Ever felt that culture has started to feel stagnant? Ever wondered how this seems counter intuitive to our times where information flows so freely? Was the internet the last big cultural change that we all experienced?
Through this article, I argue how the commercialization of social media has led to a homogenization of culture. As brands grow more involved in social media, they have tended to focus on creating content that is popular and easily digestible. This has led to a decline in the quality of cultural output, and everyone chasing trends.
In 1871, Sir Edward Burnett Taylor, an English anthropologist gave one of the earliest definitions of culture, which is used even today. He defined cultures as, “Complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as member of society”.
Arts and culture play an important role in promoting social and economic goals through local regeneration, attracting consumers, the development of talent and innovation, improving health and wellbeing, and delivering essential services. Cultural innovations flow from the fringes that challenge mainstream conventions. Traditionally, media acted as an intermediary that identified and diffused these cultural ideas into mass market. However, now with social media, these once remote communities are densely networked with direct and substantial cultural influence. Thus, the innovators are also the disseminators/diffusers/proselytizers of these ideologies, supplanting the role of traditional media.
However, the very nature of social media has served as a double-edged sword –
- It has thrown open counterculture to the incentive structure of commercial internet, which in turn has resulted in homogeneity. Not to suggest niche doesn’t exist, but it just doesn’t get the traffic to become a cultural trend.
- With social media becoming mainstream, these fringes have become further siloed in each of our own echo chambers.
Brands are constantly trying to create content that will go ‘viral.’ This often leads to unoriginal and uninspired content that is more about selling products than it is about creating something truly cultural. The rise of social media has led to the fragmentation of culture, as people are increasingly siloed into their own echo chambers. This has made it even more difficult for new ideas to gain traction and for cultural innovation to occur. Marketers need to identify opportunities that may arise in the overlap between these subcultures. To catapult them into influential crowd culture.
In a recent article, Matt Klien pointed out how this has devalued media’s traditional role and rigorous practice of trend forecasting to a point where trends have lost their meaning. Brands are aimlessly riding on social media fads. Instead of analyzing, identifying and targeting novel ideologies that are likely to have wider cultural resonance, the clamor is towards chasing the cool meme of the day or the trending story, which is short lived and nothing but entertainment.
Cultural changes are slow, they are sustained, they need investment and so does Digital and social media. They need to be identified and nurtured to survive the onslaught of the environment in which they strive to prevail. Brands succeed when they break through in culture. In order to do so, brands and social media marketing need to move away from social media fads to re-engage in trend forecasting. They need to target and lead with subcultures instead of trends. This will empower these cultural innovators. We know and we have seen the power that vests in them. The value they can create.
Certain thoughts to consider while building cultural strategies:
- Which convention to leapfrog?
- Going beyond mere entertainment.
- Assessing themes, anxieties, issues standing out as common threads in subcultures of crowd cultures.
- Locating and Targeting niche crowd cultures with novel ideologies with serious voices and intentions.
- Identify areas where two or more subcultures intersect.
- Locate cultural opportunity in consonance with its own culture.
- Asserting that point of view which stands out.
- Focus on becoming catalysts instead of cultural opportunities.
Brands need to move away from social media fads to re-engage in trend forecasting through data and technology; lead with subcultures instead of just trends. And in doing so, empower these cultural innovators.