We’re on the Brink of a Social Media Hangover: Are Brands Prepared to Be the Remedy?

January 23, 2020

By Mukta Chowdhary

Tetiana Yurchenko/Shutterstock.com

We’re all going through it together — a massive hangover — and it’s phones, not flasks, that are fueling these social media scares. We’ve overdosed on our screens, mindlessly double-tapped on our feeds, over-filtered on our posts, and obsessively checked our like counts, and we’re starting to see the negative effects of overindulging on social media. The Fullscreen Culture Report: Summer Edition found that 54 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds think being constantly connected to their devices worsens their well-being. More than half (51 percent) even admit they often think about what life would be like without social media.

Many of us have become hyper-aware of our digital well-being due to the launch of new features such as Apple’s Screen Time, Google’s Digital Wellbeing, and Facebook’s “You’re All Caught Up” notifications. These big players are also experimenting with changing public-facing metrics or removing them altogether to create a more positive space online and prevent users from turning follower counts into a popularity contest. Some of us (with many of the biggest digital creators included) have experimented with digital detoxes, from 24 hours without a phone to 30 days without social media. Over half (53 percent) of 18- to 34-year-olds have taken a break from social media.

We’ve reached this point of inflection with our relationship to social because our digital lives have become more filtered and perfected in a chase for likes, followers, and validation. This attention on manifesting unrealistic versions of ourselves online has made us we feel crummy about ourselves in real life. In fact, 39 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds agree that crafting, maintaining, and building their social media identities is stressful.

Digital creators are also feeling the impending social media hangover. The first generation of digital creators set the foundation for social media following mantras like ‘be yourself,’ ‘share your world,’ and ‘express yourself.’ These tenets gained them followers and ultimately helped built their rabid fandoms. As platforms developed more sophisticated algorithms, digital creators were no longer serving one master: their fans. Instead, they were sent on a tireless quest to please the algorithm queen — posting daily, hiring staff, spending more and more money on cameras and equipment, moving to L.A. — the list goes on. For many, this constant pressure to keep up with the evolving algorithm has led to over-produced, impersonal content with 45 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds agreeing that the content they watch on YouTube feels formulaic and less authentic than it used to. We are drowning in a sea of sameness as digital creators struggle to keep up to the algorithm demands.

And frankly, we are so over it.

While digital creators become more honest with their followers about their struggles with chasing the algorithm, everyday people are rejecting being obsessively polished on social and are sharing a grittier, messier, and so-called ‘boring’ side of their lives. This representation will redefine ‘#nofilter’ and we will see a more vulnerable side start to emerge on social. We’re already starting to see this side from the next generation of digital creators like Jazzy Anne and Joana Ceddia who are rejecting the glossy for the real. But it’s not only digital creators who are sharing a more real version of themselves — traditional celebrities are starting to be more unedited. Both Amy Schumer and Meghan Markle have been praised for showing the realities of postpartum, and Ashley Graham received fan love for showing her cellulite in an “after the Met Gala” Instagram post. Furthermore, superstar politicians are sharing regular moments of their lives to help us relate to them outside of a political agenda — they are building IKEA furniture and taking us to with them. This shift toward more honest depictions of life is bleeding into what people expect from brands. The Fullscreen report found that 67 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds think brands should be as unfiltered as influencers.

Furthermore, as we are more mindful of the time we spend on social — and become more cautious when we do use it — it’s harder for brands to reach us. So what can brands do to break through as we enter a new age of social media consciousness?


Be Real: Overly Curated Doesn’t Always Mean Highly Engaging

There’s a fine line between overly curated and inauthentic. Brands should experiment with being unfiltered; content doesn’t need to look highly-produced all the time. If it’s hard to let go of control, brands can partner with a digital creator who can be a conduit. Consumers don’t want to spend their time perfecting posts — for example, the Fullscreen report found that 56 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds would rather spend time learning a new skill than spend time curating and crafting their online identities. This mindset can serve as a source of inspiration for brands. Brands must stop worrying about perfection on social and instead use social to express their true brand identity.

It’s not about you. As people become not only more hyper-aware of how their social feeds make them feel but also highly-selective of the accounts they follow — it’s imperative for brands to think about their audience first or face being unfollowed. Brands must understand the complexity of their fans and get to know what they care about having in their feed and why. By weaving positivity, transparency, and humor into content, brands can help set themselves apart from competitors and spark joy into follower’s feeds.

Be the relief. As we gear up to a major election, tensions and social clutter will be running high. Debates will ignite across social media feeds as the political frenzy heats up. Your followers may get exhausted, disheartened, or even impassioned. For whatever they are feeling, offer them a place for kindness and positivity — a place for your audience to unwind and have fun. Brands have an opportunity to provide that relief: 60 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds agree that watching entertaining content on social helps them distress.


Be the Connective Tissue Amid the Chaos — and Build Communities

Audiences are hungry for community and connection and they expect brands and entertainment to bring them together — 57 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds think brands can bring people together, and 53 percent think brands should help build communities online. Brands can build those communities by tapping into the shared passions and values between them and their audience.

In the future, we will no longer curate and edit who we are on social — and the mundane will feel surprisingly refreshing. We will stop pretending our lives are only about pretty sunsets and Sunday brunches with Aperol spritzes. Digital creators will conquer the algorithm while staying true to who they are. The pendulum will swing back to the very reason why we came to social media — for real connection, community, and self-expression. But this time, we’ll be able to unmask our many personas to share a deeper side of ourselves. Brands must be willing to do the same.

Mukta Chowdhary is the director of strategy and cultural forecasting at Fullscreen.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

You must be logged in to submit a comment.