Over the last couple of years, many of us have grown even more reliant on digital platforms for connection and community. How we communicate on an interpersonal level, however, doesn’t always correlate with how we want to hear from the companies and organizations we follow on social media, especially in times of crisis.
As we’ve endured a global pandemic, financial uncertainties and instability, a reckoning with racial injustice, natural disasters and heartbreaking images from Pakistan, Ukraine and elsewhere around the world, many of us crave a sense of shared humanity when we try to connect with each other on our screens. Businesses and organizations supporting social good causes have had a unique opportunity—and even responsibility—to reach and support consumers, staff and interest groups online, and many have done so masterfully. Others have stumbled.
So what do the latest communication trends tell us about what organizations should—and should not—do to reach our audiences? Which conversations should we join, and how?
Those of us in communications know that many of the best practices we leverage come from trends developed by individuals. Canvas 8’s 2022 “Expert Outlook on Communication” report dives into some big changes in how individuals communicate online, two of which are especially notable.
As GIFs, memes and emojis have become part of our everyday lives, we’ve learned about the immense power of communication surrogates—that is, images and videos that help depict a feeling or phenomenon better than a few words can. Canvas 8 explains how trauma memes tap into a deep desire to connect over shared experiences of trauma online, building community among others grappling with similarly difficult experiences via clever, relatable imagery.
The above example comes from @atmfiend, who regularly posts trauma memes to engage followers on a myriad of difficult topics, building a sense of support and camaraderie among followers who feel seen and can identify with the sentiments expressed.
Move Against Toxic Positivity
Social media users have often used their platforms to showcase the most beautiful, enviable and seemingly perfect moments in life, using captions like “no bad days” or “good vibes only” to convey a seemingly effortless existence. But Gen Z has been reclaiming big emotions online, making a point to highlight personal difficulties, self-betterment journeys and painful experiences. As they’ve come of age in such a tumultuous time, they no longer relate to—or are interested in—overly polished displays that can seem irrelevant, inauthentic or worse. Like trauma memes, this movement against toxic positivity aims to create more authentic connections online.
Gen Z is far more likely to talk about having a hard day, post an unfiltered photo showing natural skin, and share a personal failure or mistake.
So What, If Anything, Do These Trends Mean for Brands?
It’s important to consider whether this shift towards a more authentic and personal tone, and the use of dark yet relatable humor, is something your organization should be doing online.
There are some communication styles organizations should absolutely adopt—such as personifying their brand voice to be more colloquial and witty as many have done on TikTok—and others social media users don’t want to see big corporations take on. Taking a stance on important issues like the ones we’ve endured is absolutely something consumers want brands to do. Joining the community that carefully balances dark humor and memes to discuss trauma, however, is not how online users say they want even their most beloved brands to communicate.
When brands directly enter vulnerable conversations like these, people are likely to feel the corporate engagement is disingenuous or distracts from the emotional intimacy they had been building with peers.
That being said, a fantastic way for organizations to bridge this gap, making the impact they’d like to make in a way that is perceived as authentic, is by working with trusted messengers.
Engaging Trusted Messengers
According to the Ad Council’s recently published Trusted Messengers Study, trusted messengers can play a key role in how Americans receive information on key issues like racial justice, COVID-19 vaccination and mental health. Using your platform to elevate voices at the center of those spaces will be a highly effective way to make true impact.
In a recent Ad Age feature, Ad Council president and CEO Lisa Sherman dug into the key takeaways of this study. Her recommendations?
- Choose messengers who possess the qualities Americans find trustworthy.
- Take audience demographics and preferences into account when identifying trusted messengers.
- Provide tools for trusted messengers to educate themselves on the issue.
- Equip trusted messengers with the knowledge to prevail in any environment.
- Don't confuse virality with trustworthiness.
- Understand and utilize the Trusted Messenger Ecosystem, which could mean pairing an influencer with an issue expert to foster connection while supporting your message.
The move toward a more authentic online environment is ultimately a heartening one. While we continue to watch new generations use these powerful tools in different ways, brands, nonprofits and organizations should continue to stay true to their brand voice, social impact priorities and key messaging points online as they elevate and engage with individuals and influencers along the way.
This article is the fifth in a series spotlighting trends produced in partnership with CANVAS8.