Following the release of our latest Global Digital Report, we hosted a panel of experts at our London HQ to discuss the recent changes to the digital landscape and what brands should consider as part of their social outlook. 

Harvey Cossell, our Group Head of Strategy, welcomed industry commentator Matt Navarra, Co-Founder and Group CEO at We Are Social Nathan McDonald, and Global Head of Culture & Insights Lore Oxford, to discuss how brands can use the report’s findings to get the most out of social. Here, our writer Danielle Clark shares some top takeaways from the day.

Before sitting down with the panel, Cossell ran through the key changes in the digital space over the past 12 months. There has been a 9.2% increase in global social media use over the past year – that’s 321 million people more than this time last year. The platforms of choice? Messenger platforms were the winners, occupying three of the top five places. 

Global distribution of Messenger apps is uneven, with North America being largely “blue” (Facebook Messenger), Europe “green” (WhatsApp) and China “red” (WeChat). Cossell said that this should be taken into consideration for brands marketing to US consumers; and reminded us that Facebook Messenger is the “lighter side of dark social” - easier to tap into.

However, it’s how these people are getting onto social media that’s so significant. Revealing that 98% of UK social media users access social platforms via mobile, the report reinforces the importance of mobile-first content. Cossell added that mobile should be the “beginning, middle and end of any social strategy”. 

But what else should brands be thinking about to get the most out of social media and to adapt to changing consumer behaviours? Cossell asked the panel.

The report shows that user engagement on social media is up, while time spent on platforms has gone down. Why might this be and how should brands respond to this?

Cossell suggested that this changing behaviour has led to a sense of “quality over quantity”, and the panellists agreed. McDonald suggested that there’s an increased awareness of how much time we spend online, perhaps due to an increase in the adoption of screen time alerts, and Oxford suggested that from a cultural perspective, we’re now assessing what role we want digital to play in our lives resulting in many people moving away from “mindless scrolling”. Navarra added that an increased focus on how to establish a healthy relationship with social media is also likely to have impacted how we use it.

When it comes to brand responses to these changes, Oxford suggested that brands must “go beyond the digital detox” to find a “more nuanced [method of] communication”. McDonald suggested that brands should champion any role they have in the offline world to encourage healthy behaviours and Cossell added to this, saying that brands need to to “contribute to communities, rather than interrupt” them. 

Reddit’s reach is up 30%. Combine this with the fact that the number of people posting on Reddit is up 37% and, suddenly, Reddit is really rising quickly. What should we be doing with Reddit? 

“People are still extremely cautious of Reddit, and rightly so, as it’s still a tricky place for brands to play”, said Navarra, “you have to be an extremely experienced community manager to do it right.” 

Oxford added that this data isn’t particularly surprising as more people than ever are now taking in private communities and enclosed groups, rather than public feeds. She said that brands who have succeeded in these closed communities already have established fan bases, and so have a right to play in these spaces. McDonald advised that “if you don’t have any value to add to the community, don’t get involved at all.” He added that if a brand has an influential person attached to it, this can sometimes be a great way in. 

TikTok is number five in terms of UK app rankings, but it has relatively few active users. Does that mean brands should be ignoring it?

TikTok has taken the social world by storm in the past year, and everyone feels as if they should be getting involved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. The panel pointed out that, while the growth rate of the platform has been incredible, it’s not necessarily about what brands do with TikTok, but what they can learn from it. McDonald said that “TikTok is not social media, it’s social entertainment” and added that “it’s more about the quality of the content you put on there rather than the number of followers.”  

Oxford highlighted that in countries like India, where TikTok usage is extremely high, the platform is seen as a “potential springboard” for fame, pointing out that the platform brought fame to the likes of Lil Nas X and Lizzo in recent years. 

Navarra suggested that while it might not be right for brands to create their own TikTok content, they could use the platform for collaboration with people that already have a following on it. Navarra added that he does not think TikTok is simply a “flash in the pan”, short-form, low-fi content isn’t going anywhere soon.

Data in the report shows that there has been a 20% increase in paid social ad spend in the UK in 2019. Why might this be the case?

McDonald pointed out that there’s a whole variety of reasons, but suggested that it’s performance marketing and customer acquisition that drives a lot of this growth. Oxford suggested that it could be the “evolution of social platforms as e-commerce tools” as a driving force. Having recently been told that “Instagram is basically QVC”, she believes that brands may be seeing a better ROI with ad spends as people are shopping directly through platforms. Navarra and Cossell reiterated this, agreeing that platform improvements will make it easier for brands to track the efficacy of social advertising.

To conclude the panel, the three main takeaways were as followed:

  1. People have evolved beyond the digital detox. Instead, they're looking to find a healthier relationship with the internet, by spending less time online, but more quality time when they do
  2. Reddit is enjoying mainstream appeal as people seek more enclosed communities to participate in online
  3. TikTok isn't just a social media platform, but a social entertainment platform

If you’d like to find out more about how the online landscape is changing and about how people around the world are using digital, you can read this year’s full report here.