Byte-Size | Trend Digest #2 | September 2022

Culture

Welcome back to We Are Social’s monthly social and cultural trend digest, covering the best the internet has to offer.

Since the meteoric rise of apps such as TikTok, the speed of the internet life cycle means trends are becoming increasingly harder to pin down. Trends tend to reflect the state of consumer attitudes and can be successfully spotted when it connects to broader cultural movements, unearths new behaviours, or reattaches itself to cyclical or generational trends.

We Are Social’s Junior Strategist, Sarah Moody, has identified five key trends that set the internet alight in the past month.

1. The Rise of Niche

BeReal was a notable phenomenon in last month’s Byte-Size, touching on the app’s promise of anti-curation to fulfil our desire to reclaim our reality. The alternative platform’s success is one of many reasons we are witnessing a resurgence of micro-communities on all social media platforms.

The Long Tail, better known as the model that YouTube was built on, first gained traction in 2004 in an article by Chris Anderson for WIRED, stating, “The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.” Many successful technology companies spawned from iterations of the model. From eBay harnessing niche markets to Discord channelling the group chat. The Long Tail is also a model of discovery and recommendation as well as a massive success driver for brands like Netflix, TikTok and Spotify. These companies now shape the cultural and music landscape.

The rise of purely algorithmic networks like TikTok have altered the accessibility of the creator economy and sparked a subsequent shift in audience behaviour. As a result, alternative platforms that emphasise people are now more appealing. Influencers who have built their followings on Instagram and TikTok are now shifting their attention to apps like Geneva, a private group app. 

Brands are starting to experiment with niche communities. Bumble are rolling out its new social networking feature, Hive, to help people find platonic connections. Luxury brands are channelling highly engaged audiences by partnering with podcast, Throwing Fits, and online mood board, JJJJound, to promote capsule collections. 

Brands should pay attention to the fringe, shifting attention away from the broader mainstream. Tapping into culturally influential communities can build brand love and create longer-lasting connections. Community-focused platforms provide the opportunity for brands to go beyond the product and talk to important themes, such as Rare Beauty using Geneva to amplify the resources offered by their Mental Health Council.

2. A Generation Divided

One of the many things that appears to aggressively divide the internet is the Gen Z versus Millennial narrative. The battle focuses on collective behavioural tendencies, and this time it’s The Millennial Pause identified by TikTok user @nisipia. The term is a dig at the generation being officially out of touch with online discourse, claiming that ‘internet speak’ and Millennial mannerisms are not cool anymore.

We live in an era where the two generations have experienced part of their formative years with various iterations of the internet. Although it may feel like it’s only Gen Z who are actively sharing online, a recent Adobe study found that the average creator is 40 years old and Gen Z (aged 16+) only represents 14% of all creators. As most popular TikTok trends and movements are spawned from Gen Z, it’s easy to forget that 2.3M Australian Millennials (aged 26-41, GWI) also use TikTok.

Kate Lindsay wrote a piece for The Atlantic, accompanied by a TikTok video about The Millennial Pause. Naturally, the piece was hotly debated and discussed on TikTok. Some offered predictions for the tics Gen Z’s will have that future generations will dissect. Others felt offended by its negative connotations and provided nuanced perspectives about the role of race in the debate.

@kahlilgreene

Replying to @iamadogbarkbarkbitch elephant in the room: its all the same to us. @Kate Lindsay @nisa @Joshua Doss #hiddenhistory #millennialpause #culturalappropriation #aave

♬ Blade Runner 2049 – Synthwave Goose

Culture Editor, Tiffany Kelly, raised an important point about The Millennial Pause, stating “When people make generalisations about Gen Z and millennial culture, who are they actually talking about?”. Millennials are not ‘ageing out’ of the internet and the way people use technology is defined beyond a generation. It’s important for brands to not get caught up in generational discourse, and instead look to the different ways individuals interact with social media without being bound by a homogenous group.

3. Creativity Recycled

Video formats now encompass a large majority of consumption on social media. Alongside TikTok, half of all time on Facebook and Instagram is now spent watching videos and Reels already makes up 20% of the time spent on Instagram. 

As video creation is now commonplace, users are looking for creative ways to cut through. Mood board culture is in the midst of a renaissance, as users turn to scrapbook-like effects to create videos that combine static with animation. To help them channel this effect, creators are upgrading to Apple’s iOS16 and flocking to apps such as Collage II, Shuffles and CapCut.

Video mood boards are gaining traction as a result of the “Indie Sleaze” renaissance, popular in the Tumblr culture of the early-2010s. These sticker-book style mood boards are a homage to platforms like Polyvore, popular for outfit and aesthetic curation. The era was characterised by polaroid photography, Alexa Chung and artists like The 1975. Now, the trends are manifesting in wired headphones and Gigi Hadid posting this on Instagram

@shreksmintjuulpod

literally do not get me started on the rest of the song #fyp #the1975 #robbers #tumblrera #2014tumblr

♬ original sound – Log 12

The “Indie-Sleaze” revival is one that resonates strongly with those who spent their formative teenage years in the 2010s, but it also captures a whole new generation of participants. The trend also gives useful insight for brands to understand the general attitudes and interests of its audience. If a brand is present in both iterations of a trend cycle, it should consider where it can make the most of its revival now that it has broader appeal.

4. The Reality of #RushTok

Living in Australia, it’s very unlikely to see a young woman from Alabama pop up on your TikTok for you page joyfully outlining every detail of their OOTD, from the ruffled dresses to the handbag essentials. However, that all changed when #BamaRush (2B views) came into the picture in 2021.

On one hand, #RushTok (898M views) is a simple trend encapsulating young women participating in choreographed dances and giving daily updates on their journey as they rush the University of Alabama’s 18 sororities. On the other, it’s an educational platform to discuss and dissect the controversial culture, language and politics of Greek Life. What seemed at first to be a fleeting trend, asserted itself as a phenomenon when it returned in August for a second season.

@pamelawurstvetrini

Explaining Bama Rush to an Australian. Go ahead and correct me in the comments, everyone! It’s all Greek to me! #bamarush #rushtok @The Mostes @The Mostes

♬ original sound – TheMostes I PamelaWurstVetrini

Watching these women rush has become a social media sport as commentators and fan-led accounts assess the rush “IT Girls” and “Main Characters”. TikTok has transformed the hashtag into live reality TV, and even a full scale entertainment production.

With its growing popularity, it’s a no-brainer for brands to see how they can get involved. Tarte jumped on the opportunity by sending products out to 30K rushees whilst fashion brand Windsor partnered with popular rushee Kylan Darnell. Taking inspiration from rush, Australian brands can look at how their products can best support university students starting college or participating in Open Day activities. However, rush is also an important reminder for brands to be cautious of any underlying classism, sexism and politics surrounding online movements.

5. The Thread Effect

There’s a lot to say about the power of a social media thread. In Think Forward 2022, we identified Primetime Platforms as the reimagination of old media tropes on our social feeds. Our social feeds transform everything from reality TV to real life, into a purely internet-based experience where users congregate to discuss, rant, praise and criticise. Reading a thread has become synonymous with the viewing experience. 

At its core, a topical thread arises from an innate love of controversy and speculation. From the first episode to date, the viewer’s hyperfixation on Nathan Fielder’s awkward void of ethically ambiguous situations in The Rehearsal has generated 351K Twitter and 53K Reddit mentions. Twitter account, @MenForFielder, has over 40.5K followers.

Reddit announced its first official partnership for Love Island UK this year. Fans itching for disaster to strike and love to blossom led to a 140% increase in engagement and over 52% growth in subscribers in the r/LoveIslandTV 158K-strong community between 2021-22. The 2022 series was the most watched series ever on the ITV Hub at 250M streams. Its success is mainly due to the made-for-social icon, Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu.

Social media sleuths desperately tried to understand why on earth Harry Styles would spit on Chris Pine at the Venice Film Festival amongst other dramas, leading to 146K Twitter mentions for Don’t Worry Darling in the following week alone.

When approaching a social thread, brands need to pick their moments to show up and pick them carefully. In the heat of a live conversation, a brand’s input can be dragged for failing to hit the mark, or completely ignored and consumed by the thread itself. As Olivia Wilde states when addressing the Don’t Worry Darling drama, “…the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute, I think it’s sufficiently well nourished.” 

Sarah Moody is a Junior Strategist at We Are Social. She loves to find cool stuff causing chaos on the internet. The tackier the better.