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STATE OF PUBLIC DISCOURSE
What the culture creators want you to know
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A report by Sonic Boom, in collaboration with reddi...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
state of Public discourse
What the culture creators want you to know
For years, we...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Table of Contents
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Introduction 4
Methodology 7
Understandi...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Introduction
As marketers and individuals in the field of
communications, we’re loo...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Why study dominant discourse on the Internet?
The Internet is a critical facilitat...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Methodologically speaking, the analysis of discourse in the online world through r...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Methodology
We identify and analyze thousands of online conversations that
are rel...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
UNDERSTANDING EMERGING VALUE SYSTEMS
To understand emerging value systems on the I...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
CORPORATIONS
By examining the most popular and engaging conversations
around some ...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
1: General Level of Distrust
Audiences express a general level of skepticism and c...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
corporations in the interest of marketing their products and
services. This leads ...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
revenue and profitability – “it’s okay to be Apple if you keep improving people’s l...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
GOVERNMENTS & POLITICS
The second step in identifying emerging values on the Inter...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Dedication to the ideals of individualism also guides the strong opposition to big...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
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Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators	 	 15
Conversation and ...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
PEOPLE
The last step in identifying emerging values on the Internet is the analysi...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
The Power of Many
reddit.com thrives on crowdsourcing. From encouraging
acts of ch...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
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Individual contributions
Online conversations on reddit.com show that being a go...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
When we put together the identified perceptions around Corp...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
IMPLICATIONS oF THE CULTURAL LENS ON YOUR
ORGANIZATION
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1 Examine your brand’s re...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
PERCEPTIONS OF KEY INDUSTRY VERTICALS
If we leverage the identified emerging value ...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
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AUTOMOTIVE
In the automotive sector, there is a clear distinction between brands...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
to non-followers or to those lacking a certain minimum level of knowledge on the s...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Tesla captures hearts and minds
Tesla Motors has attracted a lot of attention in r...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Most interestingly, Tesla is seen as a victim of the political system. Audiences a...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
HEALTHCARE
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The issue of fairness takes centre stage in conversations about healt...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
A number of issues in this context took centre stage in the second half of 2013:
B...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Sugar as a drug
Audiences liken the use of sugar in the food and beverage industry...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM


Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators	 	 29
While the conversation is...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Adherence to the scientific method
As one of the three foundational values driving ...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
recourse to scientific studies. For example, while audiences stand behind the value...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
ENTERTAINMENT
Television takes centre stage in conversations around entertainment,...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
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Morality in dispute
Characters that challenge the rules of morality and conven...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
entertainment. A recent example
involved a dissection of some of the
most surprisi...
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Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators	 	 35
A conversatio...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
TELECOMMUNICATIONS
The perception of the telecommunications industry in Canada is ...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
as Teksavvy, Wind, and Mobilicity. To further extend their support for the smaller...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
while others praised its work against the “Fair for Canada” public relations campa...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
Interestingly, despite all the negative perception towards the “big three”, audien...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
CONCLUSION
What does examining the state of dominant discourse
on the Internet tel...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
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HAVE AN OPINION?
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Is your industry or vertical missing in this report? Interest...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
APPENDIX 1
What do we mean by ‘libertarian’ values?
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When using the term ‘liberta...
State of Public Discourse	 	 SONIC BOOM
APPENDIX 2
Why studying online content also teaches us about
emerging value system...
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State of public discourse: What the culture creators want you to know

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The State of Public Discourse report will provide Canadian brands and organizations with an overview of the key findings surrounding consumer beliefs and values that are forecast for 2015. The report's findings are based on a unique analysis of thousands of public conversations by Canadians on reddit.com over the past year. One of the most influential communities online, reddit drew over 731 million Unique Visitors from across the globe in 2013, including over 7.4 million Canadians.

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State of public discourse: What the culture creators want you to know

  1. 1. STATE OF PUBLIC DISCOURSE What the culture creators want you to know ! A report by Sonic Boom, in collaboration with reddit.com. 
 Photo Credit: WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com)
  2. 2. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM state of Public discourse What the culture creators want you to know For years, we’ve looked at the real world for clues on where our culture is headed - fashion, art, music, television and more, all provide an insight into the evolving values of our world. Now we are faced with a very different scenario - an increasingly active online audience that spend more time interacting with people online than they do offline. But what does this mean? It means we can now mine this data to forecast our future, recognize the evolving nature of people, and understand their values and beliefs. 
 Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 2 Source: ultraBobban
  3. 3. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Table of Contents ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Introduction 4 Methodology 7 Understanding emerging value systems 8 Implications of value systems on your organization 20 Perceptions of key industry verticals 21 Automotive 22 Healthcare 26 Entertainment 32 Telecommunications 36 Conclusion 40 Appendix 43 Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 3
  4. 4. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Introduction As marketers and individuals in the field of communications, we’re looking to better understand audiences, forecast trends, engrain our brands/products into the fabric of community-based conversations, and drive advocacy organically in an increasingly crowded online marketplace. Leaders in organizations are looking to stay au courant with evolving Internet culture and the evolving needs of audiences to ensure business models stay relevant. And those interested in Internet culture are looking to better understand its visceral connection to humanity, and how it continues to influence the nature of relationships. As much as we'd like to think there's no method to the madness on the Internet, behind every new idea, meme, community and movement, are people. Empowered by a distinct set of shared beliefs and values, online activity reflects people’s view of the world and guides their responses to situations and brands. So why are certain brands revered online, while others can’t seem to do anything right? Is there a discernible pattern to why some things turn into trends? Why do certain ideas turn into memes while others just fizzle away? With that in mind, we began to look for dominant patterns in online discourse to identify the underlying value and belief systems that determine how the most influential online audiences behave in various contexts. ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 4 Source: kagey_b “The internet now offers us a great way to forecast trends, and understand our culture. TREND FORECASTING SONIC BOOM
  5. 5. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Why study dominant discourse on the Internet? The Internet is a critical facilitator of public engagement that cannot be ignored. Driving discourse in ways that have never before been imagined, the online world defines and influences trends and public opinion. In this new reality, having a finger on the pulse of online conversation in any given context can become a competitive advantage for organizations in any industry. Leveraging reddit.com as a lens into the pulse of the Internet Over the past few years, reddit.com has emerged as one of the most influential communities on the Internet, launching everything from memes about popular culture, to large-scale movements across the globe. Widely regarded as the “front page of the Internet”, it is frequented by early adopters of technology, geeks, and culture creators. Unsurprisingly, reddit has attracted the attention of some of the world’s most prominent artists, writers, politicians and leaders. Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sir David Attenborough, Chris Hadfield, and many more have participated in live discussions on reddit, in the hope of influencing public opinion of various issues and campaigns. In 2013, reddit drew over 731 million Unique Visitors from across the Globe, including over 7.4 million Canadians each month, with an average time on site of over 18 minutes! The numbers are staggering. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 5 A conversation between Bill Gates and thousands of members of the community reddit.com.
  6. 6. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Methodologically speaking, the analysis of discourse in the online world through reddit allows us to look at thousands of online conversations on a variety of topics (from religion and politics to health care and technology), and apply a social sciences lens to the data. This enables us to identify emerging value and belief systems that define communities of people, the meanings created around brands, products and industries, and the future impact of events on public perception. Some notable events showcasing reddit’s influence on the Internet include: • Through the support of the reddit community, comedian Louis C.K has sold over a million dollars worth of online content. • In 2009, reddit started the largest “secret santa” gift exchange in the world. In 2013 it boasted 117,956 participants from 160 countries, and almost $4 Million spent in gifts and shipping. • In 2012, reddit influenced an Internet blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act in the United States. Other participants included Google and Wikipedia. On numerous occasions, the reddit community has raised awareness, money, and resources for various issues that matter – over $600,000 in support of public education, over $185,000 to rebuild Haiti, $65,000 (in 24 hours!) for an orphanage in Kenya, a community dedicated to the act of ordering pizza for someone in need of a helping hand, over $30,000 for a terminally ill cancer patient, and the list goes on and on. Given its significant impact and presence on the Internet, it is a natural conclusion to leverage the community as a doorway into our current culture online, and as a portent of our collective future.
 Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 6
  7. 7. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Methodology We identify and analyze thousands of online conversations that are relevant to Canadian reddit users across a range of topics. These include government and politics, economics, corporations and brands, people and culture. Our process begins with identifying the 50 most popular sub-reddits (sub-communities on various topics within reddit.com) among Canadian users. Within each of these 50 sub-reddits, we identify the 50 topics with the most engagement over the past 12 months, resulting in 2,500 identified topics and over 20,000 comments. We then proceed to identify patterns and interpret meanings behind the words being used by audiences to communicate with one another. This allows us to identify the underlying values, beliefs and attributes that inform consumer perceptions, understand how online activity shapes discourse and relationships in various industries, and establish baselines for forecasting future trends.
 Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 7 A visualization of communities most connected to Canada. Source: yasiv.com
  8. 8. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM UNDERSTANDING EMERGING VALUE SYSTEMS To understand emerging value systems on the Internet, we assessed the dominant topics among Canadian reddit.com users over the past year. Specifically, we looked to identify perceptions of corporations, governments and people, with the aim of establishing a framework that can be used to understand evolving belief systems in today’s hyper-connected digital world. Over the next few sections, this report will summarize our findings and discuss the emerging value system that is guiding and informing how audiences perceive brands, products, people and things. ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 8 Source: Stephen D. Melkisethian
  9. 9. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM CORPORATIONS By examining the most popular and engaging conversations around some of the largest brands/corporations in Canada and the rest of the world (as discussed by Canadians on reddit), we can pinpoint two attributes that define how audiences scrutinize the actions of corporations in Canada and abroad. 1. General level of distrust 2. Celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 9 Source: Daquella manera
  10. 10. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM 1: General Level of Distrust Audiences express a general level of skepticism and cynicism regarding the role of corporations in society. This perception stems from what audiences believe are the underlying truths about the way corporations function in Canada and abroad. When speaking about general distrust in corporations in Canada, the reddit.com community presents two arguments: 1.1 Large Corporations Are Inefficient A commonly held (and rarely contested) belief is that the larger the corporation is, the more inefficient its operations are. In the Canadian context, this translates into the notion that consumers bear the consequences of this inefficiency in the form of higher costs, ineffective service, contractual lock-ins, etc. The most commonly cited example is the Telecommunications Industry in Canada, with the three largest providers often mentioned negatively. Commonly referred to as “Robellus” (Rogers+Bell+Telus), the “big three” are cited frequently in discussions about corporations overcharging consumers for mediocre services. 1.2 Large Corporations Are Unfair It is important to understand that as it pertains to the overall perception of Corporations, audiences do not take offense to the idea of profits or revenue growth. However, they are concerned with how those profits are made, and at what cost (to people, the economy and the environment). Hot button issues that drive discourse on the topic of fairness include: 1.2.1 The collusion of corporate and government interests are often believed to come at the expense of consumers. For example, there is an immense amount of discussion around Verizon’s failed attempt to enter the Canadian market, which is widely believed to be a result of the government “being in bed” with Canadian telecommunications providers, and thus preventing a free market system from prevailing in the country. 1.2.2 The subjective and selective use of scientific evidence in healthcare and pharmaceutical product marketing is another popular topic of much debate. Audiences believe that not all information – especially scientific research data – is shared by Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 10 “I'm just saying it will be much of the same. Canadians have proven that they can and will pay a lot of money for the novelty of a cell phone, to think that any company coming in will have any sort of differing opinion on a long term is just foolish. Any immediate lower prices will be solely to buy customer base, and will not be long term. They have the backing in the states to even run at a loss, and they will. When they buy enough customer base that price will jack up, and why not? they know people will pay it.” A comment about Verizon’s entry into Canada not helping consumers.
  11. 11. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM corporations in the interest of marketing their products and services. This leads to the perception that the welfare of consumers is ignored and often risked, further distancing corporations from the very people they’re looking to serve. 2: Celebration of entrepreneurship The entrepreneurial and innovative spirit is celebrated in community discourse on reddit.com, and corporations/brands perceived to embody that spirit receive great support. Interestingly, audiences make clear distinctions between companies that claim to innovate vs. those that truly look at changing the way we live, work, and play. Consequently, certain companies such as Tesla Motors rank highly in these conversations for everything from its products to its business model (Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are also talked about a great deal). However, what is most interesting is the way conversations of this nature use the term innovation to justify and defend a company’s high growth in Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 11 Source: reddit.com/r/canada “Tim Hortons stores are not corporate; they are franchises, the majority of which are single store operations since Timmy's does not permit non-resident franchise ownership, and hence, are the very definition of local small businesses - it just so happens they're also part of an advertising collective." A conversation where Tim Hortons is seen in positive light due to its support of small businesses, through its franchise- based business model.
  12. 12. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM revenue and profitability – “it’s okay to be Apple if you keep improving people’s lives with technology” – because it serves as a reminder of larger libertarian (see Appendix 1 for definition) values that define the community and influence discourse about corporations. Looking through a libertarian lens, one can also see the close relationship between entrepreneurship and the issue of fairness. Entrepreneurs are seen as natural problem solvers, who are not afraid to disrupt environments and redefine industries. Their ability to innovate is considered an essential right, so when that ability is hindered, the issue of fairness takes centre stage. ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 12 Yet another very popular thread showing general perceptions towards Corporations and their unjust demands.
  13. 13. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM GOVERNMENTS & POLITICS The second step in identifying emerging values on the Internet involves the observation and analysis of thousands of online conversations on the topics of government and politics, as discussed by Canadians. A libertarian belief system Overall, audience perceptions of government are guided by a socially progressive, libertarian frame, which includes: belief in the efficacy of capitalism, free-market systems, and the idea of the ‘invisible hand’; support of the government having a minimal role in citizen life outside of the provision of basic services such as health care; and, a socially progressive view toward people. Naturally, this frame influences how audiences react to various political events and topics of discussion, and the extent to which they openly exhibit loyalty and advocacy (and opposition) toward brands, companies, products, services, people, etc. Combined with the libertarian sentiment is the resounding importance placed on individualism. In community discourse, the necessity for liberty and autonomy drives perceptions of events in Canada and around the world. For example, law enforcement receives frequent criticism for abusing its powers and limiting the freedom to protest and demonstrate. The values surrounding individualism also offer an explanation of why entrepreneurs are revered online; they are perceived to be representatives of free will and the DIY spirit, taking chances, doing something unique, and challenging conventional wisdom. ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 13 Support for Bitcoins relate closely to the community’s belief in a need for reduced government involvement in monetary systems. Community members express their support for Lavabit by jumping into the conversation. Lavabit was an American encrypted email service that had to shut down operations. The company embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, as an email service started to combat the privacy concerns with popular email services like Gmail.
  14. 14. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Dedication to the ideals of individualism also guides the strong opposition to big government, exemplified by the amount of conversation pertaining to the case of Edward Snowden and his whistleblowing activities (something that is universally supported and considered essential for the future of society). Unsurprisingly, audiences also tend to exhibit a slight anti-American sentiment, primarily because of the country’s “big-brother” behaviour when it comes to its northern neighbour. ! Socially Progressive, Scientific, Morally Good Audiences are overwhelmingly in support of evidence- based research and policy-making, same-sex marriage/relationships, science-led education, and religious equality. These are key examples of the fundamental values that connect audiences and create communities based on a shared sense of morality and justice, and further emphasize the importance of individualism and freedom of choice. ! ! ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 14 Audiences expressing support for Edward Snowden, an indicator of libertarian belief systems.
  15. 15. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ! ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 15 Conversation and support for socially progressive values in Canada.
  16. 16. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM PEOPLE The last step in identifying emerging values on the Internet is the analysis of thousands of online conversations pertaining to the topic of people and how they define their position online, what drives them to form relationships, and how they are perceived in a larger community-driven context. The following three factors influence the perceptions of people: ! 1. The knowledge or level of expertise they bring to the community or use to contribute to any discussion. 2. The belief that communities can achieve greater results when they come together in support of a cause or initiative. 3. The individual contributions one makes to society through monetary or non-monetary acts. ! A combination of the above three factors influences how (and if) people are accepted into the larger community, and dictates the amount of influence they will have. ! Knowledge and expertise The Internet is becoming increasingly detail-oriented, with numerous conversations centred on niche topics that require niche sources of knowledge and expertise. In this context, people who bring deep knowledge of the subject matter to the table are highly regarded and often referenced for input and/or impact in conversation. Indeed, audiences who occupy a strong presence online also take a lot of pride in bringing a specific expertise and passion to the larger conversation. It is therefore no surprise that connoisseur culture and obscure references to things in history, pop culture and even politics are celebrated and highly valued in online discourse. This characteristic of online behaviour proves that the capitalist notion of a technocracy is very much alive. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 16
  17. 17. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM The Power of Many reddit.com thrives on crowdsourcing. From encouraging acts of charity to gathering opinions on matters of the heart, the idea that everyone has something specific and high value to offer supports the notion that the community is much stronger than the individual. It also further qualifies the libertarian sentiment, showing us that audiences believe they don’t always need governments or large corporations to implement change and reform in society. A dominant example here is the banding together of audiences to try and track down the Boston Marathon bomber while the Police were hot on his trail in April, 2013. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 17 A conversation about a desired new Star Trek series that goes into great detail about the plotline, key characters, their roles and relationships, etc. Community members band together to create Random Acts of Pizza - a service where someone in need is delivered a pizza from a volunteering (and generous) reddit user, as seen in the example above.
  18. 18. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ! Individual contributions Online conversations on reddit.com show that being a good citizen and humanitarian is considered a moral obligation. This belief supports a set of guiding principles for acceptable behaviour and forms the basis for judging the actions of others based on their perceived authenticity. For example, spontaneous acts of kindness and charity are viewed favourably, whereas people who are seen as so-called ‘abusers’ of public services – healthcare provisions or social safety nets – are criticized harshly. Here, the libertarian beliefs reinforce the community bond and have a direct influence on individual action. ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 18 Another example where a well- informed conversation is started by a user who is looking to take action for the benefit of society, and is asking for support from the community (and is seen ‘rallying the troops’).
  19. 19. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER When we put together the identified perceptions around Corporations, Governments, and People, we can see a clear pattern emerge that allows us to define the evolving value system among consumers in Canada. We believe the following underlying values not only define the increasingly dominant and emerging voice on the Internet but also define a framework that allows us to explain how various brands and industry verticals are perceived and treated (seen in subsequent sections of this report) in the real world (see Appendix 2). Individualism: Individual autonomy and expression are highly valued. Brands, organizations and things that allow people to express themselves and establish niche and often bookish connections with others in the community are highly loved and celebrated. Consequently, such entities (brands and things) are also advocated for the most organically, through discourse. Fairness: Morality is essential for society and community - be it online or off - and audiences are showing us that an assessment of fairness is now a critical ingredient in the evaluation of various entities online. That also means people are no longer satisfied with just the information they receive from “official” sources, and will leverage the power of the Internet to source and share information about entities in question to arrive at an assessment of the level of fairness. Scientism or innovation: Audiences believe in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and hold the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview. In this context, brands, governments, people and other such entities in culture that leverage science to innovate and in the process improve upon existing systems, are regarded with great favourability. Naturally, what we are seeing here is that organizations and people who manage to embody all three of the above stated values, will be highly celebrated and even advocated for organically in the online and offline marketplaces. 
 Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 19
  20. 20. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM IMPLICATIONS oF THE CULTURAL LENS ON YOUR ORGANIZATION ! 1 Examine your brand’s relationship to the identified framework of values and pinpoint the areas of strength and weakness. Then, consider answering two questions: !• What specific initiatives will allow you to play to your strengths and allow a deeper and more emotional connection with your audience? • Are there opportunities to introduce new communication programs, formats or even channels that can address some of the identified weaknesses? 2 Consider the most pressing issues within your vertical today. Now, think about what your organization/brand can do to address those issues through the values lens, and maybe even lead discourse in the industry! 3 Don’t neglect the geeks! Find those people within your organization who really embody the brand, the product or service in question. Give them an opportunity to have authentic dialogue with brand fans who will be excited by the opportunity to “geek out” over what you do today, and what you can do in the future. 4 Think about the overall values that guide your own organization, its operations and even marketing. Are there points of alignment between organizational values and the emerging values identified through discourse analysis? If so, what can you do to further communicate this marriage in values to the marketplace, and build a closer relationship with your publics? Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 20
  21. 21. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM PERCEPTIONS OF KEY INDUSTRY VERTICALS If we leverage the identified emerging value system as a framework, we can look at the perception of select industry verticals and understand how various events, brands, and people are treated online. Specifically, we’ll look at perceptions of the Automotive, Telecommunications, Entertainment and Healthcare verticals. ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 21 Source: h.koppdelaney
  22. 22. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ! AUTOMOTIVE In the automotive sector, there is a clear distinction between brands that are FOLLOWED (mentioned in positive light) and brands that are LOVED (openly advocated for, repeatedly). This distinction boils down to the extent to which a brand allows an audience member to truly express his/her individuality - a complex set of beliefs and values, or a unique view of the world. Three brands stand out in this context - BMW, Volkswagen and Subaru - all of which are seen as fringe brands in North America. Their cars are celebrated for their unique character, and often used in conversations as a means to communicate unique viewpoints, beliefs and sensibilities. Most importantly, these brands allow for pedagogery - the ability for hardcore brand fans to start and carry conversations that may not be the most inclusive Key Takeaways for Automotive brands Individualism True influencers care about every minutiae associated with your brand, its history, the products, their technology, stories of creation and adoption, personalization and much more. And while bookish or often obscure content may appear to alienate mass audiences, it actually strengthens the brand, makes fandom aspirational and shows mass audiences that people truly care about the brand in question. Innovation Everyone claims to be “Innovative!” The audience, however, knows better. TRUE innovation needs to be game changing; it needs to change the way we think about our cars and what they are capable of delivering. Instead of claiming innovation, demonstrate it. Fairness Dealerships aren’t ranked favourably. They are equated with a lack of adequate service and transparency during the sales process. Brands need to invest in changing perceptions and improving business operations. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 22 A Subaru fan writes a letter to the company and shares it on reddit, showcasing his past relationship to the brand and engaging many Canadians in conversation.
  23. 23. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM to non-followers or to those lacking a certain minimum level of knowledge on the subject matter. The more obscure or niche conversations in which audiences can engage involving automotive brands/products, the greater the attention and emotional desire that is expressed around them. For example, Subaru cars are often talked about as being odd looking (and their ‘bug-eyes’ are compared to anime characters), assigning to the brand an almost mystic or metaphysical characteristic. That, of course, provides plenty of room for audiences to showcase their individuality and connect with others just like them, through the sharing of ownership stories and anecdotes. BMW is another example, with many conversations revolving around after market detailing and gadgetry. Most recently, one of the most engaging conversations focused on the installation of a Nexus 7 in a BMW 3 Series! It is for this reason that brands such as Subaru, BMW and even VW are talked about in an emotional context while other brands often get discussed in tangible and utilitarian conversations - such as seeking technical advice or expressing disdain over the quality of service from a dealership or mechanic. ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 23 A conversation about Subaru.
  24. 24. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Tesla captures hearts and minds Tesla Motors has attracted a lot of attention in recent months, and has enjoyed significant support from community members online. As a brand, Tesla Motors is highly celebrated and seen as embodying values of innovation, individualism, and even fairness. In fact, Tesla is viewed as the paradigm for innovation, with smaller advancements from other brands seen as too traditional to make the cut (e.g. hybrid cars or economical engines, all of which centre discourse on making sacrifices to go green). Tesla Motors sells high performance electric cars, and stands for a new way of living: responsible, sensible, yet uncompromising. Its buyers and supporters stand for the same values. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 24 A conversation about the problems Tesla Motors is facing, in an attempt to innovate and disrupt the industry.
  25. 25. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Most interestingly, Tesla is seen as a victim of the political system. Audiences are reacting very emotionally in response to the ongoing battles of Tesla Motors in the United States to build a business model without middlemen. • Taking away dealerships is perceived as a move that will make the act of purchasing vehicles much fairer to consumers, who often share their negative experiences at dealerships. • Audiences believe that all businesses must have the freedom to innovate their business practices. The autoworkers union is seen as a roadblock and a threat to evolution (in the way an automotive company conducts its business). ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 25 A community member uses pictures of his auto detailing work as a means to express his individuality and garner respect from the community.
  26. 26. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM HEALTHCARE ! The issue of fairness takes centre stage in conversations about healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and continues to spark immense debate amongst an audience whose passion for the topic stems from internal conflict. An example is the support for free market systems and the ability for drug manufacturers to innovate and be compensated for it, versus the ability of consumers to access drugs and treatment options at a reasonable price. ! ! ! Key Takeaways for Healthcare brands Individualism Healthcare audiences express their individuality on issues, rather than on brands or products. This leaves the door open for a brand that can lead the way. Innovation Audiences want visibility and transparency into the process behind pharmaceutical innovation. The more scientifically driven a healthcare organization is, the greater support it will garner. Fairness People will support ‘big pharma’ if they feel the operational model is fair and transparent. Philosophically, audiences vehemently align with free market systems and its ability to allow for innovation and subsequent compensation (for those involved). Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 26 The community grapples with its own moral dilemma.
  27. 27. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM A number of issues in this context took centre stage in the second half of 2013: Bribery scandal The bribery scandal in China involving GlaxoSmithKline occupied audience attention for months. During the time period under analysis, it became the biggest piece of news to hit the Internet. The topic evolved from a conversation about fairness to one about the lack of scientific adherence amongst big pharmaceutical organizations (more on this later). ! ‘Patent-regime’ not working While audiences openly acknowledge an understanding of the high costs of bringing a drug to market (from research and development to marketing), there is a general perception that large pharmaceutical companies are “gaming” the system and using patents to their advantage. The general opinion is that they are preventing consumers from getting access to drugs and treatment options. In this context, the Indian government is celebrated for taking on ‘big pharma’ and producing generics that cost a fraction of their branded counterparts. ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 27 Community members argue over the potential for reform in the Pharmaceutical industry, in the hope for fairer practices.
  28. 28. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Sugar as a drug Audiences liken the use of sugar in the food and beverage industry as one of the worst drug epidemics to hit human society in modern history. The use of sugar is drawing comparisons to Tobacco companies, and pointing towards the lack of regulation imposed upon food and beverage manufacturers. As one would expect, credible sources of scientific knowledge are cited in order to corroborate viewpoints. ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 28 Conversations about patents not working to the benefit of people. Here again, while a support for free market systems is unquestioned, the community grapples with a moral dilemma (fair access to healthcare and treatment), asking questions and proposing solutions.
  29. 29. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM 
 Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 29 While the conversation isn’t about supporting Tobacco companies, it makes the point that the fast food and packaged food industry must be subject to the same sanctions and regulations as the Tobacco industry because, scientifically speaking, the ill effects of sugar are as serious as that of Tobacco.
  30. 30. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Adherence to the scientific method As one of the three foundational values driving advocacy on the Internet, Scientism (or adherence to the scientific method) continues to drive support for, and spark debate against, the pharmaceutical industry. Unsurprisingly, the bribery scandal conversation quickly evolved into a criticism of “big pharma,” as levelled from a scientist’s perspective - i.e., a failure to live up to the scientific method, due to corruption and the lack of internal checks and balances. On the other hand, scientism also drives support for the pharmaceutical industry. Audiences completely reject alternative medicine, especially homeopathy, as it lacks scientific evidence. Most recently, news about a Calgary woman who was being charged for her son’s death (because she treated an infection with only homeopathy) generated great debate online, even leading many to call for a nationwide ban of homeopathy. In the same vein, they vocally criticize the anti-vaccine movement and express an awareness of the linkage between physiological and psychological outcomes, through Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 30 A great conversation showcasing the community’s need to respect individualism (and libertarian principles) without compromising on the importance placed on the scientific method.
  31. 31. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM recourse to scientific studies. For example, while audiences stand behind the value of individualism, they openly recognize that when taken to an extreme, it can be very harmful to the human mind. Citing a study that shows African Americans as having better mental health than Caucasians in the United States, audiences engage in deeply reflective conversations about loneliness and happiness. ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 31
  32. 32. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ENTERTAINMENT Television takes centre stage in conversations around entertainment, primarily due to its ability to continue a story and give online audiences an opportunity to partake in the journey. But not all television entertainment occupies equal ground. ! It’s all very specific! Shows that allow audiences the opportunity to dissect characters and plot lines, while speculating about the future with an incessant obsession, are loved and engaged with repeatedly in a manner that creates a cult-like community of participants. Unsurprisingly, shows such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones occupy a large portion of the conversation and allow audiences to connect with one another through the sharing of very specific content that is often relevant only to those who are really into the show. Here, the amount of knowledge one has on the minutia of the story line functions as a source of influence within the sub-community, where specialized knowledge brings one greater ability to sway public opinion. Most importantly, the pedantry reaffirms one’s self image as a fan, and creates a sense of identity and belonging to a show’s community. For example, audiences spent much of their time debating the difference between the portrayal of sociopaths vs. psychopaths in television and movies, and in the process offered clarification on the distinction between the two. More recently, audiences entered into a long discussion on the history of late night shows on television, offering each other great opportunity to showcase knowledge and expertise on specific shows or the subject matter at large. Key Takeaways for Entertainment brands Individualism Building a community around television shows or movies will require the sharing of non-traditional content that gives audiences an opportunity to truly immerse themselves into a story. Think scripts, artifacts, clues, behind-the- scenes footage of shoots and rehearsals, character discussions and preparations etc.. These are the things that people use to build and express their identities. Innovation Audiences want their thinking to be challenged. Story lines that bend the rules of morality are of utmost interest at the current time. Fairness People remain unapologetic about piracy. If fair online solutions come from networks, audiences are more than willing to adapt. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 32
  33. 33. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ! ! Morality in dispute Characters that challenge the rules of morality and conventional wisdom are highly celebrated, analyzed and obsessed over. Interestingly, the audience sees such characters as highly authentic, with a very human sense of morality that is often conflicted, and where actions often break personal boundaries of fairness. All of which really points to the incredible appreciation online audiences have for complexity and authenticity in Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 33 A discussion about the portrayal of sociopaths and psychopaths in movies. Accusations of how often people in the threaded discussion confuse the two indicate the community’s need for specific knowledge on the subject matter. A discussion of episodes in Television history where morality is called into question, giving a show authenticity and realism.
  34. 34. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM entertainment. A recent example involved a dissection of some of the most surprising or disturbing episodes on television, where people shared examples of excellent, impactful storytelling (some even going so far as to call it “life altering”). ! A need for innovation Online piracy continues to be a hot topic of discourse engaging audiences, a majority of whom remain ambivalent on the issue. Many point toward the need for innovation from cable networks to fight piracy by delivering services and content, at a reasonable cost, in ways that meet the changing needs of consumers. Since Netflix is regarded as one of the few companies attempting to change the way content is developed and delivered to audiences, perceptions of its brand are overwhelmingly positive. And while networks such as HBO and AMC are scrutinized for their inability to offer audiences a fair deal (“find another way to earn money from my online viewing and I am willing to meet you there”), Netflix often gets a clean slate for giving consumers what they want. ! ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 34 Another moment of authenticity, seen through the evolution of the character Walter White on the show Breaking Bad.
  35. 35. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 35 A conversation about the need for fairness and innovation in the entertainment (and specifically Television) industry.
  36. 36. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM TELECOMMUNICATIONS The perception of the telecommunications industry in Canada is overwhelmingly negative, and is closely tied to the perception of the ‘big three’ in the country - Bell, Telus and Rogers. And unlike other verticals where discourse typically revolves around all three identified value systems (innovation, individualism, fairness), almost all the conversation around the telecommunications sector boils down to an issue of fairness. Clearly, audiences are preoccupied with some important topics. Lack of competition and value for money There is widespread perception that the ‘big three’ are engaging in unfair, oligopolistic practices intended to stifle competition. As a result, an “anything but the big three” sentiment is repeatedly echoed through discourse, with many advocating for brands such Key Takeaways for Telecommunications brands Individualism Above all else, personal experience with a telecom provider matters. And it can positively impact perceptions and even drive advocacy. Innovation There’s a perceived lack of innovation in this industry. Audiences are looking for innovation in service delivery first, rather than technology. Fairness Consumers are looking for transparency and fairness in services and billing, and are highly wary of public relations campaigns launched by any of the “big three”. !Canadians expect companies to play their part in being responsible corporate citizens, and expect the government to uphold consumers’ interests. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 36 Consumers expressing a lack of confidence in Canadian Telecom companies through personal experience.
  37. 37. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM as Teksavvy, Wind, and Mobilicity. To further extend their support for the smaller players, audiences often share positive stories of service and customer experience, and often make the point that equivalent prices (compared to the larger providers) are okay, as long as the quality of service supports it. The most popular discussions typically involve the sharing of negative experiences with billing and service where specific cases are cited with evidence. Amongst the ‘big three’, Rogers certainly bears the brunt of negative discourse. Collusion of interests Audiences believe that the big three in Canada have incredible influence over the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and have lobbied against growth and competition in the sector, citing the recent failed attempt by Verizon to enter the Canadian market as an example. ! More recently, audiences debated the role of the CRTC in Canada, and expressed a rather ambivalent view towards the organization. Some questioned the CRTC’s ability to uphold the interests of consumers, Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 37 Debate over whether the CRTC truly helped consumers with the institution of “more expensive two year plans”.
  38. 38. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM while others praised its work against the “Fair for Canada” public relations campaign launched by “the big three” during Verizon’s attempted entry into the country. ! No pain with personal gain Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 38 A conversation about negotiating with Telecom companies where audiences express a much more ambivalent view of the industry. Accusations of price fixing in the Telecommunications industry in Canada.
  39. 39. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM Interestingly, despite all the negative perception towards the “big three”, audiences are often swayed into changing their opinion as a result of personal gain - receiving better service, a personalized experience (an offer, or solution tailored to one’s needs) or financial gain (better prices or more services for the existing price). ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 39
  40. 40. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM CONCLUSION What does examining the state of dominant discourse on the Internet tell us? ! Audiences use belief and value systems as a way to connect with people, brands and things on the Internet. Understanding these value systems can go a long way in understanding where a brand fits in the context of a larger conversation and, more importantly, whether there might be opportunities to authentically engage audiences with conversations that go well beyond a discussion of products, their features and benefits. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 40 Source: I like
  41. 41. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM ! HAVE AN OPINION? ! Is your industry or vertical missing in this report? Interested in tracking online discourse and trends relevant to your business, products and services? Contact our futures forecasting team at forecast@sonicboom.com. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! 310 Front Street West, 5th Floor Toronto, Ontario M5V 3B5 1.416.586.9988 ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 41
  42. 42. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM APPENDIX 1 What do we mean by ‘libertarian’ values? ! When using the term ‘libertarian’, we are not referring to any associations with political parties (i.e. the Libertarian Party of Canada) or groups in particular, but rather referring to a larger, commonly shared value system that defines how audiences took at the world around them. ! The term ‘libertarian’ refers us to two basic beliefs: • A respect for individuality and freedom of expression. This refers to the absolute freedom to live in a community or be part of an organization whose values or culture are closely related to one's preferences; or, on a more basic level, to associate with any individual one chooses. • A skepticism towards government imposed authority and a belief in minimal involvement from Government agencies. ! ! ! ! Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 42
  43. 43. State of Public Discourse SONIC BOOM APPENDIX 2 Why studying online content also teaches us about emerging value systems in the ‘real world’? ! Canadians spend an average of 45 hours online each month (source: CIRA, 2013), sharing details about their lives, personal habits, brand affiliations, political interests, beliefs and values. Most of this time is now spent on platforms that are publicly accessible, connecting us to our friends, family, peers, coworkers and even bosses. Gone are the days where one’s online identity was truly anonymous or even secretive. We now live in a world where mobile devices have bridged the gap between our ‘real lives’ and online selves. Which means our online identities merely serve as windows into our world - telling people about who we are, what we believe in, and consequently what we’ll consume or even buy. ! So it is not surprising to see conversations in the online world reflect in the real world. One of the most recent examples of this is the public boycott of Chick-Fil-A in the United States, where thousands took to the streets to protest following news about the company’s CEO publicly opposing same-sex marriage. As one would expect, the public boycotts were all led and organized by audiences online. ! We believe this report gives us a very strong indication of where consumer culture is headed in Canada. The only difference is that we’ve chosen to take the study of online discourse, rather than in-field ethnographies, as a way to arrive at our conclusions in an attempt to leverage the richest and most incredible data source yet - the internet. ! For more, please visit our blog at beliefbasedconsumption.com. Trends defined by the internet’s culture creators 43

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