For The Drum’s Predictions Deep Dive, we’ve assembled a panel of marketing leaders in digital and social spaces. Their prediction? That as audiences mature, online rules of engagement will continue to evolve.

We are now at the ankles in the week of The Drum predictions. But when we brought together agency leaders in social and digital spaces to stare into the proverbial crystal ball, their first priority was to tell us that certainty is a rare thing in their world.

“Especially in social media, you can’t predict,” says Kyma Media chief executive Hannah Anderson. “Social platforms change their minds every two weeks. If we make a prediction at the beginning of the year, we risk failure. If you had asked me three years ago if TikTok (then Musically) would win, I would have said no. Back then, long-form content was king and Facebook was going to be the new Netflix. The predictions, as a whole, are all potentially futile.

Well, here’s your pinch of salt. But if we leave aside grand visions for the future, there’s a lot our panel could agree on. Especially as we are witnessing a shift in the hearts and minds of online audiences right now.

wise generation

According to at least one of our panelists, a long wave of development is forming: “We envision a suddenly more mundane and wiser internet,” says Kevin Joyner, director of data strategy at the digital agency Cross.

Joyner continues: “With growing public skepticism and distrust of the media, people are more familiar with automation; with the power of AI to create things; with fake content and cybercrime; with privacy issues. Their expectations rise. Much of what is important in the coming year is about responding to these worldly and wise concerns. It means using creativity to foster trust, security and authenticity. When you talk to someone who is mature, who has been through a lot, you talk to them with more respect. Advertising goes in this direction.

In other words, marketers are now dealing with generations of Internet users who know the rules of the online game well, and especially who sells what to whom. “People are more aware that there is an exchange of value online,” says James Mortimer, iCrossing’s paid social director, “and that often they are the exchange of value.

Some elements of this psychological paradigm manifest as a kind of online armor: people are more aware of how data about them is collected and exchanged; they are better at sniffing out counterfeit; they are increasingly annoyed by the lazy retargeting of products they have already purchased; and their subconscious minds are able to filter out all the noise of unimaginative advertisements (manifesting in increasingly louder banner blindness).

But, according to our panel, it would be a mistake to dismiss this “wiser” generation as merely resistant to online advertising. As Adam Connett, head of digital at AgencyUK, puts it, “they don’t mind being advertised if it’s relevant”. Indeed, as we become more aware of the digital economy, Connett says, we are in some cases becoming more receptive to advertisements than ever before. For example, deepening parasocial relationships between online creators and their fans, watching an ad for its full duration, or clicking on it, or using a creator’s discount code can increasingly “look like some kind of advocacy.” ; it is a true exchange of value”.

From this battery of observations, our panel drew a series of conclusions: that creativity in digital advertising is more important than ever; that community and advocacy will only grow in importance; and that while concerns about privacy and data sharing are real, they will not end the digital economy. As Liz Cole, social media manager at VMLY&R says, “People want to laugh; they want to be entertained; they want to be cool; they want to feel like they belong. Everything is very basic. This kind of stuff often supersedes some of the more philosophical considerations.”

The digital-cultural singularity

“We’ve crossed the threshold where so-called internet culture and regular culture are no longer different things,” Cole says. It’s not hard to cite examples to prove that digital literacy has truly demolished that threshold: Reddit users affecting the stock market; films made from viral threads; the very first president of the United States.

Paying attention to this cultural shift is paramount for brands and marketers, says Cole. “We need to move from what was once a very channel and format driven approach to planning content, ideas and campaigns to a much more consumer and culture driven approach, using these platforms as a palette of different ways to tell a story, and hoping it will resonate far beyond the people who actually interact with it on the original platform.”

All of this speaks to another shift: a shift in power, toward communities, creators, and consumers, whose agendas and interests marketers will do well to follow. Predicting them will be difficult, but paying attention shouldn’t be.

For more on the year ahead, by and about marketing agencies, check out our Agency Predictions hub.

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