Brands Need To Embrace Social Change: Here’s Why

By Chris Stefanyk | Forbes | Jan 19, 2021

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on how people consume media can’t be overstated. The combination of a global pandemic and quarantine lockdowns led to a surge in digital media consumption this past year. According to a study conducted in May and June 2020, time spent consuming digital media had doubled globally since the beginning of the pandemic, growing from an average of 3 hours 17 minutes to an astounding 6 hours 59 minutes.

An analysis by McKinsey revealed that many of the consumption trends that took shape in 2020 were accelerations of past behaviors. Thanks to the pandemic, McKinsey suggests we have covered a decade’s worth of digital adoption in days. Online entertainment platforms like Disney+ have hugely benefited, achieving in a matter of months what took Netflix years to accomplish. Based on what we’re seeing at Wattpad, the same surge has happened with online reading and writing.

The pandemic presented a wide range of new challenges for people. Forced indoors to prevent the spread of Covid-19, away from friends and family, people started to look for new ways to connect. Enter digital storytelling. In the early days of the pandemic, our storytelling platform experienced a sign-up increase of more than 50%, while new stories published to the platform grew by 151%.

Reading and writing habits tell us a lot about a moment in time. As racial justice, political activism, a U.S. election, Covid-19 and mental health challenges dominated headlines, it may not be surprising that these movements also took shape in what people chose to read and write about.

But as marketers, instinct isn’t enough. It’s important that we look to data for how we understand the world and what people are doing in it. With that in mind, here’s where things may be headed in 2021.

Digital Reading And Writing Trends

Limited in-person social connection, compounded by stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, has deeply impacted people’s mental health. Nearly one in five adults and 34% of Gen Z respondents surveyed in August 2020 stated that their mental health was in worse shape than during the same time the previous year, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll. On our platform, stories about mental health, from narratives on supporting loved ones to first-person accounts of depression and anxiety, have seen a sharp increase. In fact, stories with the tag #mentalhealth saw a 32% increase over the previous year.

Similarly, 2020 was the year of the protest, with people coming out in droves to shine a light on the racism and marginalization people experience every day. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 70% of Gen Zers believe “the government should do more to solve problems.” We’ve seen this reflected in the kinds of stories our users have been reading and writing in 2020, particularly stories tagged #protests, #voting and #election. Stories that discuss political themes and those that are tagged #activism have increased by 93% since 2019.

What Does This Mean For Brands? 

A study by Deloitte Insights suggests that many of the new digital-first consumption habits we’re experiencing are here to stay. Since the pandemic began, 38% of respondents reported trying a new digital media subscription or activity for the first time, and two-thirds say they’ll continue to use this new subscription or service even after the pandemic subsides.

Regardless of your business or industry, your customers are online more than ever before — and brands need to pay attention. Working toward creating a better future and engaging Gen Z means brands and businesses need to embrace social change. Brands can no longer superficially support progressive social movements; they need to be actively engaged with these movements and attentive to their goals. When your customers are demanding more representation, you need to be ready to deliver.

Here are four tips for brands to drive social change in 2021:

Actions, Not Just Words: It is critical that when brands support social issues, they support them with both words and actions. Based on what I’ve seen, Gen Z consumers especially can see right through a series of tweets that don’t align with business practices. Brands need to take tangible steps to show that they care about the problem and to improve or remedy the situation. Monetary actions, although useful, are not enough. Be the change.

Live Your Values: Brands need to take a hard look at their values. Whether a company truly represents, or “lives,” its values will impact its ability and credibility to take a stand for social change. For instance, at Wattpad, diversity is a top priority, and it shows in both the community and company — in 2020, women accounted for 54% of all employees and 50% of all leadership.

Live Your Values With Partners: It is important to also validate whether your values and social change initiatives are aligned with your partners. This is where 1 + 1 = 3. We’ve had great success on this front in terms of the activations we’ve done to support the LGBTQIA+ community over the years.

Don’t Execute In A Bubble: Supporting social change and making a real impact isn’t easy. Brands don’t have to do this in a bubble. They should talk to consumers, partners, nonprofits and charities involved in the cause that matters to them. Collaboration is key.

Read the full story at Forbes.