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Social Media Trends 2024: A Culture-First Reset for Brands on Social

Updated: Feb 22

01/22/2024by Dimitri Cologne, Catherine Sackville-Scott and Awie Erasmus

2024 marks the 30th anniversary of Italy’s Roberto Baggio missing a penalty winner against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup finals. During the event’s opening ceremony, the American organizers made Diana Ross take a spot kick, which she ominously missed. That moment in time was a well-documented cluster bomb in culture, exploding across traditional media. Imagine social and memes were available at scale back then. 

Fast-forward to today. Culture is less top-down. Social has enabled a more bottom-up, bubble-up, decentralized way for culture to emerge. And the energy, velocity and amplification power of social is reshaping our world, enabling subcultures and shifting power to consumers and communities.

This is a new context where there is not one easy-to-understand mainstream popular culture. To win attention and connect in this new environment, brands need to understand nuances and show empathy like never before. Brands must not only react to culture but also embrace it, and sometimes lead it. In 2024, social media success hinges on this cultural integration. 

And what a time to be alive for social platforms to navigate users in a world that’s on fire. Half of the planet is looking at crucial elections that will have defining implications for democracy, for ongoing climate concerns, for the direction of geo-political conflicts and and for people craving for more individuality. All of this while platforms struggle with attention scarcity, differentiation needs, AI disruption and advertising under pressure. But hey, it’s the new normal. Big social is having sort of a midlife crisis. Just think about Facebook turning 20 this year. 

For this report we’ve assessed the most significant developments in social media marketing in 2023 and then looked into the future through a lens of culture, all the while knowing that nothing is certain about 2024 except that there will be considerable uncertainty. 

What worked for social media’s previous era, no longer applies today. Recent years have brought significant changes to social media dynamics, spanning platform environments, content codes and user behaviour. Several factors are driving these shifts. We call it the evolution from social 2.0 to social 3.0.

Social 2.0, defined by Meta’s heyday of curated product-centric content, was built for paid distribution and helped advertisers achieve reach at scale. For big brands, this was largely operationalised through rigorous planning months in advance, with siloed teams working on content, community, creator and media directives.

In the current state of social 3.0, the pendulum has swung back to content built to entertain and inform, with algorithms once again rewarding organic traction. It’s defined by fragmentation of internet culture and community, where anyone and anything has a niche (or several) to call home. It’s also a web of complexity and contradiction:

• Authentic, lo-fi and real vs. surreal, otherworldly and fantastical mixed realities

• Polarisation on main vs. deeper, more intimate cosy web connections

• The transition away from traditional influence vs. the unstoppable rise of creators

Big brands who have been slow to adapt to this new environment are now starting to feel the pressure from social-first challengers who have built new brands almost purely through digital native propositions. To compete, brands must now deliver a more dynamic, relevant and meaningful value exchange. Tapping into culture as it relates to customers is key to getting this right, with audience-centric content. Wasn't 2023's Barbie mania a live-action masterclass in the power of content with culture at its heart? 

We identified 10 sub-trends that sit in this bigger shift towards a culture-first social. We tapped the minds of our talent across different departments, offices, and regions. In addition to that, we delved into campaign data and had a (virtual) coffee with some of our clients’ marketing and social leads to get a better understanding of what’s moving and shaking within their industries and eventually within the bigger picture of social media tomorrow. 

Dimitri Cologne is Head of Media at Ogilvy Social.Lab.

Catherine Sackville-Scott is Senior Planner, Ogilvy Social.Lab in Belgium.

Awie Erasmus is Regional Planning Director at Ogilvy Social.Lab in Brussels.

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