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5 Modern Movements Reflecting Human Desires, Not Algorithms'
What are the cultural needs to be addressed by organizations?
The following is a summary of my 2023 SXSW Talk: Movements > Trends. Here’s Part I.
In a moment when trends are trending, we need to slow down and remember the human.
Cottagecore? Vibes shifts? These aren’t “trends” as much as they are cultural memes perpetuated by algorithms, industry group-think and desires for entertainment and progress.
When we asked 1,500 people globally if they’ve heard of ten “trends” — the ones marketers can’t stop over-analyzing — 43% haven’t heard of a. single. one. And for those who have, less than half of those people actually participated in any capacity.
We can argue the general public may not be privy to the labels defining their experiences as “trends,” but it’s a glaring enough disconnect to warrant a reassessment:
What we think is “important” may not be as important .
The “trends” dominating discourse today are devoid of genuine human needs... at least relative to what redditors are thinking about. Many strategists today are focused on size and speed, while they should instead be obsessed with meaningfulness and momentum.
At Reddit, we’re looking beyond trends and to “Modern Movements” — meaningful social shifts tether to human desires.
Reddit’s Global Insights team is tasked with analyzing +100,000 active communities and their conversations, leveraging both first and third-party data to understand what’s bubbling in culture. In partnering with our Data Science, Community, and KarmaLab Creative Strategy teams, we identified the several meaningful shifts most representative of the zeitgeist.
Here’s a summary of what we found:
1. Keyboard Confessionals
Desires: Vulnerability, Acceptance, Safety
In a culture of ethical grays, the binary of good or bad no longer exists. Lost in conflicting subjectivity, we’re seeking support and consensus to help us navigate what’s right and true.
In 2022, r/AmItheAsshole was the number one most viewed subreddit globally, while r/TIFU (Today I Fucked Up) jumped the most spots of any Top 50 community YoY to #27 in 2022. r/TrueOffMyChest further illustrated this movement growing +345% YoY becoming a Top 30 most viewed subreddit.
For one, confessing an act of cleansing, but for all: a celebration of admittance.
Seeking vulnerability and acceptance, millions are desiring social exoneration — a cathartic purification in a culture which perhaps is too judgemental, perfectionistic and unforgiving.
Space is being made to apologize and reflect.
Well, what do these movements have to do with organizations? Because we’re dealing with larger shifts, the implications are larger in scale.
For brands, the implication is clear: if you misstep or find yourself in a PR storm: own it, vow to do better next time, and then actually do it. There’s space for it.
Further, how can your brand contribute to conversations where people are working toward becoming a better or more authentic version of themselves?
The bravery of radical candor is as refreshing as powerful.
2. Building Blocks Over Big Swings
Desires: Safety, Control, Progress
Situated amongst chronic uncertainty – financial and otherwise – steady growth is more valuable than ever. In a moment of both chaos and stagnation, control and change is desired.
Over the last year, growth of communities focused on personal finance compounded. Growth of views to r/PersonalFinance were up +34% while r/PovertyFinance was up +92%, and +58% for r/Frugal YoY. Country nuanced finance communities are also growing alongside more intense pursuits like r/FinancialIndependence (FIRE).
These are mainstays, yet they continue to grow and eclipse another narrative from a couple years prior: one of risky bets on stonks.
Many are now looking to place new bets... on themselves.
The language being used in all these communities are common and noteworthy: journey, adventure, compound, investment. It’s a desire for incremental progress.
For brands, shift your focus toward durability and longevity. Build everlasting brands. Or put another way, how does the authority of your brand provide a helping hand consumers can trust for their own steady growth?
Play long games.
3. Zooming Out
Desires: Closeness, Optimism, Affinity
Attempting to comprehend the scale of a billion dollars or climate change, we realize how small we are. We can often feel insignificant. It can be disheartening. But it can also be an experience of wonder and awe. Looking at the big picture, we can recognize something larger than ourselves.
In 2022, r/WorldNews become the third most viewed community, up from #18 in 2021. Further, r/Ukraine became the fifth most viewed community — previously unranked. And “Ukraine” itself was mentioned across +62,000 unique subreddits.
On this topic, for one moment, the most viewed and engaged post across all retail and lifestyle communities came from r/Sneakers: “Going to territorial defense squad in these kicks. Glory to Ukraine.”
Geopolitics and warfare crossed over into sneaker culture. A reminder: Culture runs horizontal.
Facing the enormity of our issues, we also recognize how small and interconnected we all are.
More light-hearted, r/HydroHomies grew +23% YoY. Reminding people to drink water is more than a healthy habit, but a half-joking celebration of something we all have in common: an appreciation of H20. It’s getting us through.
For organizations, in a chaotic world out of sync, people are seeking connection and something larger than themselves. Open up the opportunities for communities to collaborate: co-author, co-create, co-produce. Recognize the interconnectedness of culture.
What are global-level resources only your business can bring to help empower a community to achieve its goals?
See the big picture.
4. People-Powered Progress
Desires: Change, Participation, Camaraderie
In the face of these mounting challenges – and realizing personal contributions are insufficient – communities are forming to do what institutions simply can’t (or won’t). 1 + 1 = 3. With linked arms, there’s power in numbers.
Consider r/NoLawns which grew +7X in 2022, questioning eco-diversity and city planning, or r/GuerillaGardening up +123% YoY, a community going wild for wildflowers, planting seeds any- and everywhere.
People are increasingly recognizing they can move mountains... but only together. Progress was and is only possible when coordinated.
More symbolic was the result of r/Place, a blank canvas covered in 160,000,000 pixels across 236 countries in just 87 hours.
No individual could accomplish anything without camaraderie and cooperation. This is becoming increasingly evident.
For organizations, recognize that you too are small. For any meaningful social change, participation from real people is required. And rather than attempting to corral people in supporting your movement, consider stepping behind theirs.
What future is your brand message inviting people to participate in?
Don’t just fight for progress — fight for all the fighters for it.
5. In Us We Trust
Desires: Support, Connection, Confidence
Seeking answers, we pray to the search bar and scroll endlessly. But influencers, agendas and algorithms interfere. Now, we look at the crowd. Call it Distributed-Trust. Hive-minds can’t be compromised by a single individual or agenda.
How ironic, the last bastions of trust are strangers.
Advice communities have always been a mainstay at Reddit, yet their growth in 2022 became even more notable.
From relationships to r/Medical_Advice which grew +72% YoY, it’s worth noting that many are seeking guidance for their most intimate and sensitive decisions of their lives.
Meanwhile, post-AntiWork, r/BeMyReference ascended to become a Top 5% community — a community where “everyone works together.” Wink. Wink. Individuals applying for a job are requesting a reference from the crowd, and inevitably someone raises their hand, becoming their glowing endorsement.
For organizations, this is a tricky one. A brand voice doesn’t mean an untrustworthy one, but suddenly appearing to sell without first participating, won’t resonate. Hang. Relax. Ask and answer within communities. Build in public.
Move beyond community management, and into the realm of community participation.
When we zoom out and remember the human, we’re able to recognize what’s actually important to real people, and further, how organizations can support their efforts. That’s cultural resonance.
Sure aesthetics and micro-trends are critical to study in understanding our moment, but when it comes to making investments and moving the needle, ask yourself, “Are we appropriating algorithms’ meaningless fads, or augmenting humans’ real needs?”