Tribes, trolls, and “fake news” are the weapons of choice in the rapid-fire war being waged in our hyper-connected world. By tribes, I mean those red and blue algorithm-driven “echo chambers” that hardened their boundaries in the run up to last year’s election. Now, with national emotions running high, these self-propelling social media “bubbles” are working themselves into lathers, and brand equity can get trashed or transformed faster than you can summon an Uber. My heart goes out to any marketing communications professionals having to send split-second salvos amidst landmines that ignite vast networks.
The formal term for this tribal behavior is “homophily”: the tendency to listen to and associate with people like yourself, and to exclude outsiders. But now that we are seeing the susceptibility of tribes to “fake news,” we are getting a creepy comprehension of what it’s like to live in a “post-factual” world. So, some white flags are being waved.
Facebook raised a very significant one last week. With 1.7 billion active accounts, Facebook is the largest “country” in the world. With all the intelligence they hold, they might even be considered more of a leader of the free world than anyone else! So, it was more than gratifying last week to see them make changes to the Trending algorithm, from one that “personalized” the feature, to one that does not. No longer will users see the news that reinforces their world view; rather, they will see the news that the data says is truly trending. They have also added a descriptor so one can see the context within which the topic is being discussed.
The intensity with which the bubbles are battling is something we are calling Social Warfare, and it is one of our 2017 Top Trends. Social media is clearly a tool of the Twitter-savvy new president, and also of the “alt-majority” that so far has proven itself able to use it to activate protests, starting with the Women’s March on Washington, but also at airports after the weekend’s immigration and refugees ban. Until the bubbles burst and facts prevail, I suppose anyone in digital marketing can exploit a world where truth becomes a matter of emotional resonance and where neighbors can live with entirely different bases of facts.
Harvard Business Review just profiled the CEO of challenger brand T-Mobile, who is gaining share by "trash-talking rivals" on Twitter. Other brands are betting that the next heroes will be those who can rise above, like Harley-Davidson's United We Roll Twitter ad, which cleverly toes the line between togetherness and nationalism. We will be keeping close tabs on how our 2017 trend, Social Warfare, is impacting consumer behavior, and how brands are succeeding or failing in trying to dodge the bullets.