The Future Of Social Is Joyful, Pass It On

Dan Young

  • Managing director, Pulse
As MD of Ogilvy PR’s brand marketing division, Pulse, Dan leads a team of 30 creatives, publicists and brand strategists across Sydney and Melbourne in the development of culturally relevant and commercially impactful campaigns for brand name clients including Ford, ebay, Netflix, Tourism Australia, Xbox and KFC. Dan has worked as a consultant in communication strategy, social media and digital marketing for more than 20 years. During this time, he has worked with some of the world’s largest and most successful brands to deliver highly effective campaigns and always on communication programs. He has played a lead role in the development of Ogilvy’s digital products including Envoy (influencer marketing), Compass (proprietary measurement framework) and Culture Converted (consumer performance marketing). His previous roles include a client-side role at eBay and PayPal, senior agency postings and a three-year period running his own digital consultancy in Sydney before spending four years as chief digital officer at Pulse.

2019 was a horror year for social media. But in 2020 something different emerged that has shifted the tone, format and intent of the medium. A new social vibe born out of the pandemic and fuelled by the emergence of a platform tailor made for the next generation of consumers.

Two factors converged during 2020 to inspire this new social dynamic. Firstly, the pandemic. The heightened need for social connection during lockdown helped social media get back to its roots. It created time and space for people to have more fun with the idea of social connection, indulge and discover new passions and interests.

Second, the rise of TikTok. Its mission to inspire creativity and bring joy made it the perfect antidote to the boredom and sense of hopelessness that afflicted us all. More of an entertainment network than social network, TikTok enables niche communities, fandoms and creators to develop and flourish around shared interests, experiences and themes.  

TikTok’s explosion into mainstream consciousness was driven by socially aware Gen Zs. These social media natives show less interest in curating a ‘brand me’ identity online preferring to deploy creator tools to tell their stories, perform, educate and have fun.  

The result is a form of performative, unfiltered and collaborative content and self-expression that we haven’t seen before - at least not on this scale. Joyful, self-aware and expressive, this new mode of social media presents rich opportunities for brands that are willing and able to participate.  

The focus on creativity and performance is paired with the flow of trends and challenges on the platform that reward users for participating in creative play inviting them to pass it on by adding their own talent and personality to a shared content driven experience. The result is an explosion of creativity where in the words of Eugene Wei: ‘Every additional user on TikTok makes every other user more creative’.  

The ShantyTok trend is a textbook example of this ‘pass it on’ content trend. Nathan Evans, a postman from near Glasgow, had a passion for sea shanties. But it was his rendition of the Wellerman shanty (circa 1830), which really took off. Other users joined in, dueting with harmonies spanning the full vocal range and playing instruments.  

Momentum started to build, slowly at first, until it became an Internet sensation reaching millions of people around the world. The song went to number one in the UK charts. Nathan scored a three-album record contract with Polydor and made numerous TV appearances including Blue Peter and Saturday Night Live. He is no longer a postman.   

When Emily Jacobson created her endearing TikTok tribute to Remy the rat from the Disney movie, Ratatouille, she probably did not expect it to lead to 14.5 billion views of #ratatouille related content. But that is exactly what happened.  

A second user took it upon himself to create a follow up video imagining a Ratatouille musical - The Ratatousical. TikTok users then followed suit adding action scenes, music, choreography, set design and even stagehand fan fiction. Celebrities and creators jumped on to the trend, which ultimately led to a performance on Broadway featuring Adam Lambert that raised US$2m for the Actors Guild.  

We’ve seen another brilliant example of this viral pass it on trend just this month. Marcus Dipaola, who describes himself as a “real-life journalist anchoring news on TikTok for fun” posted a video where he introduces his girlfriend, Brittany, to the audience. Other TikTok users added their own element to the story using the duet feature.  

The first video became part of a sequence, which extends the storyline into a hostage situation featuring TikTok users playing the parts of news crews, negotiators, news readers and swot teams. The original video inspired more than 7500 duets and has accumulated more than 600,000 views. The full sequence has gone viral on TikTok, and on Twitter and is currently breaking through via news media.  

The brand opportunity  

When it comes to brands, this new era of social presents both challenge and opportunity.  

It gives new meaning to the concept of organic social and lifts the bar for brands who want to build relevancy and relationships through the medium. It reflects a do-it-yourself generation finely attuned to an inauthentic and one-size-fits-all approach to traditional brand marketing. An audience fully equipped with highly sophisticated creative tools that were once limited to professionals and marketing teams.  

The pass-it-on trend also presents an inspiring creative opportunity to brands when compared with the drudgery of the ‘always-on’ social content proffered by many brands. The key is to listen and understand the creators and fandoms that relate to your brand or category and look for opportunities to participate.   

The EOS brand adopted this participatory approach in response to a viral TikTok content trend that users passed on with great effect. The trigger was a videoby TikTok user, Carly Joy, who created a shaving guide and musical tribute to the Shea Butter shaving cream produced by EOS. The video entitled “Bless Your F#@%ing Cooch” went viral racking up 17.8m views and leading to a 25-fold increase in orders for Shea Butter via the Eos website.  

EOS passed it on by releasing an ultra-limited edition version of its product which honoured Joy’s creativity and included her TikTok lyrics on the packaging. The ‘Cooch Blessing Cream’ line was gifted back to Joy and EOS announced other fans could get the product by reaching out to via DMs.  

Joy’s creativity made the brand more creative. Decision makers at the company were willing to colour outside the lines of their brand playbook to genuinely connect with a new generation of potential customers. Rather than try to control the message, EOS allowed its brand to become a part of the joyful creative and the culture.  

While TikTok for Business offers advertisers a range of ad options and formats, real value comes when brands unlock the potential for organic engagement on TikTok. As we’ve seen, TikTok has a unique ability among the social platforms to influence pop culture and purchase behaviour.  

The platform and the user behaviours it inspires provide a welcome update to the social landscape and a new challenge for marketers that see value in building cultural relevance and capital for their brands through creativity and participation.  

Tags: social media marketing, TikTok, user-generated content

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