The past few years have been a turbulent time for social media. New platforms like TikTok and Twitch have seen rapid growth, while Instagram’s Stories and Live features have inspired whole new approaches to storytelling. But alongside this, there’s been growing concerns over privacy, ethics and the toll that social platforms are taking on our mental health. Data breaches and fake news have revealed the cracks in a business model that is built on sharing information and keeping eyeballs glued to screens while trolling and cancel culture have revealed the dangers of platforms that are open to all.
When we spoke to creatives for our social media report back in December, there was an overwhelming sense that something had to change for social platforms to be seen as a positive space. Some suggested that we could soon see people moving towards smaller, more private spaces or ‘dark’ social like WhatsApp, while others recommended a major rethink of the algorithms and interactions that determine what audiences see and how they react to social posts.
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But in the wake of lockdowns, it seems we’ve begun to remember why we fell in love with social media in the first place. With people no longer able to connect in person, social media has become a place for people to learn, work out, collaborate and communicate with others – and feel a part of something while they’re stuck at home. Joe Wicks has had the nation working out to his morning fitness classes, Run for Heroes has raised £4 million through its run 5, nominate 5, donate 5 Instagram campaign, and software salesperson and part-time yoga teacher Annemarie Plas has inspired millions of people to gather in the streets and applaud the NHS with a campaign that started on Facebook. There are countless examples of brands, media outlets, museums, galleries, charities, creatives and consumers using social for good – whether it’s offering virtual exhibition tours or raising money to provide free meals to NHS workers.
We’ve also seen brands using their platforms to lift people’s spirits. Nike and Adidas have been sharing content from athletes and sports influencers to keep people motivated during lockdown while Levi’s has been streaming live performances from musicians, including Jaden Smith, Doja Cat and SG Lewis, as part of its 501Live campaign.
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As Mobbie Nazir, chief strategy officer at We Are Social, points out, brands have often tended to focus their social efforts on driving sales, website visits or downloads and sign-ups. But the pandemic has prompted a major shift in the way that brands are approaching social media.