On February 3, 2019, Sunny Delight somberly tweeted the plea, “I can’t do this anymore.” A flurry of corporate and personal Twitter accounts alike began relating the cryptic statement to the feeling of Monday morning, starting a new diet, even offering genuine advice for managing mental health.
What’s going on here? What is troubling my juice, and why does it have feelings?
Brands like Sunny D, Netflix and Wendy’s are few of many utilizing first-person narratives to relate to audiences on social. It’s mostly a Twitter thing, but it’s a catalyst for engagement and brand preference if executed authentically.
“80 percent of Twitter users are affluent Millennials,” according to Hootsuite. Here’s an audience that is Internet-fluent and increasingly in tune with the way businesses sell to them. Inc. Magazine suggests this group of 75 million outspoken consumers, with $200 billion in annual buying power, are more than passive recipients of marketing messages.
“[Millennials] expect brands to build relationships with them, to listen to them and to engage with them. They want to be part of the innovative process (especially if something isn’t working for them),” Inc. says according to research by TotalRetail.
Twitter users have seen brands make conspicuous attempts at being on-trend and relatable for years, but a first-person perspective is accepted less as a desperate marketing strategy and more an unexpectedly intimate interaction. As crevices of the Internet are increasingly understood, brands are able to take those insights, apply the Millennial lexicon and satisfy a need for visibility.
While an eccentric, first-person tone isn’t fit for every social strategy, brands who can use it have potential to grow a loyal follower base with the same level of trust and engagement established by celebrities and influencers.
There is a hyper-passionate community that exists on the internet called “stans.” The origin of the word comes from a 2000 Eminem song about a stalker fan, but it has grown into a culture of devoted Twitter and Instagram users who show unbridled support for their “fave” (most likely Ariana Grande right now).
Stans have not only found their niche corner of the Internet but have also found millions of like-minded mutuals who share the same fervor for a musical artist, actor or fictional character. BTW, mutuals are accounts with similar interests that you follow and interact with, despite not knowing each other IRL.
These are individuals who have astonishing power when assembled as a fandom:
“Communities of fans dedicated to a particular pop star are a formidable force in online cultural discussions, and even help dictate the economics of entertainment. Whereas the most power the fan clubs of yore held was in the form of letter-writing... today’s stans have social media and search engines at their disposal,” according to The Outline.
And it’s not always positive. The psychology of stan culture is often so polarized that criticizing a beloved celebrity could result in a fury of harassment and death threats.
However, embracing a group of faithful stans with your social messaging or retargeting efforts is an opportunity to rack up digital impressions from a clearly defined audience. They will feel validated and probably start stanning you, too.
That’s the idea behind MTV’s decision to use first-person on social.
“[MTV] has benefited from this approach by both homing in on fan discussions and building more personal relationships with the pop stars it’s meant to promote... As [its] followers’ expectations evolved, the company eventually grew into the life of a full-time stan, well versed in both the material it was selling and the fickle online language required to sell it,” according to The Ringer.
But why do Millennials require the use of fickle online language? What fuels our skepticism toward traditional advertisements?
Millennials know how to sell things. Whether it’s gently-worn clothing in Facebook Marketplace or us as a personal brand on Instagram, unabashed promotion is at the forefront of what we see on social. We are skeptics because we are not only conscious of marketing strategies but utilizing them for ourselves as well. Living the majority of our lives with Internet access, Millennials now expect more than the ordinary sales pitch from advertisers. With that said, Millennials are open to being sold to. We are living in the era of “treat yourself,” after all.
Authenticity is critical to making an impact on Millennials. Although 84 percent of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising, “57 percent of Millennials state they are willing to view sponsored content from a brand as long as it includes authentic personalities and is entertaining and useful,” according to Forbes.
Even if content is openly labeled “sponsored,” side-eye-giving Millennials are receptive because it’s not coming directly from the brand. We know how to find a brand’s website. What we want is to know how actual people feel about what you’re selling. In some ways, brands are the parents saying, “This is good for you,” but while that may be the case, we won’t believe you until our peers confirm. Millennials see ads and, if interested, flock to forums, blogs, YouTube comments and Reddit to get the inside scoop.
Wordstream suggests that today’s young shoppers’ buying behaviors are “largely inspired by people they know in person or online, or even strangers who share their interests on social networks … 89 percent of Millennials trust recommendations from friends and family more than claims by the brand,” the online marketing company states.
Word-of-mouth marketing continues as a sustainable tactic for a brand to establish credibility. Wordstream offers the example of the newborn Uber app offering free rides in exchange for customer recommendations with the premise that “convincing your existing fans to promote your brand is way cheaper than paying stars to pose with your products.” Consumers, Millennials in particular, appreciate being seen and understood and crave a relationship with the brands who interact with them in the right way.
Brands who cancel outbound marketing like magazine ads, direct mail campaigns and radio spots when speaking to Millennials and deliver personalized messages may yield more traction, as Hubspot suggests. When Netflix tweets, “Leslie & Ann are legit friendship goals” with a clip from “Parks and Recreation,” a faceless tech company becomes a charming online persona who shares your sense of humor and has great suggestions to add to your watchlist.
Personal pronouns and a deadpan tone can be tools to soothe the cynicism audiences, especially Millennials and Gen Z, have toward brands’ marketing efforts. With everything from the Fyre Festival and Facebook security to Me Too, there is a desire for transparency in pop culture and across all industries. A first-person narrative on social is an effective avenue for brands to develop an authentic, mutually trusting relationship with an audience that has and will continue to set the precedent for conversations both online and offline.