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Future Of Social Media

The future of social media is….. decoding its relationship with culture

While some may dwell on social media's potentially destructive impact on cultural identity and societal harmony, Weber Shandwick's Dylan Davenport argues for a more nuanced perspective

By Dylan Davenport

It would be very easy to go down an existential road, and talk about how social media is destroying culture, eroding cultural identities and fuelling culture wars.

That’s a very dystopian view, and one I’ll leave others to deuce it out on.

The point I want to make is the relationship between social and culture - the two are inextricably linked. To understand one, you need to understand the other. As a brand, to win on social, you need a firm handle on culture. And to have a role in culture, a brand really needs to understand social.

But why is this important? Kantar, among others, has shown that brands with high cultural relevance grow more than brands that don’t.

Last year, The Weber Shandwick Collective, including social agency That Lot, conducted a study with the IPA that showed culturally salient campaigns have a significant impact on business performance. Culturally salient campaigns – essentially campaigns that earn coverage and prolonged conversation – are 53 per cent more likely to drive very large business effects and 2.6 times more likely to achieve very large profit growth.

Being culturally salient isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have.

However, here’s the challenge. Every agency worth their salt is talking about making a brand part of culture. But what does this actually mean?

In my simple world, there are three ways that brands can be part of culture.

Firstly, by helping shape culture. Orange France and their brilliant campaign to show the prejudices between the women and men French football team left a clear dent on culture.

Secondly, by straddling the faultline of culture. That Lot’s work with Gregg’s was the perfect example of this when Traitors took over the nations TV discourse – who doesn’t love that iconic fringe?

Thirdly, by reacting to culture. Specsavers is the master, and most recently Heinz has proudly touted how their latest ‘It has to be Heinz’ was made in five days responding to something on social, by moving at the speed of culture. Cynics, however, might argue that culture moves a little quicker than that.

So, what is being culturally salient – is it shaping culture, straddling culture, or responding to culture?

And the truth is, it’s all three. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and that’s about finding a brand’s current right to play in culture. And the playground is social.

At That Lot, the first question we ask brands is where and when do you want to show up on social?

To have a clear point of view, we first try and find a brand’s place in culture. This will allow you to find ways to connect meaningfully with audiences both new and existing. So, we’ll look at moments, conversations, communities, behaviours, trends, partners, influencers and brands – all to find our role in culture. All of this will ensure that you can bring meaning to social. And have a right to play rather than forcing yourself in when uninvited.

Get this right, and you’re on track to not only shape culture and walk its faultline, but also move at the pace of it. After all, that’s what social is doing.

Dylan Davenport is the EVP of Brand UK at Weber Shandwick


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