What is a “digital trend”?

by bold-lichterman

Trendspotting techniques have changed dramatically thanks to social media. New frontiers are emerging as to how to identify signals, consolidate concrete manifestations or evidence of new uses, and manage to identify an underlying trend. The volume of fingerprints left by individuals in the social web, added to the user journeys between different digital properties, makes it possible to have a most exhaustive playing field, but not necessarily the simplest.

Indeed in 2013, authors Mitchell J. Lovett, Renana Peres and Ron Shachar demonstrated that online word-of-mouth engines were very different from “offline” ones when it came to brands. As the main reason, the very nature of the interactions that can take place through a digital filter:

‘Offline’ conversations, which tend to take place in ‘one-to-one’ situations, are inherently more personal and intimate; they allow people to share emotions such as excitement or satisfaction. Online word-of-mouth, which usually involves spreading to lots of people (eg twitter) is more appropriate for social signage (eg looking unique). ”

Online conversation listening tools and associated methodologies have raised many hopes in order to detect future consumer expectations. The proportion of word-of-mouth online is objectively lower than offline; however, the fact that it leaves traces that can be collected and orchestrated by digital influencers or connected individuals could theoretically simplify the understanding of new consumption habits… or reveal trends that have not yet been formalized.


Mitchell J. Lovett, Renana Peres, and Ron Shachar, On brands and word-of-mouth, Journal of Marketing Research

Define what the notion of “digital trend” means

Despite extensive use of the term “digital trend” in the media, no definition is authoritative. Are we talking about a fashion of the moment? So what is the point of investing in expensive studies for a brand? Is it a flood of values ​​that deeply impacts societies or communities? So how can you be sure that an organization is not already late in trying to seize this opportunity?

We decided to define a “digital trend” by using an analogy: the way we make stories. Indeed, a digital trend needs to be experienced and then adopted in order to be understood and have a chance to be transmitted from one group of individuals to another, precisely as a story would pass from one mouth to another. A digital trend can also be short, or ephemeral, or be built in series, by aggregating a myriad of new small uses that together create a common narrative, exactly like stories that open in episodes or sagas. A digital trend can sometimes be a groundswell that rebuilds the values ​​of an entire society, infiltrating each community stratum. Like the great epics or manifestos created to shake up individuals and generate a change of attitude… or of society.

A digital trend, like a story, needs stakeholders or actors who can embody it, make it tangible for a wider audience. In the digital world, it can be influencers or intensive users of a platform of course; but they can also be sporadic contributors who unconsciously or indirectly influence other digital passers-by (eg a review left on Tripadvisor or a testimonial on a health forum). Digital trends – like stories – have their own intrigues. These trends do not necessarily have an objective in themselves but at the very least have a tension that makes them recognizable, intriguing and captivating for certain groups. And just like stories, digital trends must engage their audiences sufficiently in order to survive, by making them play a role of shareholder of their reputation.

You can discover some case studies in this Slideshare:

Destroy the myth of automatic scans

If a digital trend now has a framework for study, it must now be understood with the most relevant facts, data and arguments. At the forefront of digital trend analysis are at least three practices:

  • The “social listening” which sucks what already exists: mentions publicly registered in social media

  • Analyzing the keywords that people use when exploring a topic. Analysts usually say that the conversation begins with a search on a search engine, showing a population’s interest in an area.

  • Community mapping which is based on the real interactions of users of a network or platform, in order to determine what are the centers of gravity in different themes

However, as stated Stanislas Magniant, Online Communications Director, Western Europe at The Coca-Cola Company:

Despite all the ‘terabytes’ of content users post every day, we remain dependent on the type of conversation users want to have; and guess what, there are many blind spots. If you work in the automotive industry or in telecoms, you are lucky: there is enough data to draw lessons with high added value to develop future campaigns. But if you work in certain B2B sectors, or if you market toothpaste or detergents, you would be surprised to see the very low level of actionable data ”.

Indeed, a digital trend cannot be deciphered only through digital tools. This would reduce the role of analysts. They must first be very good “listeners” and peerless explorers before being good technicians of monitoring platforms.

Take inspiration from the history of “coolhunters” to decipher a digital trend

Malcolm Gladwell, in his legendary essay in The New Yorker in 1997, already established two key principles in order to detect what was “cool” and what was not (or less).

First, beyond his analysis of trendsetters and how they reach in fine larger groups (a vision not so far removed from the “two-step flow” dear to Elihu Katz and Lazarsfeld), Gladwell reminds us that the “cool is a set of dialects, not a language“. In other words, within a dominant (and sometimes official) culture emerge new patois, puns, gimmicks, new subcultures that act as magnets for individuals who wish to be part of it. of these new groups, thus creating engines of ideas and real laboratories of trends.

It is therefore essential to be surrounded by “insiders”Or insiders who get an immersive understanding of what is happening; and not just capturing data or signals from a distance, behind dashboards or statistical markers. This approach that can be described in bad French as “embeddée” is effective in exploring a digital trend. There is a fundamental need to physically explore what makes people interested or grouped together, since most digital manifestations are only documentation of currents that take place or have an impact in real life.

Then Gladwell pushes us to identify first “cool people first and cool things only later“. This is particularly suited online since people get attached to other people; products and “things” can certainly facilitate the connection or be the pretext to accelerate a trend (eg GoPro and the modern adventure) or even be its genesis. But these trends are first exposed, translated, popularized but also fleshed out by myriads of new influencers. Conversations in social media are disrupting the existing since through the tagging system, platform recommendation as well as all the less graspable activities (private messages, chat systems, etc.), digital trends are forming and spread.

More theoretically:

Context is continually and inherently redefined as participants display their understanding of specific moments of conversational involvement. Each emerging action strengthens both the context with regard to previous or immediate circumstances, while renewing the context through the means implemented for its contributions and therefore impacts the provisions of the next actions ” Wayne A. Beach San Diego State University

To conclude, “trendspotting” has never been so exciting. The billions of micro-moments of truth accelerate the chances for social ingredients to come together and form trends, making it easier for passionate individuals to find each other. The work for brands is no longer just to understand and deconstruct the reasons why people decide to allocate time to these trends, but also to formalize them and provide canvas so that people can feed their passions. A real social new deal to begin to consider the shared value dear to Michael E. Porter.

laurent-francoisLaurent Francois co-created in 2014 a creative and digital agency in London, RE-UP, “the House of Creative Misfits ”. RE-UP develops digital strategies for global groups like L’Oréal or Shiseido, but also for startups or pure players. Laurent regularly speaks in various business or design schools around a module entitled “the value of an idea in the age of social media“. Before RE-UP, Laurent headed Ogilvy’s first social media department, before working freelance for various agencies as senior digital strategist for JWT London or director of strategic planning for Havas EHS.

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