In November, we launched our annual trends report - Think Forward 2021: The Social Reset. It features the six key trends that we expect to shape social media over the next 12 months. This post looks at the third trend covered in the report: In-Feed Intimacy. For more on this and five more trends, check out the full Think Forward report here.

The narratives that circulate have often implied that social media damages our offline relationships. While those anxieties still ring true – as demonstrated by Netflix’s The Social Dilemma – recent years have also seen some begin to fall away.

During the pandemic, digital tools began to be accepted as enhancements to offline life. Whether through Zoom meetings or Instagram Live streams, people are warming to more intimate forms of digital connection.

Facebook updated its suite of reactions with the ‘care’ emoji to facilitate more intimate online interactions, and mainstream audiences are finally overcoming their inertia regarding video chat. Live-streaming platforms have seen audiences warm to a format that enables a more intimate connection with influential figures. 

The Behavioural Change
People are using avatars to humanise in-chat interactions. From Memojis to the rise of Among Us, the result is a richer immersion in shared digital entertainment experiences.

People are using audio formats to communicate with more nuance. A new wave of apps like Chalk and Space are experimenting with audio formats that enhance intimacy.

People are connecting to like-minded communities in private digital spaces. People are seeking out niche spaces in which they can find like-minded users away from their public feeds.

How can brands use it?
Brands should be taking this opportunity to facilitate more intimate connections with and between their customers, through private groups, humanised customer services and empathetic communications.

Brands should be humanising their digital customer services. Chinese beauty brand Perfect Diary created a virtual customer service representative named Xiao Wanzi to connect more intimately with customers in closed WeChat groups.

Brands can capitalise on this shift to generate a feeling of exclusivity. February’s Milan Fashion Week saw Gucci send invites to show attendees via WhatsApp in the form of a voice note from creative director Alessandro Michele. Speaking to people via more intimate formats can help customers to feel they’re getting an exclusive experience.

Korean beauty brand Glow Recipe has launched a private Instagram handle (@RealGlowGang) so its customers can directly input on product development

Read about In-Feed Intimacy and five more trends for 2021 in Think Forward 2021. The full report is available to download now.