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Trends in Online Social Engagement


Podcast March 31, 2021

Trends in Online Social Engagement

At SLD, part of what we do is trends analysis. And since clients are always asking for our perspective on various emerging innovations and ideas, we thought we would make this part of what we share with you on the podcast. Today I’m joined by podcast producer and Digital Marketing Strategist, Sebastian Maynard – you may recognize his voice. And we’re focusing today on emerging trends in the realm of social engagement online.


Melinda: Hi, I’m Melinda, and you’re listening to Think Retail. Today we’re going to do something a little different. At SLD, part of what we do is trends analysis. And since clients are always asking for our perspective on various emerging innovations and ideas, we thought we would make this part of what we share with you on the podcast. Today I’m joined by podcast producer and Digital Marketing Strategist, Sebastian Maynard – you may recognize his voice. And we’re focusing today on emerging trends in the realm of social engagement online. Sebastian, how are you?

Sebastian: Hey. I’m good. How are you?

Melinda: Great. So, we had a conversation before this, and we’ve got a bunch of things we want to cover today. So why don’t we just go through them? Let’s start with Clubhouse.

Sebastian: Yeah. So, I mean, I think both of us have had a chance to play around with it a little bit, but for those who don’t know, Clubhouse is an audio-only social media channel. It’s a bit of a departure from a visually-focused Instagram, text-based focused Twitter, but it allows users to hop in and out of public or private chat rooms based on their interests. So it could be social issues, it could be about career building, but I think essentially it’s really about an opportunity for people to learn, network, and meet new people. It’s still in beta right now and only available on the iPhone, but knowing that you and I have played around, I was just curious, what are your thoughts? Have you had a chance to pop into any rooms yet?

Melinda: Yeah. I mean, it’s not as intuitive as a lot of other social platforms. At first it took me a little bit of, you know, like trying to figure it out. I couldn’t quite understand just from looking at it, what I was supposed to do, but then once I got past that and figured it out, I was able to listen. And I didn’t actually participate. I’m kind of being a little shy about it, but I’ve listened to a couple of different things and I can see how it could potentially be interesting. I don’t know whether it has the legs of something like TikTok or Instagram because it’s much more focused on specific topics. So, I don’t know, what are your thoughts?

Sebastian: I would agree. Obviously, we always view it from a perspective for brands and retailers, like how can this be leveraged? And right now, to me, at least, it feels like it’s a great opportunity for individuals, whether you want to be a thought leader or to really grow your own skills, it seems like that right now is a great avenue. Or just back to the topic of interests, some news publications have had chats based on news events with their reporters fielding questions for people that are able to drop in. So, it’s really just like stimulating conversation which right now, especially with COVID and everything is huge. And that’s, I think, the exciting component of it, but right now it’s invite-only. So it’s not available for everyone, there is that like level of exclusivity around it right now which I think has people excited and people trying to figure out how can they leverage this the best way possible, but it’s also worth noting that it’s still in beta and there are still some issues, including a data spill, which happened just a few weeks ago, which is essentially when data is released to someone or something without the authorized access. So there is that concern about security issues, how private is private really in the 21st century, in 2021? It does seem like they have some kinks to work out, but how do you think a brand could leverage this? 

Melinda: To me, I feel it’s kind of like an interactive podcast. I would approach it the same way that I might approach a podcast in terms of like, what are the interesting stories that my audience wants to hear about? It’s a soft approach. It’s not like brand marketing per se. It’s really a lot more about the stories that your brand wants to tell, and it could be more in terms of any sort of social responsibility activations that your brand is involved in, or if there are interesting people that are within your company doing innovative work, or if you are innovating…say if you’re a CPG brand, if you’re doing innovation around sustainability in terms of package design or in terms of agriculture, I think those kinds of conversations might do well in this platform. But I think in terms of that sort of pure marketing, I don’t think will work on Clubhouse.

Sebastian: I agree. So, I’ve got a good example. I was trying to find some, but Pedigree, the dog food/dog company, they did this little campaign called Doghouse on Clubhouse. And it was focused on finding homes for adoptable dogs. So, throughout the chat, they had some moderator’s kind of highlighting the different emotional, mental, physical benefits of owning a dog and they partnered with some shelters and the whole goal of it was to, I think, find houses for 20 dogs. And this is ongoing right now. But to your point, it’s not necessarily about the products that Pedigree is selling, it’s about facilitating a conversation around something that really does impact their brand and is of interest to their potential consumers. So maybe not necessarily the most overt marketing tactic, but it creates some goodwill, some positive PR, and it just seems like another fun avenue for people to try.

Melinda: Yeah, I agree. How about YouTube trying to come in and compete with TikTok? Tell me about this.

Sebastian: So, Clubhouse isn’t the only social media channel making news these days. I think everyone has probably learned by now that the second something becomes popular on one channel, everyone follows suit, whether it’s the next week or a year later. And so we saw that with TikTok and then it was Instagram Reels and now YouTube is hopping on that same bandwagon with YouTube Shorts, which is once again, 15-second snippet videos that you’re meant to watch on your mobile device and like a TV channel where it will continue playing, so you’re just kind of inundated with these little, short, bite-sized videos. For me, I think it’s another example of a shift away from highly-produced, curated video content, specifically, to things that are more bite-sized, more human, and more authentic. I mean, how these videos help with our attention span is one question, but for brands themselves, it’s about engaging with your audience on their terms and where they’re living. And so I think that’s just something to consider as content creators, as marketers, as brands. There are all these platforms, there’s all these channels, and it’s just trying to home in on the ones that are most relevant to your audience.

Melina: Right. And I mean, YouTube is such a huge platform already. It’s not a new entrant trying to compete with TikTok. It’s a channel that already has a huge amount of engagement, so it will be interesting to see if they can compete.

Another topic that we had talked about is, you know, during the pandemic, people were really dying to engage with others and something that we probably all engaged in is some sort of virtual event, conferences, webinars. Maybe we attended a concert or some sort of other entertainment event. This is something that I wanted to talk about because in the future this could continue and probably will continue. Do you want start with conferences?

Sebastian: It has been interesting to see the different platforms that are out there. And I think everyone right now is really exploring what the best opportunity is. Obviously, I have some friends that are in similar roles at different companies. And so, it’s been kind of a conversation of like, “Oh, I just had a demo with this software, or this one, or this one.” And there’s a lot out there right now. And the price structures are different, the capabilities are slightly different, but for conferences themselves, I think there’s this opportunity for engagement on a different level that moves past kind of the classic Teams or Zooms that we’ve gotten used to over the past year. And there are some exciting opportunities for engagement, whether it’s through polls and Q&As or little private breakout rooms, chat rooms. One demo we had was someone was literally…the screen was them on a stage and through their camera, they were able to see people, the audience in virtual seats. And so the technology is really catching up with the ideas. Over the next year, I think it’s probably just going continue that, that everyone will kind of refine their strategies, but what are your thoughts?

Melinda: Well, I mean, going forward, I think a lot of conference organizers are going to, at least for the next year, be doing hybrid events because travel restrictions may prevent people from crossing borders because they may have to quarantine, people who’ve been vaccinated may be able to move more freely than people who haven’t. So I think at least over the next year, although there may be some ability in some places for people to gather for a physical conference, I think in order to reach that audience that conference organizers really want to reach, they’re going to have to have some virtual element to this. So, then we’re going to look at, you know, tiered pricing structures if you’re attending virtually and, you know, how do you create networking opportunities, which is such a big reason that people go to conferences. So, you know, how do you incorporate that if there’s some people there physically and there’s some people who aren’t able to attend in person? So I think these are some of the things that we’re going to start to see some innovation around over the next year, which I’m personally really excited for because I love to be able to attend these types of things and get the learning, but I don’t always love having to travel because I’ve got a family. So, if I was able to attend some of these things virtually, it would be great if that was going to continue going forward, from my perspective.

Sebastian: Yeah. I’d be curious, this is a bit of a sidetrack, but you have an arts background and obviously, the arts have been so hit with COVID and musicians I follow, they’ve been doing these kinds of private concerts where you spend $15 on a ticket for a Friday night, like virtual show. How do you think the arts community is going to adapt moving forward?

Melinda: Well, I mean, that is a huge, huge concern for people who are in the arts. I’ve so many friends who have been basically out of work for the past year because they were performers and they were either earning most of their money touring or performing on stage. So definitely seeing some innovation around private events and that kind of thing. I think where we’re really going to see bigger opportunities, especially in the music industry, is through video game platforms. And we’ve already started to see, you know, with Marshmello and Travis Scott partnering with Epic Games to do these concerts in Fortnite where millions of people attended. But I think there’s going to be more of a hybrid version because those were quite intensive to create. It took about a year in between those two events because there was so much on the backend for them to develop.

And right now, Epic Games is actually building a state-of-the-art studio space in Los Angeles and it’s more like a live event stage, but it’ll have this massive LED wall. There’ll be all these robocams and then they’re going to integrate augmented reality. So, it’ll be kind of a hybrid between a streamed performance and that engaging video game experience.

And then Minecraft…this totally blew my mind, that Minecraft, people are starting to do concerts in Minecraft. There was an event called Block by Blockwest, which, great name. But they basically recreated a Brooklyn nightclub in Minecraft. And it was so popular that, unfortunately, it ended up crashing the server. They had way more people interested than they could handle, but it just goes to show you that people are really interested in engaging with the arts in different ways. And there’s, I mean, something like Minecraft, it’s super cool. You can create this whole world where you’ve built stuff and people can go in and build things and destroy things and interact with each other. So there are real possibilities when it comes to augmented and virtual reality to take it that next level up and make it more artistic and I think we’re going to see artists really kind of like spread their wings and fly with this in the future.

Sebastian: Yeah. That’s a good point. And I think it’s just the world we live in now. COVID has accelerated that, but it was going to happen regardless.

Melinda: So that brings me to the last thing that I had on my list. We know that video games, I mean, of course, brands are thinking about video games right now because Gen-Z is so into video games. I think it’s something like 91 percent of Gen-Z call themselves gamers and streaming communities where gamers are following their favorite streamers are becoming so important for marketers to consider. I mean, we’ve got some gamers like Ninja and Tfue where they’ve got like 35 million subscribers and those subscribers are not just following them, they’re very, very loyal and they’re very engaged. So I’m curious about, you know, what are your thoughts about this? How can brands leverage streaming and these kinds of influencers?

Sebastian: I think it’s really easy to see influencers as the holy grail for brands in advertising. They’ve amassed these huge followings, whether it’s on Twitch, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, and they’re dialed in directly with a certain audience. And if a brand is looking to communicate with that audience, it makes a lot of sense. And there’s a lot of amazing examples of it working out.

With that being said, I mean, you wrote a great article on our website recently talking about the switch from these massive influencers, the Kardashians, the LeBron James’ of the world to a more micro-niche market, niche targeting. And that is really allowing brands to get to a bit more of a grassroots and almost authentic level associating themselves with people that really truly live and breathe the brand essence, the brand mission statement. But as with anything, you have to really weigh the good versus the bad and the potential negative side effects that come with associating yourself with a celebrity of any sort.

And a perfect example of this recently was in the NBA, a basketball player, Meyers Leonard, he was playing for the Miami Heat and on an off day (I think he was injured) happened to be live streaming and used an anti-Semitic term. And within a day he had issued an apology and kind of said he would try and try and make up for the mistake. But honestly, the damage had been done and he’s since been traded and then cut from the team, he’s no longer in the league. Sponsors have dropped him, and things fell apart really quickly, but really, there was no other way for the Miami Heat, his basketball team, or any of his other sponsors to go about it. They really just could not condone that language and that hate speech, especially in the world we’re living in right now. And so it is a slippery slope. I would just caution everyone to really vet whoever they want to partner with and make sure that it is honestly a good fit, not only just from the monetary side, but is this audience really going to follow through with what an influencer may be trying to sell them?

Melinda: Yeah. And I think with streamers, the thing that’s a little different from say like an Instagram influencer is that they’re streaming live, so there’s no opportunity to go backwards and they’re often streaming for hours, and hours, and hours. So, you know, there’s just a little bit…when it’s live and when there’s more content, there’s a little bit more risk. And many of them…again, like some of them are as young as like 16 years old. So, it’s not like these are mature adults that we’re dealing with here. It’s very interesting because watching my own kids who are absolutely obsessed with the streamers that they follow and they’re very passionate about, you know, “I love this person and this is why I love them,” and sort of live and breathe on the different events that they’re hosting and get very involved in the community, in the chats, and stuff like that, that it’s obviously an opportunity that’s huge, but it does…like you say, it comes with a big risk. So super interesting.

Well, I think we’ve covered quite a few things today and I think that we’ll leave it there.

Sebastian: Well, this was fun. As we just realized before recording that this is episode number 50, so it seems fitting that we can kind of take an opportunity to look back and look forward and hopefully throughout this podcast, we’ve been able to highlight some trends and some key topics and continue to do so.

Melinda: Yes. And thanks to everybody who’s been listening. We appreciate you. And if there’s any trend or topic that you’d like us to cover, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.