UM’s Wave 8 – The Language of Content, identifies the power of content as a new ‘shorthand’ language, points to a narcissistic ‘Selfie’ generation and reveals the true motivations of consumers as content sharers.

LONDON – UM has today released the latest annual findings from its global social media tracker Wave, which builds on eight years of global social tracking and is the largest and longest running study of its kind. Its message is clear: unless brands can understand why consumers share content, then the marketing world’s favourite buzz word will never live up to the hype.

Surveying over 50,000 people in 65 countries around the world, Wave 8 – The Language of Content, demonstrates that understanding the power of content as a ‘social commodity’ that people want to share is key to creating more powerful social strategies. It provides clear navigation for brands, based on three core insights:

  • The way to ‘crack’ content is to customise it for your audience. Wave 8 shows the motivations for sharing vary greatly across different categories, markets and demographics – so it’s time for brands to move away from simply creating something ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’. 
  • There is a significant difference between the content consumers value, the kind of content that gets lots of views on YouTube and the kind of content they will share. Only 11% consider “something that expresses their point of view” as valuable content but twice as many say they would share that same content with others. 
  • Consumers are emotionally invested in content. When we share something we are saying something about ourselves so the content becomes linked with our online reputation. This strong emotional connection has a knock-on effect for brands.

“After eight years of research, we have come to realise that there are only five real, human and fundamental NEEDS that consumers are trying to meet online –  learning, relationship building, diversion, progression and recognition”, says Glen Parker, Head of IPG Mediabrands Marketing Sciences G14, and author of the report.

“So in a crowded online space, when it’s not just brands but consumers who are trying to stand out, consumers are using content as a social commodity that can help us meet these personal social and professional needs.” 

“This is why getting someone to share your content is better than just getting them to view it, beyond the obvious benefit of incremental reach. We use content to meet our ambitions online and if a brand’s content helps us meet them the brand benefits hugely”, Parker adds.   

Wave 8 reveals that these five underpinning consumer needs vary across different categories – something brands must consider closely when setting out on any social campaign. For example: 

  • Whilst luxury consumers want to see inspiring content from their brands, ‘inspiration’ is of little importance to consumers in the market for childcare products.
  • In FMCG categories such as personal care, the content that is most highly valued is practical content, which educates about the brand providing it or provides practical tips and ‘how-to’ information.
  • 25% of consumers want video gaming brands to share content that sets them a challenge
  • Top company executives want to be fed content that helps them explore their passions

Motivations vary dramatically per country, too. Shoppers in developing markets are more likely to share content about the products and services they buy – a whopping 88% in India and 85% in Mexico do this at least once a month, compared to 60% in the UK. Revealing the curiosity inherent in British consumers, the content type most valued in the UK is that which tells you something new or unexpected.

In the UK, sharing something new clearly brings its own kudos. Rather than trying to compete with the £multi-billion budgets of the entertainment industry, brands should look to provide content that can help consumers to put their own slant on a topic or trend,” says Parker.

Importantly, when brands provide different types of content to a consumer, they trigger a different response. Across all categories, entertaining and fun content is best for making a brand seem desirable, whilst content that teaches consumers about the brand is best for encouraging trial. The outcomes achieved by brands that share content also vary by category.

‘Cross-generational content sharers’

Wave 8 highlights that even amongst 45+’s (the age group least likely to share content), 68% globally share photo or video at least once a month, whilst the age group most likely to share something they saw on TV at least once a month is age 25-34‘s. In the UK specifically, active internet users are amongst the most prolific of content creators and sharers: they are 12% more likely than the global average to use their smartphone to do this. In the past 6 months, 23% of UK active internet users have created a video to upload, including just over 10% of age 45+.

‘It’s all about me!’

Of course the catalyst to this new era of content sharing is our growing online presence and increased dependence on the internet. 57% of internet users globally and 44% in the UK now say they feel ‘stressed’ when they can’t get online. This, together with an increase in portable devices and Wi-Fi penetration, has made more of us ‘constantly connected’ which, according to Wave 8, has also had something of an impact on our egos.

In the year after Oxford English Dictionaries named “selfie” the word of the year, 45% agree that they share more photos of themselves online than they share photos of other people. What’s more, 45% of 16-24’s globally (and 37% in the UK) say they would “love to be famous online” vs just 20% of the over 45’s globally.

“Social media has fundamentally shifted the ambitions of a generation,” says Parker. “Receiving a positive reaction from others to what we say or do makes us happy, and this is also the case when we share content online. Brands savvy to this will respond by providing their young consumers with content that will feed their egos and help them achieve their personal goals.”

Furthermore, the link between the online space and our ability to meet our ambitions has become indelibly linked. Globally 20% of people thought social networks a good place to make money last year vs over 25% this year. The rise is even higher for microblogs like Twitter – going from 16% to 22%.

‘Privacy fears’

That said, Wave 8 has revealed an interesting dichotomy around our desire to become famous online and our desire for anonymity. Concern about privacy online is gradually growing. Five years ago, 61% of active internet users agreed they were concerned by the amount of personal data online. By 2013, the year of the NSA scandal, this had risen to 67% and this year, in the wake of the hacking of private photographs stored on iCloud it has increased again to 69%.

However, our desires for anonymity and connection are pulling us in different directions. 58% agree they would like to remain anonymous in everything they do online, yet 47% of those who want to remain anonymous also agree they would like to be famous online and use their social network login to access other sites. According to Parker, this shows an alarming lack of understanding around how social sites collect personal data’.

‘The Smartphone Rules!’

For the first time in eight years of Wave tracking, the smartphone now has the highest penetration of any device in the world (at 84% it is up 15% year-on-year and has nearly doubled over two years). Not only has smartphone penetration increased, the number of people saying it is good for making a purchase has risen by nearly 40% in the last year (to 42.7% up from 30.9% last year). In fact, despite tablet penetration increasing from 41.6% to 51.2%, the smartphone is fast replacing it as the first choice device for every activity – and we are seeing a gravitational pull towards the smartphone as a default content creation and sharing device.

“The smartphone, content sharing and consumer needs have now come together to change the way we communicate”, concludes Parker. “Phenomena like the Ice Bucket Challenge show what happens when consumers want to earn each other’s respect and do so through a perfect combination of social and mobile technologies.” 

“We call this brand-to-consumer content sharing ‘The Language of Content’. Only by understanding the needs and ambitions of consumers and providing content that then becomes a social commodity, can brands build strong and valuable relationships with consumers.” 

For more information on wave, please visit or follow #wave8


Alice Archer

PR & Communications Director, G14, IPG Mediabrands

[email protected]  Tel: +44 207 073 7192

Notes to Editors

About Wave

In 2006, UM embarked on the Wave project to measure the scale and impact of social media across the globe. Over the course of this project Wave has taught us that this is not just a story of unprecedented growth but also one of social evolution. Therefore, with each Wave we strive to widen and deepen our understanding of social media and bring the insight that will help brands navigate successfully. This is the Wave Story:

Wave 1 (2006) demonstrated that social media was living up to the hype; there was a large and active community communicating online.

Wave 2 (2007) showed how social media moved from a text-based medium of bloggers and comment posters to a fully audio-visual one full of content creators and sharers.

Wave 3 (2008) charted the democratization of influence, how social media was driving greater means and opportunities for consumers to influence their peers.

Wave 4 (2009) examined the reasons behind the huge growth in social media by understanding the motivations behind the use of different social media platforms – showing that consumers engage with a platform because it meets specific consumer needs and all platforms meet these needs differently.

Wave 5 (2010) told us there was a huge demand for social interaction with brands. However, the nature and depth of this interaction varied widely from person to person and category to category. Those brands that created the right experience benefitted enormously – generating brand loyalty, endorsement and sales.

Wave 6 (2011) showed us that meeting different consumer needs delivers different outcomes for brands. For example, some will create loyalty, whilst others will deliver sales. Therefore actually knowing what consumers need and how brand objectives can be met is the key to long-term social success.

Wave 7 (2013) told us that the insights we get from an understanding of social behavior aren’t just relevant in the social space but are, in fact, inherent human truths that underpin consumers’ relationships with products and brands. We therefore need to understand how to leverage these insights using all brand assets, both above the line and in the digital social space, to create a coherent and compelling whole.

Wave 8 – Methodology

Wave retains the same methodology from Wave 1 to Wave 8, enabling comparison across Waves. For Wave 8 – The Language of Content, we surveyed 50,021 Active Internet Users aged 16-54 in 65 countries. All surveys are self-completed and the data collected is purely quantitative. This represents a universe of 1.29 billion active internet users worldwide.

Why the Active Internet User?

Active Internet Users are those who use the internet every day or every other day – and social media is driven by them. They drive adoption of platforms and tools and they will determine which tools and platforms become dominant.


About UM

UM ( is a global media agency that fuses curiosity and creativity to unlock competitive advantage for brands through media. Our philosophy of curiosity is driven by the power of story-telling fueled by intelligence, insights and ideas.  A division of IPG Mediabrands, UM has more than 130 offices in 100 countries and over 4,800 employees committed to developing creative, strategic and customized campaigns for every client. Ranked as the most creative media agency by AdNews in 2012, UM also was recognized for leadership in advanced analytics by Media Magazine. UM’s list of clients includes Brown-Forman, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Heinz, Hershey’s, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal Paris and Sony. In 2012, UM’s new business global wins and retention received a grade A from RECMA.