A New Mandate For Brands: Tackling Social Connection

November 23, 2023
Woman on Bench

It’s no secret around here that Citizen’s latest piece of IP provides a look at the current state of social connection. We uncovered a fractured story: while people say they crave and desire more of it, we’ve deliberately shrunken our social circles and tend to avoid debate or controversial conversations. In fact, more than a third agree with the statement “I feel more connected to myself” than others.

But what does it mean for brands? After all, successful branded acts rely on social cohesion to some extent: feedback loops, fostering community and conversation. As Dr. Marcus Collins puts it, “the future of ‘brand’ will be communal in nature; those who are able to facilitate community will most likely win while those who still focus on value propositions and product differentiation will most likely lose.” So when we think about people being lonely even while surrounded by others, when we select “conversation off” in our Uber ride, how welcome will our brands be? If we’re not connected, if we’re lonely, culture is more fragmented, and things like effectiveness and trust are at stake.

Our call to brands is clear: create space to bravely take this on. Here are four ways to get started:

1. Let Purpose Drive The Change

Communications and PR professionals are in a unique position – as cultural translators for reputation and risk tolerance – and have greater influence than ever before. McKinsey has proven the power of partnership between CEOs and CMOs in catalyzing growth. Communications leaders, now often in the C-suite, are no different and are in a place for impact when it comes to showing the business case for tackling social connection.

2. Find The Weak Ties

Through the report, we learned about the concept of “weak ties” – the casual chats with a crossing guard or neighbour or barista – and how significant their impact is on wellbeing. Even these casual connections can help give us a greater sense of community and purpose. We love interventions like slow check-out lanes that intentionally create weak ties and combat loneliness.

3. Help People Disagree Better

The report illuminated a sense of a loss of public debate and the idea of polarization as a default state. Nearly 30% are less likely to talk about anything controversial (since 2020) and 15% have lost friends due to polarization. Organizations like the Human Library prove the idea that with proximity, comes acceptance. The opportunity here is not about changing minds or sides, but rather about acceptance and encouraging people to sit with disagreement – with productive, peaceful, respectful disagreement.

4. Change The “Online Vs. Offline” Conversation

It’s time to give more nuance and move beyond the dichotomy of online or offline connection – it’s not “either or”, it’s “both and”. Our research in this area points to a near stalemate: for example, while 81% respondents say at least one online social platform has made a positive impact on their day-to-day lives, 78% prefer to connect offline. The opportunity here is about when and why for each – for example, more online connection may support and bolster accessibility – and how they can be used for deepening connection at large.

To learn more about today’s connection deficit and how brands can tackle it, read our 2023 Citizen Connections Report here and reach out!