The rise of emerging platforms should lead brands to reassess their social strategies

Clubhouse, TikTok and gaming platforms provide a route for brands to tap into whole new cultures and subcultures.

Lockdown has resulted in a year of experimentation when it comes to social media. Despite being dominated by a few giants for the past decade, this hasn't stopped a plethora of new platforms gaining traction in the last 12 months.

Clubhouse's user base is going from strength to strength and TikTok now competes with the established platforms. Gaming platforms such as Fortnite and Among Us have attracted consumer – and brand – attention. The likes of Dispo, Roblox and Rec Room are starting to grab more column inches.

The established platforms are scrambling to keep up. We've seen Twitter launch its live audio feature Spaces on Android, looking to further capitalise on the current interest in audio social that’s helped propel Clubhouse to significant growth. Facebook is continually bolstering its gaming offering. In fact, in the past year arguably we’ve seen more innovation across the social media space than ever before, from platforms both new and old.

The emergence of particular consumer behaviours on social, much of it highlighted by the popularity of certain features on new platforms, has some key implications for brands to look out for when developing their social strategies.

Voice: the next generation of social engagement

It would be remiss of me not to begin with voice. It feels like voice has always been The Next Big Thing, but never really took off – until now. voice memes went viral in lockdown, Alexa became funny. Clubhouse – the platform of the moment – is all about giving people a voice online. Literally.

Audio social apps have launched before, but never in a time of mass social isolation and screen fatigue. And Clubhouse isn’t the only app trying to win your ears.

Discord, which launched in 2015 and has 100 million users, decided this year to switch from being an audio platform for gamers to an audio platform for everyone with a big rebrand (new tagline: “Your place to talk”). The aforementioned roll-out of Twitter Spaces shows platforms are taking voice seriously.

Some quick-thinking brands are already finding a way to test the waters. Ikea, for example, recently used the concept of "rooms" on Clubhouse to host conversations with audiences around new domestic habits.

But while voice is a long overdue addition to the social landscape, it’s not the easiest one to navigate for brands. Finding influencers or voice actors that reflect your brand is going to be on many’s agenda, as well as looking at options like AI.

Metaverse closer as gaming shifts to mainstream

For me, one of the most significant shifts in recent months has been gaming’s leap into the mainstream (or rather, marketers finally catching on to its popularity).

According to our Digital 2021 report, about 87% of people game around the world. Gaming today has a low barrier to entry. There’s variety, it’s cheap, and convenient for anyone and everyone to pick up a game and play with their friends.

Over the past year, we’ve seen people using gaming platforms in record numbers, and those who aren’t gamers are often a spectator of its culture, being entertained, influenced and informed by those playing.

And games are no longer a place only for play, but social spaces where people connect and consume entertainment. Platforms like Fortnite are essentially building their own version of a Metaverse: a virtual world where people meet and hang out online.

For brands looking to tap into gaming spaces, it’s no longer just about celebrating or enabling gamers. It’s also about understanding the new social interactions that are taking place on the platforms, and helping foster this sense of connection, or provide value in the form of entertainment.

Play and create in new cultural canvases

Brands can tap into the unique cultures – and subcultures – that these platforms are home to. Amazon Prime, for example, has recently launched Cités, a series exclusively created for and broadcast on TikTok, which shows how a group of friends use the app to explore France's cultural heritage. With casting for the series conducted through the platform, content draws on TikTok’s creative tools and trends like dance and music.

Platforms are also being used to showcase products to create a sense of virtual hype. Nike enables Roblox users to customise their avatars with its items, and when it launches new products there, the frenzy spreads swiftly across the platform. This Christmas, Lidl even made its much sought after Christmas jumper available on Animal Crossing. And PR benefits aside, there is a clear opportunity here for brands to gain vital product development insights from a huge culturally savvy digital community before taking them into stores.

When culture is moving at the speed of social, being tapped into emerging platforms gives brands the opportunity to keep up.

Mobbie Nazir is chief strategy officer at We Are Social

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