As the volume of digital platforms continues to increase and these platforms extend their reach around the world, the virtual in-tray of marketers is starting to pile up, writes Jasmin Fischer.

No longer are brands grappling solely with the interaction and content creation that have characterised Web 2.0 platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter; now they are diving head-first into decentralised virtual realms and existing side by side with their target markets. This is now emerging as one of the most innovative, dynamic and ever-changing social ecosystems to ever exist.

Talk about strange bedfellows. While many luxury and household brands such as Gucci, Coca-Cola and Nike have already begun to make this leap swiftly and stake their claim to the new frontier, ‘metaverse marketing’, concerns may start to rise with regards to the safety and efficacy of the metaverse, and how to engage with target audiences in this new virtual space.

For users, as well as brands, it’s no secret that trolling, abuse and other forms of bullying are prevalent on social platforms, with many questioning how harmful these are on a fundamental social level and their effects on mental health. However despite these criticisms, technology continues to advance further, attracting younger audiences to Web 3.0 and with them a whole host of potential grey areas.

The research

Given the lack of regulation in Web 3.0 spaces, at SHARE Creative we conducted extensive social intelligence research which focused on bullying across social platforms to examine the corollaries between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, with the goal of providing insight to users and marketers alike to help them navigate these new virtual realms safely as technology continues to evolve.

Given the nascent status of the metaverse and other like platforms, our research focused on the conversations of users in Web 2.0, which allowed us to anticipate potential bullying problems in Web 3.0.

We took as a starting point the phenomenon of viral content, such as memes and video which spread across social media and often focus on one particular person to mock or insult. Though users may consider themselves safe behind the anonymity of their screen, these practices can have very severe consequences in real life.

A key example of this is Rebecca Black, who was relentlessly criticised for her song and music video ‘Friday’, released when she was just 13 years old. As a result of this bullying, Black left school, and an astonishing 76% of respondents to an InStyle survey felt that this cyberbullying was justified. Not only does this case raise significant questions as to bullying (young) women in particular, but demonstrates how behaviours that users may consider without consequence can tangibly affect the lives of others, some thousands of miles away.

Beyond this isolated case, our research with our proprietary AI technology explored online conversation and segmented conversations into underlying key themes and drivers to identify the key pillars of concern in the metaverse.

This research revealed that among respondents, the main pillars of concern were:

  • racism and discrimination (10%);
  • criticism of meta itself (6%);
  • privacy and security (22%);
  • and the impacts of the metaverse on children (7%).

Far from abstract concerns, these forms of abuse are already well documented in Web 2.0 and beginning to occur in Web 3.0: stories have begun to arise of women being harassed in the metaverse, and Meta’s own CTO has admitted that ‘moderating what people say and how they act in the metaverse at any meaningful scale is practically impossible’.

Though social issues are perhaps beyond the scope of a marketer’s role, these user concerns are key for brands looking to expand their marketing strategy into the Metaverse – if they can’t protect online users, how can they adapt to empower digital groups to create safer metaverse communities?

How brands can respond

Key here for any brand will be to understand their current and target audiences. By learning how these groups interact online and in Web 3.0 spaces, marketers will be equipped to engage these users and in a way which is authentic, to foster a safer, engaged community.

But when it comes to building these communities, just being present isn’t enough. In order to outperform competitors, even established brands will need to come up with new and creative ways to cut through the digital noise and reach their target demographics.

As Web 3.0 continues to evolve, community managers will need to establish real-time relevance to catch the attention of younger audiences present in these spaces. Two effective ways to achieve this, regardless of brand, is to take a stance on topical issues and facilitate positive social interaction. Younger groups tend to be more socially engaged, and so by demonstrating their commitment to socio-ethical issues, brands can organically create loyalty that goes beyond the bottom line and that taps into the social conscience of target groups. Rather than relying on external regulation, it will be brands themselves that arbitrate on safeguarding, bringing a new dimension to brand stewardship by curating a holistic brand experience.

Impossible though it may be to create online spaces which are 100% safe for their users, the metaverse poses marketers and brand managers with a new set of possibilities. Rather than use this space with the sole purpose of selling, the unique geographies of the metaverse and other Web 3.0 worlds move away from the window shopping of Instagram, and towards an entirely immersive realm wherein brands and marketers can not only communicate and create, but instead become an integral part of these virtual frameworks.

Yes, the responsibility may be greater, but to the victor the spoils. We may only just be dipping our toe into the untapped potential of the metaverse, but it may spell an entirely different approach to marketing altogether, bringing brand and consumer closer than they have ever been before. Watch this (virtual) space.