and engaging with them more deeply. We talk a lot about the fact that brands can’t authentically share every single marketing message that they want to be out there. They should focus on the intention of their products, the idea of the brand experience that they want to deliver. In the end, they need others to back up their value; they need people to say that they love the products, that the brand stands for something great. So, they need to think about the voices who represent them, the influencers, the customers, the partners — because a brand isn’t believable on its own.

A smartphone screen showing the icons of different social media apps
Photo source

The future of social media

“Creators will take the lead. They have the loudest voice and will shape what these communities will look like in the future. I don’t think that brands or the platforms themselves can afford to be driving and telling communities what they need to be.”

“So much of social media is a response to what is happening in the real world. The feeling of loss after covid, a war-torn time period, the disenchantment we have with polarisation in the world. Over the next few years, we will see how much social media is about connecting around things that are happening in real life, in the metaverse, and around virtual communities that are at the intersection of the metaverse and real life. What’s important is that it has to grow organically, it’s not a ‘If you build it, they will come’ situation anymore, they have to create it on their own. People want to connect with others that understand them. I don’t think we’ve given up on that, especially Gen Z who are interested in social values behind a community and the power it can bring. The creators who will lead the way are the ones who are respected for standing out and being notable for what they stand for.”

“A lot of companies are trying to impose their brand on their followers top-down versus letting their community drive that bottom-up. If a brand really wants to build a community of enthusiasts and advocates, they need to listen to them and know who they are in the first place. It’s very much a challenge and an opportunity to understand the mindset of an audience as it is evolving and to bring a brand into an atmosphere that they don’t control. Brands are contributors and facilitators of their social presence but the customer is the owner of it. That’s why we need to provide them with what they want: connecting, talking, and sharing.”

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