Impact Studio #7: Metamodern Conversations

Lidia Passaro
Lidia Passaro
April 24, 2024
Welcome to Impact Studio Drop #07, your bi-weekly deep dive into the new, interesting and occasionally unexpected ways to do cool stuff with creators. 

Welcome to Impact Studio Drop #07, your bi-weekly deep dive into the new, interesting and occasionally unexpected ways to do cool stuff with creators. 

Conversation online is ever-changing. The words we use, the trending topics we discuss and the communities we build with fellow users, shape our online experience. But the way users speak about themselves and their struggles online is shifting, in a big way. 

With Mental Health Awareness Week on the horizon, we want to look beyond what’s being said around the topic, and look instead at how it’s being discussed on social. Does content addressing more sensitive topics always need to be expressed in a serious tone for the message to land? 

How social media has changed the way we talk to each other 

The ‘always on’ nature of social media has led to greater openness in what we choose to share online. What was once a place to show a highlight reel of our life, is now a space we feel more comfortable being transparent. This started with trends like ‘Instagram vs Reality’, exposing moments we wouldn’t usually choose to share on social media. But real change came with TikTok, a platform that celebrates raw and real content, where people can build communities through relatable, unfiltered moments.

This attitudinal change has been driven by younger audiences who have grown up with social media and feel inherently more comfortable opening up online; opening the floor to conversations that feel too difficult to have in person, but are easily shared on TikTok with thousands of strangers.

This isn’t to say that face to face communication is dead. TikTok is a catalyst, often influencing in-person conversations. Just think how many times a day we hear “I saw a thing on TikTok the other day...” that then sparks a debate between friends.

Not only is TikTok influencing what we talk to each other about, it's also impacting how we say it, specifically for more serious topics. Audiences are embracing metamodernism; feeling more comfortable making light of the struggles they once held back out of fear of what others might think.

A metamodernist approach to sensitive conversations

But what is metamodernism? 

Put simply, metamodernism is seeing the world in "both/and" terms, instead of "either/or." It blends the big ideas of modernism with the scepticism of postmodernism. It’s Deadpool - a superhero movie that winks at its own cheesiness. It’s Fleabag - a ‘dramedy’ around grief. It's about embracing complexities and finding humour in serious situations.

Metamodernism wins with younger audiences

This approach to discussing more serious topics resonates with younger audiences in particular and is amplified on TikTok. Masters of using humour as a coping mechanism, Gen Z openly talk about their struggles in humorous, self-deprecating ways. Coining phrases like ‘Menty B’ and ‘Stressy Depressy’ to refer to mental health problems, ‘Cozzie Livs’ to emphasise financial struggles and creating ‘POV’ sketches around conversations with their therapists, Gen Z are embracing metamodernism, highlighting important issues in a way that is accessible, relatable and entertaining.

Perhaps the most renowned recent example of metamodernism is the Barbie movie. Through the lens of irony and humour, the film highlighted the important topic of how women are treated in society. This metamodern approach to discussing sensitive subjects has proven to be an effective way to start a conversation with audiences. The Barbie movie entertained while landing a powerful, thought-provoking message.

Maltesers are another standout example of a brand using a metamodern approach to break stigmas around taboo subjects. Using dark humour to spotlight the relatable struggles new mums face but don’t always talk about, Maltesers’ campaign sought to break the silence around maternal mental health. One ad shows a new mum fed up that her mother-in-law is still hanging around and, noticing she has lactated through her top, decides to make a ‘special’ cup of tea for her lingering guest. Through finding the light side in these complex scenarios, Maltesers encouraged new mums to start talking.

How can creators help?

A metamodern tone can be difficult for brands to land impactfully and sincerely on social. To authentically be a part of more serious conversations, they need to really listen to and understand their audience. What they care about, what difficulties they are facing and how they are discussing these on platforms like TikTok. Enter creators…

Not only do creators know what conversations are happening, they are often the ones leading them, speaking in a way that is native to both the platform and the community. Audiences are also far more open with creators than they are with brands because of the level of trust built over time - something that’s imperative for discussing more serious subjects. Partnering with a creator who has a highly engaged, trusting audience and a tone of voice that leans towards metamodernism is a sure fire way to relevantly land this style of messaging and give brands a sincere way to join the conversation.

A metamodernist approach to Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week presents an opportunity to connect with audiences on a deeper level, but brands that haven’t taken the time to understand their audience or how they are talking online will fail to strike a chord; falling into a trap of inauthenticity with generic messages, appearing out of touch and self-serving.

With the right audience, sensitive topics can be approached with irony and humour. But where a metamodern tone is difficult to land from the brand itself, creators hold the magic key to unlocking relevancy and authenticity, delivering impactful messaging that is native to TikTok audiences.

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