The Rise Of The Social Underground

Brands need to be where today’s youth audiences are most active.

The Real Self Vs The Edited Self

With young people now living mobile, connected lifestyles, we are witnessing the emergence of two distinct identities or personas – the curated or edited self, and the real self.

On the one hand, young adults are using mobiles as tools to share ‘the best version of who they are and give it to the crowd’ – the edited self. Particularly on Facebook and Instagram feeds, experiences are collected and displayed like trophies, with the goal of presenting oneself as glamorous, appealing and ultimately a truly unique individual.

In parallel, they are increasingly rejecting this pressure to present ‘their best selves’ and are striving to present their ‘real self’ online. Growing numbers of 16-24 year olds, in particular, have moved away from the more traditional broadcast social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter towards more intimate, narrowcast social messaging channels like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Kik, and Lime, where they present themselves in more unfiltered, candid and, ultimately, fun ways.

Hark the Rise of the Social Underground

In 2015, The Youth Lab, Thinkhouse’s trends and insights division, issued ‘The Rise of The Social Underground’, a report that highlighted the increased fragmentation of social media driven by the human need for hyper-individualism in the mobile age. Since then, the subject has grown momentum and is now a global conversation point, as evident in the ‘dark social’ theme dominant at this year’s SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas in March.

A recent study by global digital advertising company, RadiumOne, found that 59% of all online sharing is via dark social. Some 40% of U.S. teens and young adults now use messaging apps to send media-rich messages billions of times a day, according to the most recent Global Web Index. In Ireland, WhatsApp penetration for 16-24 year olds is 55% higher than that of the adult population, while 63% of 16-24 year olds are active on Snapchat (versus the adult average of 17%).

Intimate, Visual & Fun

With growing numbers of teenagers and young adults aware of the role of social apps to alter their identity, they are, in their use of more narrowcast platforms, choosing to exert greater control on their privacy, ensuring that what they share only reaches the people they trust to view it.

In tandem with this awareness around public social sharing is their natural born tendency to communicate visually. The popularity of Snapchat, for example, is largely connected to its creative user-face as much as it is to its ephmeral nature (content ‘disappears’ within 24 hours on a feed), with users focused less on ‘telling’ and more on ‘showing’ the ins-and-outs of their lives.

Innovation & ‘human-first’ approach wins out every time

With growing numbers of young people engaging in immediate, private and ephemeral messaging, there is an opportunity for brands to play a role – if done correctly.

Using narrowcast platforms in inventive and fun ways captures people’s imaginations and encourages user engagement in brand-led activities and essentially gives brands permission to be present. Coors Light, for example, has always worked to connect with both consumers and media in relevant and engaging ways. In partnership with Thinkhouse, the idea of The Coors Light Cold Line Bling was born as part of the brand’s #LoveTheCold campaign in February of this year. Tapping into the popularity of WhatsApp, while also connecting on a cultural level due to the obvious reference to Drake’s Hot Line Bling, media were invited to connect with the brand over cold winter months - as the temperature dipped, over 60% of all media messaged the brand directly on WhatsApp for an on-demand delivery of Coors Light.

Taking a ‘human first’ approach also increases the likelihood of a positive brand experience. Instead of participating as a brand, consider how best you can engage brand advocates to positively engage their networks around your brand. In launching the first ever travel show on Snapchat for its client Topdeck, Thinkhouse UK collaborated with two established travel Snapchatters who drove awareness for the relatively unknown brand in the UK to their tens of thousands of bullseye customers. The campaign also garnered earned media coverage on established media outlets, delivering a PR reach of over 410 million.

Experiment Now To Go Big in 2017

Measurement tools are still playing catch up to more mainstream marketing use of ‘social underground’ channels. However, brave, bold marketeers are already active, measuring performance around ‘easily assessed results’ like click through rates, online purchases and event attendance. With greater numbers of younger cohorts spending more time on dark social platforms, smart marketeers are active on ‘dark social’ today to future-proof when dark social becomes one of the most effective marketing styles in reaching today’s 18-35 year olds.

For more social Insights, connect with The Youth Lab at

See also

Digital rationing: Trying to switch off, while still being connected
Digital rationing: Trying to switch off, while still being connected

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