Why Disney partnered with @WeRateDogs, and what’s behind the rise in ‘stanning’?

Twitter Canada’s managing director Paul Burns describes the social platform as the “conversational layer of the internet,” with literally millions of discussions unfolding across the platform in real time.

But Twitter is also a highly fluid platform, with topics bubbling up and quickly disappearing. It can be difficult for brands to know where and when to engage in such a fast-changing environment, and as we’ve seen over the years, the penalties for a Twitter misstep can be severe.

To better help brands navigate the platform, Twitter held its #Trending2020 Insights presentation on Wednesday. During the hour-long event, executives presented the findings of its analysis of the billions of Twitter conversations that took place between 2016 and 2019 to determine which topics are resonating with its more than 330 million users worldwide.

“When enough people are talking about the same thing, a trend is born,” says Twitter. “And when new trends show consistency and growth over time, we can see what people are starting to care about more and more. That’s culture taking shape.”

The analysis discovered three key trend categories—blended realities (the morphing of the physical and virtual worlds), creative currency and fandom—encompassing 15 topics and literally dozens of hashtags, from #AI and #DigitalTransformation, to #SupportSmallStreamers #SingSnap and #FanArtFriday and #ChoiceFandom.

Jamie Michaels, Twitter’s head of brand strategy, said that one of the biggest trends with implications for marketers is a shift from the importance of influencers to creators. “It’s a little less about how many followers you have and a little more about what your craft is,” he said. “In 2020, the trend is that everybody is a creator.”

One of the most notable manifestations of this trend is a rise in the concept of video creators, with conversation around this particular segment increasing 262% over the past four years. It’s also a constituency that’s ripe for partnership deals, said Michaels, pointing to Samsung Canada’s 2019 partnership with DirectorX and a group of up-and-coming directors as an example of how brands can leverage this particular phenomenon.

“Brands partnering with creators who are starting to get known… those aren’t the classic people on a PR person’s list, but they break through,” Michaels told The Message after his presentation. “They have authentic audiences [and] I think brands should be more attuned to who those people are.”

Podcasting is also a growing phenomenon, with Twitter noting a 736% increase in conversations around the subject—with further room for growth. “We have not yet reached peak podcast,” said Michaels. Other trends under the so-called creative currency banner include a rise in the unsigned musician hashtag (a 113% increase) and side hustles (+150%).

Some Twitter users are also converting their side hustle into a revenue stream, with Michaels pointing to the popular Twitter account We Rate Dogs—which features pictures and videos of unbearably cute dogs accompanied by a brief write-up and a rating out of 10 (it’s always more than 10)—as a prime example.

The account has garnered more than 8 million followers, and Twitter’s data analytics discovered that people who follow the account are more likely than the general population to adore animal animation and Disney. That insight was the basis of the entertainment giant’s 2019 partnership with the account to promote its 2019 movie Dumbo.

Twitter also notes a 204% increase in individuals talking about things they have created, and a 10,355% increase in illustration art, particularly around subjects like fantasy and anime. “It’s such a large conversation around something I wouldn’t expect on the platform,” said Michaels.

Among Twitter’s handouts to attendees was a “2020 Twitter Fun Dates Calendar” listing national days (don’t forget Random Act of Kindness Day on Feb. 17, or Pi Day on March 14) that marketers can activate against.

In recent years a number of marketing  experts such as Mark Ritson and U.K. Researcher Peter Field have criticized marketers for over-relying on activations of that sort, saying the focus on short term wins is undermining brand efficacy.

But Michaels advocates for what he calls a “reaction budget” that marketers can use to engage with consumers at appropriate moments. “If you want to build a brand you have to do that always-on stuff, but you need to have this other set of goals, which is becoming culturally relevant,” he said.

Maggie Chen, a researcher with Twitter (top photo), also noted a 513% increase in mentions of the word “stanning,” in which Twitter users directly address a favourite entertainer in the hopes of getting a response or mention.

Stanning has its origins in the Eminem song “Stan,” which documents the relationship between a rapper and an obsessed fan. “It’s what makes users feel closer to their idols,” said Chen. “It’s what blurs the line between fantasy and reality.”

The Twitter presentation also noted a 102% increase in conversations around LARPing, otherwise known as Live Action Role Playing, in which people physically portray favourite characters from TV shows, movies, games, etc. It’s basically The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the internet generation.

“Fandom is real, and it lives on Twitter. It starts on Twitter,” said Chen.

It also noted a 367% increase in conversations around the idea of immersive retail. “This conversation is really about people’s desire, when they’re shopping, to have an experience,” said Burns during his presentation. “This is almost like having an amusement park ride when they’re in the shopping experience. We’re calling it retail-tainment.”

Examples include Canada Goose’s newly introduced cold rooms that simulate the conditions in which people wear its parkas and The Endy Lodge at Toronto’s Stackt Market, which enables people to experience what it’s like to sleep on one of its mattresses.


Chris Powell