Self-identity…in the New Communications Economy

Welcome to ‘…in the New Communications Economy’

This is a regular piece of content where the brightest minds from across the EssenceMediacom network share their thoughts on how people live their lives and experience brands in today’s modern media landscape.

The first edition comes from Nick Palmer – the agency’s Global Head of Creative Transformation – who explores self-identity.

As media practitioners we (naturally) spend a lot of time thinking about the rapidly changing media landscape and the impact it’s had on how we reach audiences. But we have probably spent less time than we should thinking about how changes in media have impacted people themselves.

Specifically, how changes in media have impacted our self-identity; to the point where the majority of people now identify more with the communities and sub-communities they belong to online than they do their physical location.  

That might sound minor, but it represents a seismic shift. 

How have we got to the point whereby faceless usernames on Discords and Reddit forums and Creators on TikTok and YouTube feel closer to us than those we share a physical location with? And what does that tell us about what comes next from a communications and brand building perspective? 

Let’s start with some context: from the wreckage of what we can call “Social Media 1.0”, we have seen genuine digital communities emerge.

Only a fraction of ‘social media’ today is about mimicking / augmenting real-life social interactions. Instead, the catch-all that is “social” (prompted by the shift in algorithms to surface ‘more relevant content’) has become the entry point to an endless world of informative, entertaining (hyper-relevant) content dedicated to any and every area of interest one could possibly imagine.

The result; the emergence of globally scaled digital communities congregating around what might have historically been considered ‘niche’ areas of interest. Sometimes in a passive capacity (see the 55bn views around #witchtok content on TikTok) and sometimes in a highly active capacity (see the willingness to pay for Patreon content or access to specific Discord servers). 

Why is this important? Well, we’ve always known brands that become the fabric of communities and sub-communities can thrive. Think Converse and rock/indie music. Dr. Martens and punk. Red Bull and extreme sports. 

Given today three quarters of people say they belong to a sub-community online, the idea of Community Marketing (as opposed to Social Media Marketing) will inevitably become one of the most important things for a brand to master in the ever more challenging game of reaching and being relevant to people. 

To do that we’re going to need to create new communications playbooks:  ‘Creative’ toolkits will become ‘Creator’ toolkits as we begin to get comfortable with the idea of people with lived community experience positioning and representing our brands. 

The idea of ‘explicit’ advertising consistency (“my advertising campaign must be consistent across all touchpoints”) must be replaced by the idea of ‘implicit’ brand consistency, paired with the careful application and management of a brand’s distinctive assets. 

The notion of reach as a pre-requisite to growth must continue to be understood (and we will size communities through that lens) but, at the same time, we’ll make more media decisions based on how endemic a partner or platform is to the community in question. 

I see Community Marketing as the next big shift forward. The maturing of Influencer Marketing and the manifest of what “Social Media Marketing” was supposed to be. Because, ultimately, we’re talking about positioning our brands in the context of the thing most important to people; their own sense of self.