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2018.03.27

Social Scale: Why Authenticity, Simplicity, and Meaning Matters More Than Ever in Online Culture

By Ben Nichols, Art Director at Trollbäck+Company

The recent revelation that Cambridge Analytica had access to the private information of millions of Facebook users points to an uncomfortable reality that companies are increasingly leveraging our data and online lives. Additionally, with the proliferation of fake news and promoted content across social media, people are becoming more cautious about how we interact with brands online.

That’s why today, more than ever, being honest and helpful is a brand’s best asset when engaging the consumer. It is even more successful when they are considerate and pay attention to their audience as opposed to just posting for the sake of it. For some, this might mean scaling back to reduce the noise, while for others, this may mean pursuing more creative avenues of engagement.

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One of the biggest hurdles for any company in this domain is that social media was really designed for the individuality of voice. It’s hard to make a connection when it feels like the conversation begins with a collective entity, with brands often coming across as cold and calculated when they do try to engage. It’s the job of the brand to relate to the consumer, but also to understand and respond to trends within social media that are further shaping how we use it.

During my early years at school, I witnessed the birth of the internet. And although I wasn’t born into online life, I associate myself with the younger generations of today who grow up embedded in it. Things are different, we’ve grown up only ever knowing streaming services, instant food delivery and connecting with any social scene at the click of a button. There was a time where people felt like outsiders, but now we all have the chance to connect and become part of a much bigger community online. We are far more media-literate than previous generations and understand the online culture better than most brands. That’s why authenticity matters. A recent example of this can be seen in the high school students currently driving gun debate in the United States. They are clearer in their messaging than many of their predecessors and understand what sticks with their audience. When brands engage in these issues through social media, these same individuals will hold them accountable.

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Online culture has influenced us all to some extent. As much as I’d like to think that it hasn’t affected myself very much, changes in technology and the way we post content online have undoubtedly had an impact on my practice as a designer. I’ll admit that in the last few years I’ve been going through fatigue from online life, but some aspects of social media are driving optimism, and I see it influencing the work of myself and others.

The most positive experiences I have online are when I post less, but try to be more meaningful. To be clear, I’m not referring to the number of likes or comments in my feed, but rather the certainty that I really want to share what I am sharing. In early 2017, I decided to create a separate Instagram account from my regular day-to-day that is solely dedicated to my personal design and animation work. I did this because I wanted to be considerate and not bombard others with my work (this is just my approach and not an indication of how I feel about other people’s work online). In doing this though, it became my own challenge to continue learning as a designer and animator.

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In the same regard, I think some brands are recognizing that empowering individual artists and creatives is a key way to connect with the consumer. Companies like AppleSamsung, and Dropbox have all recently unveiled campaigns that are built around the work of talented professionals within the creative industry. The spots are almost solely focused on the art, with the product taking a back seat to the creative impact. The message isn’t “Look what our product does,” it’s “Look what you can do with it. The possibilities are endless.” This authenticity comes from seeing the artist drive their own voice and the brand paying homage to that creativity.

As part of the design process, I really enjoy crafting an idea, taking a core value, and pushing it forward with emotion to create an insightful outcome. When things seem a little too complex, we are reminded of our mantra “Discard everything that means nothing” which instantly helps us focus on what the message of the narrative really is. Similarly, by focussing on honesty and generosity through a clear and simple perspective, brands will resonate further with their audience. It’s about understanding who we are engaging with, being vulnerable and making the message relatable and meaningful.

 

To see more of Ben Nichols’ work, follow him on Instagram @ben_in_motion