The internet and social media have given rise to an unprecedented level of connectivity among people, and a phenomenon called Crowd Culture has emerged from it. In this blog, we will take an in-depth look at Crowd Culture and tell you how to leverage the power of social media to make an impact and win the hearts and minds of people.
What is Crowd culture?
More than half of the world actively uses the internet, and the number of users increases every day. ‘Netizen’ is a catch-all term used to describe active internet users. The internet allows anyone to move beyond their geographical restrictions and participate in a global community that exists in the digital realm. The internet makes us citizens of the world instead of a single country or worldview. It lets people express their inner selves without fear of being judged in real life, making for a fulfilling experience.
Social media platforms have become an integral part of our lives in recent years. According to one source, social media is used by 4.5 billion people, and this number is rapidly increasing by the day. Given the extent of social media usage by almost everyone, brands have been trying their hardest to up their digital marketing game and stand out.
Social media plays a large role in how companies create their branded content and how they engage with consumers. When social media was still a relatively new thing and was slowly becoming popular with more people, many brands thought it would allow them to bypass traditional media channels and connect directly with consumers. As social media evolved and became more popular, this turned out to be a naive hope, and the reality was much different than what marketers were hoping.
Social media didn’t just revolutionise the way people communicated with each other but also changed how society and culture worked. Thanks to social media, people who used to be isolated within their niche interests and opinions found a way to form their own communities and social circles or become a part of someone else’s groups. These online communities are also known as ‘crowd culture’. Hence the term ‘crowd culture’ was coined to describe the phenomenon of online communities developing and gaining significant influence in society.
Back in 2016, Harvard Business Review observed how branding in the age of social media has led to bringing together people with diverse backgrounds and cultures. People who were formerly very isolated and cut off from other people who shared the same interests and passions as them can now find communities that cater to them and form strong ties within these communities. As a marketer, you have to know how to leverage this phenomenon for your benefit.
With individual members within online communities creating their own content, companies could not compete with the members of crowd cultures just by creating their own content. While these online crowd cultures have reduced the impact that branded content has on a digitally connected audience, they serve as signposts for the various other ways that are now possible for brands to impact consumers.
While these online crowd cultures have reduced the amount of impact that branded content has in a digitally connected audience, they point the way for brands to use crowd cultures to make an impression among consumers. ‘Cultural branding’ is how brands can set themselves apart and establish a position within popular culture. This sort of branded content can be found everywhere today. Some brands choose to incorporate elements of environmentalism within their brand story, others incorporate elements of social concerns, such as diversity, equality, etc, and present these ideas as a core part of their brand, even if these elements have no relation to the actual products and services that are being offered.
Cultural branding’ is how brands can set themselves apart and establish a position within popular culture
To succeed in connecting with audiences today, brands need to speak to their audience with stories that are matters of concern among people. That is the bare minimum that is required in today’s market. To really succeed in winning over customers, brands try to be the drivers of new cultural movements and ideas that manage to become popular with a lot of people in a way that wasn’t considered that important before the digital age changed everything.
The idea that branding needed to break into the culture is not new. When traditional media was the primary way for brands to reach their audience, many companies were able to become a part of popular culture by telling their story to combine popular sentiments and ideas of the time with sponsored content. As more people began to use the internet and became using social media, this simplistic approach toward branding became obsolete. Audiences today can easily opt out of advertising, whether it is on their televisions or on the internet. This made it harder for brand advertising to reach audiences. The rise of crowd cultures was another thing that made it very difficult for brands to maintain a place in the minds of consumers.
The rise of Crowd cultures
Considering how connected and interlinked the world is today, it is only natural for netizens to be more aware of social issues. The internet has made it possible for anyone to raise their voice to speak out against injustices and be vocal about different issues. Before the rise of social media, if a brand’s marketing included problematic or insensitive aspects, people could only express their anger person-to-person or by writing angry letters to the company or other parties.
With the internet and social media being a part of daily life now, anyone can publically call out a company when it does or says something that is problematic or insensitive. In the same way, people can express their support for brands with the same rapidity. Crowd culture is what makes this support or opposition especially effective. In the context of branding and marketing, Crowd cultures are a target audience. They comprise people who form a digital alliance with others over shared culture or values. The shared values and ideas that form the basis of a Crowd culture can be in support of or in opposition of any issue where sides can be taken, including support or opposition to a brand, based on the experiences, preferences and cultural norms and values of the members of the Crowd culture.
Because of how impactful Crowd cultures can be in damaging (or helping) a brand’s image, even well-established and large brands have been forced to pay close attention to the issues their consumers care about, especially in the online sphere. With their bottom line at stake, brands can no longer afford to risk offending their customer base.
The Phenomenon behind Crowd Cultures
Although the term ‘crowd culture’ has become a part of our language in recent times, the concept behind it is not a new thing. Digital technology and the rise of people using it are the only unique aspect of something that has existed for a long time. People have always been seen coming together in groups to connect with other people who share similar interests, opinions, ideas, morals, politics, passions, etc.
However, never before could people so easily form groups based on shared interests the way that we can today. Social media has bridged the gap between geography and other factors that used to limit the scale and extent of possible connections in previous generations. We live in an unprecedented time in all of human history because of all the ways technology has changed society and continues to change it at an ever-increasing rate. If you’re having trouble grasping the jaw-dropping potential that technology has given each of us and society as a whole, then consider the example of fandoms that have become a staple of modern culture. Never before has it been easier for fans of a particular TV show or book series to interact with other franchise fans.
Social media has bridged the gap between geography and other factors that used to limit the scale and extent of possible connections in previous generations.
Popular platforms like Facebook, Reddit, Discord and Twitch, are just a few of the many social media platforms that people use today to find like-minded individuals to talk with and form genuine connections.
Another example that illustrates the amazing potential of social media and Crowd cultures is to consider what fans of any media franchise had available to them in the past. A fan of the TV show ‘Star Trek’ during the 1970s had very few ways to find other fans and have interactions on the basis of a shared love for Trek. A fan in that era would have been lucky just to know one or more people in real life who were also fans of the same thing. Otherwise, fans used to be restricted to annual conventions that lasted only a few days, with people having to go out of their way to attend them, just to be a part of the ‘crowd culture’ for a while. Contrast that with Trek fans today, who can interact with other fans via social media apps on their phones, with geography and social skills not being the barriers that they used to be in the pre-internet era. Social media lets anyone become an active part of any crowd culture influenced group they want to, with different platforms and websites providing different environments and norms. People can easily pick and choose the crowd cultures they want to be a part of according to their individual tastes and preferences.
What does this mean for Cultural Branding and Marketing?
If you align your brand values with the cultural and social values of your audience, such as inclusion and diversity, it will resonate with them and foster a meaningful connection. As a result, your brand outreach will be more impactful.
Social media can be a gateway to cultural branding, provided that it is done right. The key is to ensure that you’re not just pitching your products and services to potential customers. A significant chunk of the content that your brand puts out should be about topics other than what you are selling. Nowadays, many brands have taken to presenting their Twitter and other accounts in a human and personal way. This change in the way that brands express themselves online is part of their attempts to get attention and form a connection with their audience.
Examples of Good Crowd Culture Branding
There are numerous examples of brands trying to become a part of a Crowd culture.
Brands have realised the potential benefits to their reputation and the popularity they can get from the general public when their messaging includes ideas and beliefs that are in vogue with modern netizens. A brand can either choose to jump on the bandwagon of whatever is trending at the moment, or it can be a trendsetter and be an influence that gives rise to new Crowd cultures. One of the ways that brands can push new ideas into the limelight is through viral marketing.
One of the ways that brands can push new ideas into the limelight is through viral marketing
- Chipotle is a good example of a brand connecting with an already existing crowd culture that was made up of people who were not content with the health aspects and quality standards of what is considered casual and fast food. Chipotle won over members of this crowd culture by offering a vegan burrito that was made up of fresh and healthy ingredients. By offering this new food offering, they were addressing a problem that had become commonplace for their target audience and set a great example for other brands by showing the potential of connecting with crowd cultures.
- Harley Davidson is another example of a brand that has adapted to the modern era of crowd cultures. In the past, the target audience of Harley Davidson bikes was the rough and rugged individualist. With people being more environmentally aware nowadays, the company has been marketing their upcoming electric bikes. The target audience for this new offering is the environmentally-conscious buyer that makes up most of the crowd cultures present online.
- McDonalds provides an example of cultural branding that did not have the reaction they were hoping to see. In March of 2020, when the pandemic started, McDonald’s redesigned their traditional logo and added some space between the golden arches to represent social distancing. They were hoping to appeal to people by expressing their concern about the pandemic, but it instantly faced backlash and criticism from a lot of people. The reason for the negative reaction was that redesigning the logo was seen as a publicity stunt without genuinely doing anything in the fight against COVID-19. Learning from its mistake, McDonald’s then teamed up with another design agency to redesign and draft a new global packaging system. They wanted to develop a packaging design that was simplistic and minimal in an attempt to appeal to the simplistic and modern tastes of modern consumers. This packaging redesign was widely appreciated, received a lot of praise, and was an about-face from their last attempt at cultural branding.
You should now have a better idea of the large potential there is for brands to Crowd Cultures in branding. By creating content tailor-made for the different audiences you are targeting, such as making localised websites and social media accounts, the brand’s messaging can be much more precise and suitable for the Crowd Cultures that make up the audience.
By learning about what issues and ideas are important for your target audience and then positioning your products and services in alignment with those ideas, you can provide real value for consumers and establish your brand as a provider of solutions to the problems being faced by the audience members.
Your brand doesn’t need to jump on the bandwagon of whatever issue is in trend among your audiences. At the same time, you should acknowledge the issues that your audience segments care about and extend your brand’s messaging to cater to all the various cultures that are present in today’s global market.
Let your brand voice its opinion while also putting out content that can ignite new trends and crowd cultures. Stay authentic and remain consistent in your messaging.
The growth of the internet and social media platforms has led to a new phenomenon where people form online subcultures on the basis of a shared idea. The idea can be an opinion about a product or a brand. The term Crowd culture is used to define this phenomenon.
Brands have had to change the way they market themselves and how they reach their target audience.
Your brand can leverage the power of Crowd cultures to get your content seen by the members within that group.
When brands enter a Crowd culture or create a new Crowd culture, that is known as Cultural Branding and Marketing.
Take care to be genuine, as most people will get put off if a brand takes part in a Crowd culture in a transparent attempt at making sales.
Many brands have tried to use Crowd cultures and Cultural branding to increase their market appeal. When it is not done properly, it can have negative results that harm the brand.