We Are Social Thinks Forward with Identity, Authenticity, and Innovation



We Are Social leads a panel discussion with experts from media, fashion and culture on the complexity of consumer identity and the role brands play in reflecting and shaping it.


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2018 has been a rough year, and as Harvey Cossell, Head of Strategy at We Are Social said, “there was a bump in the road.” It’s a year when people felt that their identities were under threat.

Politically, surveillance and data capture has been a main source of concern, and we’ve read it all over the news; culturally, appropriation and homogenization are making people feel uncomfortable. This has caused repercussions — according to Cossell, more than 390,000 people have deleted their Facebook accounts.

Amidst this crisis, brands are expected to have a voice that speaks directly with consumers, as well as a role in driving cultural change. People expect honesty, proper representation, and innovation that’s balanced with responsibility.

In this session, hosted by We Are Social at Social Media Week London 2018, Cossell sat down with Paul Greenwood, Head of Research & Insights at We Are Social, Cameron-James Wilson, creator of Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel, and Leila Fataar, Founder of Platform 13, to shed light on a wide range of topics that concern and overwhelm brands.

A lot of what has been discussed in this session stems from and is backed by findings from We Are Social’s 2019 report, Think Forward, which unpicks the complex and ever-shifting web of consumer identity, and looks at the role brands play in reflecting and shaping it.

The report will be available for download starting November 21 at

Authenticity is what speaks to people

Having multiple personas isn’t a new trend anymore, and this new focus of identity is changing how people behave on social, according to Cossell.

Greenwood drove this discussion by showing the example of young people tending to have multiple “fake accounts” on Instagram. They project what they wish themselves to look like through those fake accounts, while revealing their true identities and characteristics through their real accounts, which are only visible to a very specific group of people.

While this tends to show that authenticity is becoming less valued, Wildon raised a counterexample — his creation, digital supermodel Shudu, is a fake character. After Wilson became more transparent about Shuhu’s fakeness with the audience, they actually started to warm up more and feel better connected to Shudu, explained Wilson.

Fataar’s sum-up wrapped up this part of the discussion quite well. “It’s all about the motivation of why you have a social account, and it’s less about persona, but more about motivations on different platforms,” said Fataar.

A unified tone doesn’t sell anymore

Cossell said that one common challenge facing the traditional way of marketing is believing that there should be one uniform, standard way of doing things.

“When you look at the audience, you should be looking at the multiple facets of your brand — if you think of your brand as a human, there are multiple characteristics — and you should hit different volumes of the people you are reaching.”

Fataar thinks that this way of looking at consumers aren’t in conflict with what brands had to believe. “The message is the same, but it’s about how you get the message across to different people,” said Fataar.

She also thinks that brands shouldn’t make the common mistake of thinking “niche” isn’t a big thing. “Niche is huge on social. It’s a subculture that has become a big culture, because it connects to different groups of people in a unique way,” said Fataar.

Don’t let your audience’s age difference be a problem

If your brand’s target isn’t necessarily youth, what does that mean for marketing methods? Asked Cossell.

Wilson started by saying that brands could still retain some of the traditional practices that have proven to work well on a not-so-young demographic.

Fataar proposed that brands can use a different way of analyzing the consumer groups and not use age difference as a ruler.

“Youth is about the people who’ve adopted technology. You will have sixty-somethings online just as connected as Millennials, and that’s the group I will be speaking to, as opposed to age difference. They have as much asset as anyone else,” said Fataar.

Brands should let go of the fear of being committed

Last but not least, the panelists discussed how to assuage the fear that brands have that’s been holding them from diving into new trends.

Wilson gave the example of trying to persuade fashion brands into incorporating new technologies. Their unwillingness comes from the fact that it’s still a new trend for them and is considered a big leap.

Fataar expressed an understanding in their hesitation. “They are nervous because it will affect their bottom line, but technology is going at the speed of light,” said Fataar.

She went on to explain, though, that incorporating new tech and fitting in is almost a must, because that’s a way of truly be a part of your consumers’ communities. “If your intention is being a part of it, you have to contribute and add value, instead of just taking things from the community,” said Fataar.

Greenwood wrapped up the discussion by bringing forward the concept of trust. “If you put trust in your community to do the right thing — that’s when you can start to build up a creative culture,” said Greenwood.

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