Our latest research report delves into The Future of Social, unveiling four defining themes shaping this ever-evolving landscape. In this article, we explore the second theme, "Community-Led Networks," and its implications for brands in the present.
"Community-led platforms incorporate various features that return control back to the users so that they can engage naturally with each other instead of the algorithm."
As social broadcast platforms like TikTok and Instagram increasingly prioritize passive content consumption, a growing number of users are gravitating to spaces that allow them to build the community and connection that social media once promised.
Disillusioned with the attention-hacking tactics that mainstream platforms employ to monetize their data, these users are retreating to platforms that are better suited to healthy interaction and meaningful connection.
In many ways, these online spaces feel like a return to the earliest roots of social media, before algorithmic feeds, real-name verification requirements, and viral trends became the norm. In fact, they borrow their defining features from old-school chat rooms, forums, and other online gathering places of the pre-social media era — namely, anti-virality, anonymity, and user ownership.
Some users have figured out ways to reclaim elements of these community spaces within conventional platforms, such as Facebook Groups or alt accounts on Instagram and Twitter. More often, they’re choosing platforms specifically designed with community-driven interaction at the forefront, such as Discord, Reddit, and Mastodon.
In a future where cookies become obsolete, the anonymity and pseudonymity of community-led spaces will further complicate paid media targeting. User identities will not only be private but increasingly fragmented. As individuals move away from real name identities and present multiple versions of themselves to reflect each interest, hobby, or facet of their lives, they will express themselves more freely while simultaneously becoming harder to track.
IMPLICATIONS + HOW TO TAKE ACTION
Community-led networks will a shift in which users— not the brand— define, enforce, and evolve the rules of engagement on their own terms. To succeed, brands must recognize that these spaces are not designed for them to gain followers, lead a conversation, or make use of the one-voice-to-many broadcasting hierarchy they may be accustomed to. Instead, they must settle into listening, learning, and empowering their advocates.
- Do More Listening than Leading: Shift your mindset from growing followers or engagement to becoming an active listener in community spaces. This isn’t about instigating or managing the conversation or even starting your own branded channel. Social listening and sentiment analysis can reveal the unique motivations, emotions, and behaviors of your audience that you can leverage to inform your content and campaigns.
- Learn the Rules of Community Spaces and Play By Them: Take a cue from Duolingo’s CEO, who’s earned his place in the fan-owned r/duolingo subreddit because he solicits feedback, offers transparency, and behaves like a guest in their space.
- Identify and Empower Your Superfans: The good news is that passion flourishes in communities where the users can take ownership, which means that brands that can give up control of the conversation may see opportunities for loyalty and fandom that hadn’t been possible on conventional brand-led social channels. Successful brands in these spaces are those that identify and empower their dedicated fans to advocate on their behalf
For more on “Community-Led Networks” and the other seismic shifts transforming The Future of Social, download the full report.