Recently, our Chief Strategy Officer Mobbie Nazir opened Social Media Week London. She gave a keynote speech to present an exclusive preview of three of the six trends featured in our fifth annual Think Forward report, to a packed room of 800+ attendees.

Here, our Communications Manager Ryan Dubras shares a round-up of the key take-outs from the session.

Nazir began her talk by reflecting on some of the familiar themes we've seen across the social media landscape in 2019. Of which, the standout has been the ever-increasing power of social media to democratise our society; enabling people to break the rules and challenge the status quo.

Delving into this, Nazir spoke about Lil Nas X - the country music singer whose single 'Old Town Road' was the viral hit of 2019 - as a perfect example of this democratisation. While his song was initially delisted by the Country Music Charts for not being 'country' enough; social media allowed the artist the freedom to belong and gave him a voice in a space which he otherwise might not have been able to play in.

However, along with these increased freedoms which social media has fostered, have come some notable consequences.

This year alone, we've seen through scandals such as Fire Festival how social media and influencers can be used to defraud people around the world. Through FaceApp, we've seen issues around potentially invasive data harvesting come to light. And the personal consequences for internet users around mental health and personal wellbeing have also started to become more apparent.

As a result, according to Nazir, 2019 has been the year that we've seen the threat of industry regulation really increase from governments and trade bodies alike.

With pressure from people and governments increasing, we're seeing social media platforms already starting to look at how they can self-regulate. Twitter, for instance, recently announced that it is going to stop all political advertising on its platform. And we've seen Instagram actively trying to lessen its impact on users' mental health by trialling hiding Likes globally.

However, it's not just platforms who have been starting to self-impose new rules this year. According to Nazir, we've increasingly seen communities virtue signalling to followers online that they're intending to come off certain public platforms, such as Facebook, for their own wellbeing. "We're increasingly seeing a desire of private spaces in social too", she said, so much so that "we're even seeing people start to look at how they can invert, or even block, search algorithms."

So, looking ahead to 2020, what do these new rules of the internet - a place which has historically been a bit of a Wild West - mean for brands? Will they limit or facilitate creativity? And how can brands continue to play in internet culture, without fear of repercussions?

To help answer this, Nazir presented a preview of three of the six trends featured in this year's report. For more, download your copy of Think Forward, here.

Added Value
In a world where content is spreading through the internet at a faster rate than ever before, it's becoming very difficult to trace copyright. Yet, according to Nazir, we're now seeing a lot more value being placed on digital content and, as such, online communities are increasingly fighting to claim back ownership of that content.

So much so that we're now seeing brand activations, such as T-Mobile's Superbowl ad, being called out for not crediting content creators. Campaigns like #FuckFuckJerry encouraging people to boycott organisations that are seen as career plagiarists. And even new models of commercialisation of content emerging that allow creators to get paid for content, without advertising.

Social Self-Care
The second trend Nazir touched upon was that of 'Social Self-Care'. For years we’ve been talking about digital detoxing, coming off certain platforms, or spending less time on our devices. But this year, we’ve seen a shift in this and now “people are not just starting to think about necessarily disconnecting from social media but how they can have a healthier relationship with it”, said Nazir. 

A great example of that is Donté Colley, a dancer from Toronto, who became a viral success “not just for his great dance moves but also because he’s peppering those pieces of content with motivation messages of self-love, self-worth and self-care.” 

As this behaviour continues, we’re seeing it play out in our digital lives in other ways as well. According to Nazir, people are seeking out online optimism in social spaces and are engaging more and more with wholesome social content, on platforms such as Good Reads and Strider - both of which have seen their subscriptions grow this year.

Bad Influence
The third and final trend which Nazir covered before opening to the panel was that of 'Bad Influence'.

Over the last year, it's been almost impossible to have missed the huge amount of backlash and scepticism which has evolved around influencer marketing. This has been "fuelled by influencers morally pushing the boundaries of influencer marketing", according to Nazir, and a prominent example of which was Marissa Fuchs's 'surprise' engagement - which later turned out to be a stunt.

As a result, one of the biggest behavioural changes we've seen is internet users starting to openly mock influencers, actively calling out damaging influencer endorsements and behaviours, and even starting to boycott online social hierarchies.

Taking the discussion further 
To close the morning's session, Nazir was joined on stage by our UK Head of Research & Insight Paul Greenwood, the UK Advertising Standards Authority's CEO Guy Parker, Depop's Head of Community Partnerships Steve Dool, and LEGO Group's Global Director for Social Media Strategy Ambreena Budaly.

Together, they debated the trends presented by Nazir, how these were set to impact brands in 2020, and whether these new rules of the internet would help or hinder creativity in online marketing.

To hear their insights, you can check out a full recording of the session on the Social Media Week website.

And for more on these and the remaining three trends from this year's Think Forward report, download your copy here.