In early 2020, Harvard Business Review writer Sara Wilson identified a pullback of young audiences from traditional social channels like Twitter and Facebook. She noted that they prefer “digital campfires” — small, intimate places where individuals can gather. These include niche communities on the video-sharing platform TikTok, Twitch livestreams, Discord servers, among others.
Campfire is an apt descriptor. Historically speaking, stories, knowledge, and traditions were passed down around campfires. They served as gathering places for communities of trusted friends and allies. The digital equivalent is increasingly attractive to Gen Zers, who tire of polished traditional platforms and crave deeper, more authentic interactions. If you want to target this audience, you’ll need to adopt genuine messaging for the era of digital campfires.
Audio, Authenticity, and Digital Campfires
What do a lot of digital campfires have in common? Audio. When you read something, you use your internal voice in a way that might not be how the writer intended. Without inflections in tone that convey important information, it’s difficult to recognize emotions, jokes, sarcasm, and personality.
Audio is also convenient because it allows listeners to multitask. Whether it’s on a commute or during a walk around the neighborhood, Americans are listening to more audio — an average of 1 hour and 29 minutes a day, according to eMarketer. After 18 months of life online, it might be hard to imagine anyone opting for more audio in their personal time. However, that seems to be the case.
One new digital campfire has experienced substantial momentum. Instead of using text-based chatrooms, Clubhouse allows users to come together for verbal exchanges. The platform has taken off, and its “rooms” are packed with individuals eager to listen to or contribute to conversations they feel are important. As you explore digital campfires, remember that audio is the key to authenticity.
Building a Digital Fire
Digital campfires are successful because participants get to choose exactly what they’re excited about and how they want to participate. As a marketing or agency professional, it won’t be easy for you to find your way into these small, intimate spaces. However, the playbook is similar to the approach you’d take with any new social platform.
Do your research.
What are other marketers and agencies doing with clients in a similar space? What are brands doing on their own? What does success look like? What’s an example of a failure you should strive to avoid? Any initiative should start with research, especially when you’re learning the ins and outs of a platform. Each space will have its own rules and etiquette, and you don’t want your clients to commit a faux pas right off the bat.
Participate in other events.
A brand that’s willing to participate in important dialogues with other brands — perhaps even those of its competitors — is one that’s authentic. In the Harvard Business Review article I mentioned earlier, Katie Riccio Puris, TikTok’s head of global marketing, says the space they created invites brands to be open. You should encourage clients to join relevant events and discussions where other viewers and listeners can benefit from their unique points of view.
Launch a small, unscripted event.
Don’t be tempted to go big when targeting your first digital campfire. A major part of the appeal of these platforms is their small, intimate nature. Many marketers and agencies have a hard time abandoning structure, so feel free to create an outline of topics and strategies as long as you avoid sounding rehearsed.
Learn and iterate.
Hold a retrospective with your team members and a few event participants, if possible. Talk about what worked and what could have been improved. Then, start planning your next event with a continued focus on authenticity.
As digital campfires replace traditional social media platforms for Gen Z, it presents potentially golden opportunities for agencies and their clients. It will be more difficult for brands to break into these intimate spaces, but the benefits of forming authentic and lasting connections will be worth the effort.