Podcast

with Jasmine Bina

22: Strong Ties vs. Weak Ties in the Next Era of Brand Innovation

insights in culture

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What happens when the world suddenly reconfigures itself around a very different kind of relationship? The last 20 years of social innovation has leaned into weak ties: distant social relationships that allowed us to trust and extract value on platforms like Yelp, LinkedIn and Facebook. But the next 20 years are already shaping up to look very different. Strong social ties, our close-knit relationships with frequent interactions, are starting to emerge as the dominant threads of the social fabric. In this new era of increased intimacy with our immediate network, what we value and what we create move in a markedly new direction. We co-buy homes with friends, form politically aligned living communities, go deep into conversational chambers and band together in vision-led DAOs. The way we relate to one another is more profound, but also more narrow. What we demand of our network communities, and the brand landscape in general, becomes more high stakes. In this house episode, we’re talking to Concept Bureau’s Chief Strategist Jean-Louis Rawlence, about the huge implications for tech innovation, community building and business. When strong ties become the future of community, community becomes the new brand.

Podcast Transcript

MAY 24, 2022

23 min read

STRONG TIES VS. WEAK TIES IN THE NEXT ERA OF BRAND INNOVATION

00:12

Jasmine:
Welcome to Unseen Unknown. I’m Jasmine Bina.

00:18

Jasmine:
The town of Grafton, New Hampshire, has a problem with bears.

00:22

Audio Clip:
Well, despite the snow today, spring is here, and the black bears are beginning to wake up.

00:27

Jasmine:
Grafton has been overrun by bears not once, but twice in the past 10 years, and bear invasions continue to be a major issue to this day.

00:35

Audio Clip:
Melissa Champney’s husband woke her up in the middle of the night over the weekend. An unwanted guest had made his way into their mud room and was unable to get out. He kept saying, “There’s a giant bear. Do not let that bear in the house.”

00:50

Jasmine:
The people that live in this small town have dealt with more than just destroyed property. They’ve lost pets. They’ve suffered actual bear attacks and have somehow fostered a population of bears that is incredibly bold, often hanging out on porches in broad daylight.

01:03

Audio Clip:
He tore off all of the sheetrock, all of the insulation. He tore down screens. He did a lot of damage.

01:15

Jasmine:
From the outside, Grafton looks like a sleepy town with some curious wildlife; but not long ago, this sleepy town was the promise of paradise for over 20,000 Americans who pledged to move there and create a utopia of sorts for people that share the same political, social and moral values, and somehow that paradise has turned into black bear hell.

01:36

Jasmine:
The chain of events that brought this particular bear crashing into this couple’s mudroom, however, is a signal of something much bigger that’s been looming on our cultural horizon, weak social ties being replaced with strong social ties and the technologies that are fueling the next wave of innovation.

01:52

Jasmine:
In this house episode of Unseen Unknown, I’m talking again to Jean-Louis Rawlence, my co-founder at Concept Bureau, about the decline of weak ties and the ascent of strong ties, how strong ties are the future of community and how community is the new brand. I promise we’ll get back to the bears in a second, but let’s start our conversation with something equally curious. What are strong ties, and why after a decade of exploiting weak ties are we moving in this new direction?

02:21

Jean-Louis:
In order to understand the era of strong ties, we first have to understand the era of weak ties, which is really the last 20 years of innovation. If you look at who are the winners in the last 20 years, it was the networks. We had so many platforms that captured value from weak-tie networks, so some examples of this.

02:40

Before the era of Yelp and before the era of online reviews, you would need to find an expert. You need to find a travel expert or a blogger, someone you could trust who would tell you how to navigate a city, for example. When these platforms came about, what happened is, for the first time really ever, we trusted strangers en masse. We trusted weak ties we had very loose connections with to tell us this is the best place to go for breakfast. On LinkedIn, these weak-tie connections, connections that we don’t really have any mutual connections with, people with hundreds of connections, they were able to leverage that value when they needed to get a new job and actually capture and extract a ton of value from a weak-tie network.

03:20

We see this with Facebook Marketplace, with all just so many different social networks. We see us extracting value in new ways even in dating sites, these loose connections, things that tie you together very loosely. Really the last 20 years, we extracted value from weak ties. I think, to borrow the analogy here, this term, strong tie and weak tie, actually came out of a linguistic study. It was a really interesting story, actually. They did a study about how language changes. What are the causes of language?

03:50

 

I think it was that the Milroy and Milroy study in Belfast, and what they found was that weak ties bring more change. They bring more information almost inherently. You have many, many weak ties. You have a lot more information in the system, and so things can change faster, but what they found is that it was the deep ties that cemented that change and made it really stick, and so, in a network that had many deep ties, you introduced a lot of new terminology. The network would adopt one of these new terms as a new piece of language. What’s interesting in this study is, if you have a mix of strong ties and weak ties socially, what happens is you end up with one dominant term, but then that changes, and you end up with a new dominant term, and so, over time, there’s a bit of an evolution as there’s a mix of information coming in and change that’s happening.

04:40

 

The last 20 years really was just us codifying and extracting value out of our weak ties, and I think especially anyone, everyone going through the pandemic, we realized that weak ties leave a lot to be desired, and really it was our strong ties that would keep us company through that experience. That created a lot of value for us, and so my hypothesis here as we move into the era of strong ties is we’re about to see a lot of new innovation happen with our closer connections with our family, with our close friends in smaller communities, and this is really where the next generation, the next 10, 20 years of innovation of capital creation, capital and value capture is really going to take place, and so a very, very different dynamic that is going to unfold here because, in a weak-tie network, what did you have? You had information. You had speed. You had change that was very, very fast and rapid, but in a strong tie era, you’ve got a depth of change.

05:38

 

I think that’s what’s really interesting. We’ve seen so much rapid change, and so I really think that where we’re moving to is a fascinating place where we’re just going to see a lot of much deeper social change and innovation and cultural change on the back of new technologies.

05:54

Jasmine:
I think we understand what a weak tie is, but, a strong tie, it’s got to be more than just people you know, better. It can’t just be like your family and friends. What is the nature of a strong tie?

06:04

Jean-Louis:
It’s really someone who’s just embedded in your network. There is an influence factor when you have a friend or a family member that is part of your social circle that you connect with frequently and you have a lot of mutual connections. They’re really part of that much tighter sphere of influence. You might be exposed to a new language through someone that you don’t know who’s shared something viral on social media, but it’s really the people that you know that you codify that new language where that’s when you start using that new language and embedding that in your identity, and so I think that it’s that distinction between information coming in and change happening within.

06:40

Jasmine:
You’re not just talking about language here. You’re talking about overall behaviors. Is that right?

06:45

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I think the implications of innovation that’s going to get much more intimate in a lot of ways are going to be pretty profound. When you think about change, yeah, language is the most tangible, but I think we’re going to see a lot of social and cultural change especially.

07:00

Jasmine:
Let’s get into it then. What are some examples of places where we’re seeing innovation in strong ties versus weak ties?

07:06

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I think the implications of innovation that’s going to get much more intimate in a lot of ways are One of the most obvious stories here is the story of crypto. If you look at DAOs, decentralized autonomous organizations, really what you have here, the fundamental technology, is essentially almost like a community management infrastructure with a lot of trust baked in. You can trust that you can have multiple people co-invested in the same cause, the same project.

07:29

In a much more tight-knit, intimate community, you can affect change, so a really interesting example of this. There was a comic book project someone made based on one of these crypto punks. They made a comic book, and this is a piece of cultural collateral that is owned by a community, and so it’s not of a stretch of the imagination to imagine a world we’re headed to where, Marvel, you can actually have a stake. In Thor, for example, you can have a part ownership in those characters, and you now have a tight-knit community of fans that are financially invested in this, that have a unique language, that have a unique culture and community, but they have aligned incentives. They care about this character and they want to see it leveraged in pop culture, in movies and TV.

08:12

That’s just one really interesting example, but I think there are some ones that are much closer to home. If you look at the creator economy and the passion economy, what does that look like? We’re moving to a membership model. There’s an interesting analogy, as I was thinking about this thesis here, is that, for a long time, we’ve been told find your passion, and the economic model has been you find your passion, you sell that story on social media, whether it’s YouTube or Instagram, wherever, and you get followers, you amass cultural capital through that, and you hope to turn that often through advertising into revenue, but, now, you’re finding a much smaller group of fans, and you’re building communities around these passions, and so really maybe the adage of the era of strong ties, instead of find your passion, we’re moving to an era where it’s find your people.

08:58

Jasmine:
Yeah, so this makes me think of platforms like Patreon, places like that. Is this what you’re talking about?

09:04

Jean-Louis:
Exactly. They’re really becoming community management platforms. There’s a new kind of relationship that’s starting to emerge. Sure, they’re centered around one individual, but really these are people who all enjoy whatever kind of niche or vertical that is. They’re there for the love of that thing, and so I think this is really the beginning of a strong-tie infrastructure, these micro communities which are deeply interwoven. There’s this unique language that emerges out of these much tighter networks of people. Again, the point here and the value isn’t to have large networks, almost the value comes out of having small, much more intimate networks.

09:41

Jasmine:
It makes me think of Li Jin’s whole thesis around the creator economy where you used to need a thousand people who’d be paying $10 for your service or entertainment or a content or whatever it is. Now, it’s a matter of getting a hundred people that would pay a thousand dollars each. I think that that maybe shows the contrast between the first model is more of like a weak-tie model and the second model is more of a strong-tie model. It’s interesting because the business model here implicates the social model as well.

10:15

Jean-Louis:
Absolutely. The era of weak ties was an attention model. It was built around advertising, and it looks like where we’re going is the era of strong ties as a membership model. It’s very much about having that community. When you change the economic incentives, I think you’d change all of the dynamics.

10:31

Jasmine:
Right. Those are obvious examples. Where else do you see strong ties cementing in our culture?

10:39

Jean-Louis:
I think there’s one area which is fascinating. Not many people think about this, but a shareholder should have the ability to vote on what the company does, but I think something like 30% of the S&P is owned by either ETFs or index mutual funds, and so the point is that you’ve got a ton of capital with no means to actually influence these companies, but that’s starting to change. There’s a really fascinating company, Engine No. 1, and what they’re trying to do is get their shareholders to vote on what the company should do. A lot of this seems to focus on environmental action, and actually, Engine No. 1, this fund, managed to get a few dissident board members who are going to push much more environmental action into the board of ExxonMobil. They’re actually affecting this change, and they’re starting a new precedent.

11:27

Actually, the SEC has the proposal out right now where they’re going to standardize the voting required for the companies. We’re into the proxy season now, which is when you have a lot of these shareholder voting events that happen and these talks of what the company should vote on. Again, this is something that retail investors have been far removed from, but we’re going to start to see infrastructure here, and so shareholders and activist shareholders that we’re starting to hear more and more stories around hedge funds that are really pushing specific agendas in their investments, I think we’re going to see a lot of infrastructure in capital as well in terms of acting more and more like communities.

12:04

I mean, could you imagine an investment horizon where your shareholders act like a community? I think it’s a very different proposition. You may invest in a company you don’t like because you want to change its course. It’s not necessarily a financial thing, but it’s a social obligation there. I think the impact of strong-tie infrastructure, we don’t know just like we really didn’t know what was happening at the beginning of social media the scale of change. Again, I think we’re on a whole different territory now.

12:29

Jasmine:
You bring up an interesting point, too, because that highlights the fact that strong ties aren’t just going to be showing up in new spaces in net new innovations, but places where you currently see weak ties maybe transitioning into strong tie frameworks instead. What are some of the signals that you’re seeing? Yes, there are examples of deep-tie networks and infrastructures forming, but what are some of the whole canary-in-the-coal-mine signals that might tell us that this is bigger than just some isolated incidences?

13:02

Jean-Louis:
Yeah, I think there’s so many signals, and that’s what’s interesting here is it really does feel like everything is telling us this is where we’re headed. If you look at gaming, gaming has always been on the leading edge of cultural change. You see so many behaviors that played out in gaming, and then they played out in social media later on. You can really look at that as an early indicator industry. That’s a huge industry, too.

13:24

I remember, I think it was early 2000s. World of Warcraft came out, and I was part of a guild, and it felt really cool to be part of the small community that would do raids and hang out together. I had my character’s name on their website, and it felt really cool. I really think this is the kind of world that we’re headed to where we’re part of a lot of small, tight-knit branded communities.

13:45

One interesting thing here that’s connected to this is that you’ve got a lot of top talent from large companies leaving some of the best-paid jobs out there. The CFO of Lyft, some VPs from Google leave these companies to join crypto companies, to join DAOs, and that’s why I think what’s a really interesting benchmark here is that you’ve got top talent leaving to join essentially what look and feel like communities, but the difference is here is that these are communities where, yes, there’s an element of profit sharing, but there’s also an element of control. These are people who can control the destiny of these companies not just because they’re in senior positions, but because they actually have ownership stakes. Again, the DAO is providing a new infrastructure for them actually being able to vote on how this new kind of organization arranges itself and moves forward.

14:35

A lot of these big tech companies are really starting to sweat here because these communities are becoming a really powerful draw for top talent. If that’s the case now, fast forwarding 10, 20 years, that might be the new benchmark of the kind of companies people want to belong to, companies where they have a great sense of ownership and control of where the company goes and a larger percentage of the remuneration of the company. Now, that creates tension against the old guard, traditional companies with the traditional compensation models, and the new guards of crypto companies doing a lot of these things, so I don’t think we can underestimate how strong of effect this driver of being part of a community being part of a strong time network is.

15:18

Another area that we’re seeing is in, it’s an interesting signal, but I would not underestimate it, is co-buying, which is when two people or two or more people, a group of friends, let’s say, buy a house together, whether that’s two single parents helping co-parent each other’s kids or a group of friends just getting into the property ladder and, essentially, the roommates, but they own the home.

15:40

In the era of strong ties, one of the things that you have in a small community is far more trust and, with a lot of trust, you can start to do different kinds of innovation. Just like the era of weak ties had a lot of information innovation, I think what we might see in the era of strong ties is more financial innovation. The 30-year mortgage really became popularized in the early 1950s, and it came to define the American city as we know it today. The American suburb, just life as we know it, the freeways, all of that infrastructure was built around the single family home which was really a product of the 30-year mortgage of people being able to afford and buy and incentivized in the construction of single family homes.

16:20

In this new era, it was fascinating if we saw that much disruption with the 30-year mortgage. What does the new mortgage instrument look like for housing in the era of strong ties? I think it’s quite possible we’ll get something and, potentially, fast forwarding many, many years from now, we may see a similar order of magnitude impact based on this new infrastructure. I really don’t think you can underestimate how significant the long tail impacts of these financial instruments could be.

16:50

Jasmine:
I think these are all amazing examples that lead to something much bigger, and it’s something that we talk about at our agency when we’re doing futurism sessions or trying to do brand strategy. You bring up this phrase to the team all the time. Community is the new brand. What do you really mean by that, because community has always been a big part of brand, but when you say community is the new brand, what’s the step change that’s happening here?

17:16

Jean-Louis:
I think we’re setting a new benchmark on how people navigate the world and navigate brands. We’ve been in a predominantly advertising model for brand for a long time, which is really an awareness issue, but now I think awareness is becoming maybe more commoditized and what we need instead is engagement. We need connection. There’s too much information to filter, and so communities are the benchmark of whether we can trust something.

17:42

I think there’s so many things that are going on. There’s a lot of precedent right now of brands creating and leveraging communities and creating tremendous value in doing so. Airbnb’s host community is a perfect case study of how they’ve created a community that has developed so much retention, so much evangelism and really, in effect, massively increased the lifetime value of the hosts on their platform.

18:09

We’re going to start to see that communities are really how you generate and solidify value. The challenge there is that the rules of building a community are very, very different from the rules of building an audience base or a customer base, and so there’s really new almost supply chains that companies need to build inside of themselves, new skills that we don’t have an awful lot of maturity for.

18:31

Again, with crypto companies, what’s really interesting is that it’s almost a community first proposition, value prop second in terms of actually how they capture value, and so these are companies, these are organizations that are generating a lot of expertise and really building the playbook on how to build effective communities. I think, as a lot of legacy companies like to call it, they’re going to have to start following those playbooks to build that because that’s really how you generate value out of your audience. It’s no longer attracting people in. It’s building lifetime value, building retention, engagement, loyalty, advocacy, and I think that’s where it gets really interesting.

19:06

Jasmine:
Before we get into the rules of building this new kind of community, because I think that’s the most important part, I just want to highlight again for all the brand new listeners listening, your community is your new trust signal. What you’re saying here is it’s not enough to have a Facebook group. It’s not enough to have a place where people can chat or a board where people can gather. It’s the depths and strength of the ties in that community and the culture of the community that you’ve created that tell people whether they can trust your brand or not. That’s a wildly different signal than the signals we’ve seen in the past.

19:44

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. A lot of this comes down to exactly what you’re saying. It’s trust and authenticity. Your brand tells people this is the world that we’re building. Well, now you need a community to prove that that’s actually what you are doing, because it’s so easy to manufacture the message and tell people that this is what we’re doing without actually doing that. Customers are getting far more sensitive, and how do you filter the noise? Again, it comes down to community.

20:07

Jasmine:
Having a platform with a lot of people on it is not a community. LinkedIn is not a community.

20:13

Jean-Louis:
Absolutely.

20:14

Jasmine:
What are some of the rules now for creating what this new kind of community looks like?

20:20

Jean-Louis:
I think part of it is you need to platform a conversation, and platform is an important thing. To platform a conversation means you are posing the question, but you are letting your community have the dialogue. In effect, what you have to do is give up a bit of ownership. Instead of telling, you have to listen and you have to answer the questions that your community has. Part of that is almost an act of co-creation. If you really zoom out, that’s what this looks like.

20:45

Jasmine:
What you mean is like raising the voices of others.

20:49

Jean-Louis:
It’s not about you anymore. It’s about the value that you generate, and a lot of that comes from the world that you’re building. You want people to authentically be aligned with that value, and that’s really where they start to drive identity from. Again, coming back to that notion of find your people, not your passion, a lot of that is how do you find your identity? In the find-your-passion world, your performing identity. Now, it’s the proof of that identity is in the people that you spend time with, and so you need to have that authentic passion and that value generation that really creates a sense of identity for a specific community.

21:25

Jasmine:
Doesn’t this mean though that you have to be willing to let conversations get pretty deep or to have more of a dialogue with your audience, really be able to listen and just commit so many more resources to what community building is? It just feels risky. What would you say to people who feel that when you describe this?

21:46

Jean-Louis:
Sure. So, the dawn of cultish new religions in the US, which is around the 70’s, really corresponds to tWell, I mean another word for that is vulnerability, and I think that’s really what it is. There’s an intimacy that people are asking of brands and of the communities and the people in those brands and the faces of those communities, and so I think that, yeah, companies have to be more vulnerable, but that’s the point is people are looking for that, and that’s the differentiating signal.

22:04

The companies that are not willing to be vulnerable cannot be authentic, and I think that’s where in a deluge where there’s too much information you look for those authentic signals, and that’s the whole point. It’s a new muscle, and I’m sure it’s making a lot of people very uncomfortable, but I really feel that this is the new benchmark for how brands are going to have to operate. This is the new driver of value in brand. It’s the community.

22:29

Jasmine:
By definition, does this have to be kind of flat or decentralized? Is that also a factor here?

22:37

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s an element of flattening, but that’s not to say you kind of thought leaders that are adding value. I mean, you can have some sense of hierarchy. It’s really just a feeling of control and a feeling of community ownership. That’s a big part of it. It’s feeling my presence here as a consumer, as an advocate of this brand and as part of an invested community. It is valued and meaningful. I think that’s really the most important benchmark. I think, within that, you can have structures. Obviously, a lot of communities, take the creator economy, they’re built around individuals so that there is a sense of hierarchy there which I think a lot of times people are happy with. It’s really that they want to have a conversation rather than be told what’s happening, and that’s the key difference. It’s a different kind of experience.

23:21

Jasmine:
Yeah, and as you’re talking, I’m realizing, too, that mission-driven brands will probably not be as competitive here in this future that you’re describing as vision-driven brands. What do you think of that?

23:35

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. I think that we identify a version of the world that a company is creating is really what’s compelling and really what’s driving identity. It feels really good to have a positive impact in people’s lives, but a specific version of the future that you’re building, that’s what I think creates a much stronger community because there’s more of an identity and a set of values there, and so I’d say that the vision is really where you can create a lot of specificity, and strong communities have a lot of specificity.

24:06

Jasmine:
If you had to project forward what the signals today are going to mean in five to 10 years or maybe, let’s say, even 20, what’s some of the stuff that you are envisioning on the horizon?

24:17

Jean-Louis:
Just like social media and the era of weak ties created Coachella, it’s like a perfect output. Someone described it as a content festival that has music in the background. Really, that’s what people are doing. That is a perfect embodiment of what happens in the era of weak ties.

24:32

I think what we’re going to see is that these communities are going to start having physical manifestations. We’re going to see communities, like physical communities built up, and so there’s some really interesting examples of this. El Salvador has the proposed Bitcoin city, and they’re going to build an entire city built around bitcoin infrastructure as payments and for all sorts of different systems in the city and you’re not really, really leaning into decentralization. There’s actually a lot of movements, many of which have not been too successful, but a lot of movements in and around the crypto space embody it in physical places.

25:07

There are some communities I think in Honduras. Prospera is one, and really the whole point of this is to build a physical utopia is how they sell it. They’re creating special economic zones where they can operate a little bit outside of the rule sets so they don’t have a police force. They have a private security force. They don’t have a court system. They have an arbitration building, and they don’t have citizenship, but you have a membership and a social agreement that you have to sign. There’s going to be a lot of experimentation until we figure out how to do this right, but I think it’s going to be very, very interesting.

25:43

There’s a brilliant article in The Atlantic recently, Why the Last 10 years of the US Have Been Uniquely Stupid and, in that, Jonathan Haidt talks about how social media has diminished trust in a lot of institutions. You’re no longer allowed to speak out in dissent of something because your own side may come after you, and so I think what’s interesting here is that the offshoot of that is you’ve got lots of disenfranchised groups, these niche communities, and more and more we’re seeing that with social media with the algorithm funneling people to smaller and smaller communities where they all believe in a certain version of the truth and it’s different from another community over there.

26:21

These communities are buying up land, oftentimes, in Latin America and trying to build these communities. They’re trying to codify these digital communities as physical communities, and I think really we’re going to see a lot of that to come. Nomadland is a great example of how people are starting to think differently about how they live. I really think that the convergence of community, communal living and crypto infrastructure, there’s just a lot of values that overlap and a lot of opportunity there. I think we’re going to see a lot of disruption.

26:50

Jasmine:
What’s Nomadland?

26:51

Jean-Louis:
The movie telling the story of a lot of people who can’t afford to retire in homes.

26:56

Jasmine:
Oh, right, yes.

26:57

Jean-Louis:
They live in, essentially, communities in camper vans, but the point here is that the traditional model of retiring in your home that you’ve paid off I think is going to wane, and we’re going to start to see something very new and very different emerge out of that.

27:12

Jasmine:
Yeah. That’s another point there. We need innovations in the strong-tie arena to emerge because there are parts of our everyday lives like retirement that are literally failing. So, of course, there’d be a need for innovation there. Tell me more about these communities and community living.

27:31

Jean-Louis:
Yeah. There’s a really funny story that I think serves as a good reminder. In any new area of innovation, it takes a while to figure out how to do things well. There’s a great story of a free town in New Hampshire. A whole bunch of libertarians got together and moved into a town, and they were going to make it a libertarian utopia. It shortly got overrun by bears because everyone wanted to and do their own things. Some people would feed the bears. There was no kind of unified system of bear-proof trash storage. They didn’t build the infrastructure, and so it did not end well. Actually, it ended pretty horrifically. The bears would eat pets and attack people. Anyway, that’s a story of how not to do that, but I think that the principle remains that there are a lot of people out there who want to form these niche communities.

28:20

We’re seeing a massive rise in homeschooling. When you homeschool, you start to, it’s as a really good example of how you remove the ability to get out of your own echo chamber, and I think, especially in the metaverse, it’s going to get very poignant here of you can spend your entire week without ever meeting someone who thinks something different than you. You have the ability to do that. Now, you can order groceries. Before, you’d bump into someone the very least in these public spaces you would meet someone who might expose you to a different way of thinking, but more and more, we’re removing the need to ever bump into someone who doesn’t agree with you.

28:55

With that fractured reality, I think we’re just going to codify that in physical and digital spaces. I do think the metaverse is going to be a major force here of creating spaces that people hang out that really are built essentially around echo chambers. I mean, I think it’s going to be a really interesting question to see. Do we have a force that acts against echo chambers in the metaverse because, in our research with kids at least, the amount of time they spend gaming is really quite incredible, and so I think that the time spent around games and the social dynamics around that are really going to shape the next generation in a very meaningful way.

29:32

Jasmine:
This is the dark side of strong ties. It seems like the brighter side of strong ties is the fact that you can actually form deeper connections and more meaningful communities. The dark side of that is those communities then can become more insulated from the rest of the world. I mean, generally, it sounds like it just could possibly breed intolerance or disconnection from other groups, I guess you could say. This is an example of the divergent systems we talked about on this podcast many times before where the incentives of a system don’t necessarily match up with the goals of a system. If you had to say, between the light side and the dark side of things, how do you think this stuff will all net out?

30:10

Jean-Louis:
Well, I think there is an important biological precedent here. Dunbar’s number, from studies, it seems that when we would hunt gatherers is we would gather in tribes of about a hundred to 150, and that’s the natural limit of how many social connections we can really maintain at any one time, and so it feels like it stands to reason that maybe we are moving towards a more tribal-like society, and that’s what our natural proclivity is is we want to be in these larger tribes.

30:38

A lot of friction comes from trying to get everyone into one large tribe. Maybe that’s just not the natural disposition of being a human and so, for better or for worse, we may see that of a lot more fractured realities just because of almost a return towards our natural instincts. I think, technology has brought us away from our natural instincts and maybe, with more technology where the pendulum swings back and we return to that.

31:03

Jasmine:
For the record, that’s not everybody’s point of view. It’s the agency, but, Jean-Louis, that’s his point of view. Okay.

31:10

Jean-Louis:
Well, I think it’s an important force. At the very least, it’s really important to understand that this is a possible future. What I think is just as important here is that we’re seeing the story of communities and the story of strong ties play out in just so many disparate areas, from gaming to investing to living arrangements to entertainment to education with cohort-based learning. We didn’t quite talk about that, but that’s another huge force. Learning is really thriving around the model of cohort based learning. There’s a lot of questions about long-term retention and things like that, but it does seem that there’s a tremendous amount of value captured in creating more cohort-based learning.

31:50

Jasmine:
Isn’t all education like that right now? Don’t you graduate with your cohort?

31:54

Jean-Louis:
Well, this is in response to a lot of MOOCs and asynchronous online learning. We’re finding that just the completion rates are very, very different, and so, as far as efficacy goes, it does appear that communal-based learning is a better model. Again, we’re seeing it in so many different layers. To me, this feels like a strong signal. Obviously, when you start to project 20, 50 years out, it gets very, very fuzzy, but the general trend is there.

32:22

Jasmine:
When does it make sense to be a community brand that is focused on creating strong ties, and when does it not make sense?

32:33

Jean-Louis:
Yeah, I think that’s a really important question. With all this stuff happening, when do you make the leap? I think part of that comes down to if you want to play in culture or not, if you want to become a culturally relevant brand. For a lot of brands, it’s not worth it. Honestly, the ROI, the investment is pretty high. If you are in a maybe not as commodified space where there is just a simple value proposition with not a ton of competition, then maybe you don’t need to.

33:00

You can capture a lot of the value in the traditional models of advertising, but where we’re seeing the most competitive brand landscapes, where there’s a lot of innovation happening, where there’s a lot of change happening and, importantly, a lot of investment, investment always turns into add dollars, and so where you’re seeing floods of capital enter, you may have to play in culture in order to stay relevant and stay ahead of the curve.

33:23

I think what’s interesting here is that if we’re moving to a post-advertising economy or a model here over a very long time span, community is maybe the only thing that you have that’s truly defensible. Otherwise, you’re just buying attention, and the minute you stop paying for attention, you stop getting attention. Whereas community does have a flywheel effect. It’s a great way of generating organic engagement. It’s a great way of leveraging influence. There’s a long ROI, so when your space is getting very competitive and when it’s hard to stand out and hard to be defensible, this may be a frontier that you want to enter.

33:56

Jasmine:
I get the sense, that good or bad, something about all this change really excites you. What’s the one thing that really gets you revved up about these signals?

34:05

Jean-Louis:
Well, I mean, I think that it’s so easy to look back and not realize just how much changed and just how quickly it changed. I mean, 20 years ago, it was a wildly different experience of being a human. You could argue that technology today is an extension of being a human. I think that, if this is right, if the era of weak ties was the speed of change and the speed of information accelerated, and now in the era of strong ties, it’s the depth of change that’s going to happen. I don’t think we can underestimate just how much change is coming. I think that, as someone who enjoys the future, I find that tremendously exciting one way or another.

34:45

Jasmine:
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Unseen Unknown. If you’re new here and like what you’re listening to, leave us a review. You can always get more of our brand strategy and culture articles, videos and podcasts at our agency website, conceptbureau.com. While you’re there, you can also sign up for our awesome newsletter. I promise it will be one of your favorite emails to receive. Thanks for really listening and we’ll catch you next time.

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