Trend Two : Collapsing Narratives

At the end of last month, we launched our annual trends report- Think Forward 2023: Fragmented Futures. It features the five key trends that we expect to shape social media over the next 12 months. This post looks at the second trend covered in the report: Collapsing Narratives. For more, check out the full Think Forward report here.

Storytelling is no longer linear nor following established structures.

To survive the modern attention economy, storytelling on social is mutating. Once a formulaic art – beginning, middle, end – stories are no longer progressing through a full narrative arc, nor do they play out start-to-finish in one place. Instead, story arcs are collapsing and starting mid-narrative, or expanding and becoming scattered across platforms. 

We’re seeing story arcs collapsing in the way that today’s meme-makers, screenwriters, and advertisers have given up on starting from the beginning, and instead pick up on existing cultural scripts to start mid-narrative. 

And we see them expanding and scattering in the way that fandoms, content creators, and brands guide people through the internet: with narratives, themes, and characters made into digital breadcrumb trails, leading people from one platform to the next.

All this ladders up to a space in which people no longer want to be passively fed complete narratives. 

The Behavioural Change

1. Conversations online don’t play out start to finish on a single platform
It’s become common practice to move fluidly between platforms, with our experience of content developing across these spaces.
2. Today’s popular culture is a continuation of a pre-existing story
Stories aren’t starting from scratch; they’re beginning in the middle of the narrative. We see this through the boom of Nepo Babies, who recycle and build off their parents’ old narratives instead of starting anew.

3. Viral culture now requires background explainers to understand its meaning
Decoding viral culture has become a Gen Z pastime. We see this in the boom of ‘TikTok explainer’ videos and long-form Tweets flanking pop cultural moments.

Brand examples

Learn from the LA Chargers
When NFL team Los Angeles Chargers released their season schedule, they didn’t stick within sports culture, instead releasing an anime-themed announcement. The video expertly weaves in narratives from popular anime series and features a tonne of subtle easter eggs for in-the-know NFL fans.

Learn from Pringles
In Pringles’ recent activation, people could ‘win a job’ as a non-playable character – a ‘vending machine filler’ – inside Train Sim World 2. Pringles let people piece together their own narrative for their vending machine character, all while blurring the lines between platforms (on Instagram vs. within Train Sim World 2) as well as realities.  

Read more about Collapsing Narratives, and the four other trends featured in Think Forward 2023: Fragmented Futures.