Amélie Ebongué: Cracking the codes of social media

We meet an expert who’s helping brands navigate an ever-shifting landscape.

da Mark Tungate , AdForum

 

The world of social media is a labyrinth, and brands often need people to show them the way. People like Amélie Ebongué – Stockholm-based content strategist, researcher, speaker and author, notably of Generation TikTok: A New Eldorado for Brands.

Amélie’s worked in the field for almost a decade and has a global vision of the marketing sector, having held positions at agencies (VMLY&R, Uzik, TBWA and Publicis), clients (the hotel group Accor) and media (Hypebeast). All while passing on the benefits of her experience to students at business and ad schools.

Originally, however, she wanted to be a lawyer. “I didn’t have a particular vocation for marketing,” she confesses. “But I had a blog where I wrote about sociology. I wrote on Skyblog, I had a MySpace – you could say I was present at the first steps of social media. I found it fascinating, and something I started doing alongside my studies eventually evolved into something I wanted to do for the longer term.”

Her early experience as a community manager within agencies was transformative. “At first I managed the presence of brands on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, moderating comments and so on. As I worked for various brands and changed agencies, I began to develop a more strategic vision, while staying operational – that’s to say, in contact with the audience. An agency is an exceptional environment because you’re liaising closely with brands – while remaining objective – and often working with two or three clients from different sectors. Not only that, but at the agency you’re working with everyone from the design team to the client services director. It’s an extremely good training ground.”

 

The power of TikTok

 

Now she’s embroiled in marketing, there’s no going back. “I’m fascinated by strong brands and how they create a bond with consumers on a day-to-day basis. At the same time I’d like to continue my writing on the subject, both in French and in English.”

You may have guessed from Amélie’s name that she’s French. And yet she lives in Sweden, which she describes as “a personal choice”. “I needed a change of scene from Paris, which can be a divisive and heavy environment, and I’d appreciated the time I spent here on vacation. The reality of living here is completely different, but just as rich and meaningful for me.”

Her book Generation TikTok came out at the end of 2021, which is a lifetime in social media terms. How has the platform evolved since then?

“It’s gone through a complete transformation,” she says, with an enthusiasm that shows her passion for the subject. “When I sent the last proof of the book, TikTok had an audience of about 800 million – today it’s 1.3 billion. It’s also the preferred search platform for 15-to-25-year-olds – it’s become a reflex for them. Average watch time is more than 95 minutes a day. The platform has succeeded in capitalizing on a unique format, video, and exploring that format in all its dimensions.”

She adds that in the US, particularly, TikTok is now the first platform brands turn to when they’re devising a social content strategy. “Fashion, music and luxury all work very well there.” Asia, meanwhile, has seen the rise of “live commerce”, with pop stars and influencers presenting products which viewers can then buy. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is the champion in that area, says Amélie.

 

Retail migrates to social

 

This is one of the most dramatic, society-changing impacts of social media. “Shops have almost become obsolete in some markets. You need to propose an extraordinary experience to convince customers to come to a physical store. The law of attraction now takes place online, and the conversion to a sale is almost immediate.”

Brands are unable to ignore TikTok, yet it remains controversial due to its Chinese ownership. “Its origin and its essence take precedence over what it can bring to the world,” confirms Amélie. “Its way of processing data and its transparency regarding users are working in its disfavour.” Which is why it was sanctioned in the United States under Donald Trump, although it’s been rehabilitated under Biden. In short, it’s far more than a simple social network for young people. “It’s a leading platform for discovery, information and education. We’re talking about edutainment – the conjunction of two words, education and entertainment.”

Yes, TikTok is a giant. But social media platforms can fall in popularity and even disappear. MySpace, anyone? Vine? Foursquare? Even Facebook is being snubbed by some users who’ve moved on. So what’s next? Is there a social network out there that old guys like me have never heard of?

 

Generation A

 

“Well, the next generation is Generation Alpha, who are aged between 6 and 15 today,” says Amélie. (Oh yes – I’ve got one of those at home.) “Their existence is scattered between the digital and the real worlds. Their identity and their frames of reference are shaped by both.”

YouTubers are hugely influential in their lives, and can become almost as important as real-life friends. Amélie gives the example of her Gen Alpha son, whose thoughts on ecology were shaped in part by YouTube.

Another regular destination for this group is the online gaming platform Roblox. “It’s extremely immersive,” says Amélie. “Brands can create their own worlds there and keep their audiences informed. At the Code conference the other day, Roblox founder David Baszuski said the future of advertising was on video games, and that traditional advertising is dead. I think he may be right.”

To clarify, she adds that with so many media fighting for our attention – from a bus shelter ad to a sponsored podcast – we’ll only absorb and retain messages that come from the most important sources to us. And for Generation Alpha, those may well be video games.

 

Technology and diversity

 

An influencer in her own right, Amélie was named by the African American Marketing Association as one of the 50 Black Marketers To Watch in 2023. How does she feel about the apparent lack of diversity in the marketing sector? Has there been a positive evolution?

“I’m positive by nature. If you take my area of interest, which is tech, no technology will ever advance if it’s not inclusive, neuro-divergent and accessible to everyone. Recently I attended a conference at Apple, for example, where there was a sign-language translator. I realized that brands can also take a step like that and I thought, wow!”

Change will come from individuals, she believes. “I don’t think it can be imposed on an organization. I think it’s about people who are there to open doors, to welcome others, and to tip the scales.”