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The New Social Media & Digital Campfires

"Digital Campfires" is my new favorite term. It refers to the surge in social media moving from desiring a large-scale fan base and followers to developing small intimate groups. The conversations that take place should evoke the feeling of sharing stories with friends around a glowing fire.

The shift started a few years ago with the younger demographic (18-25) fleeing social in hopes of avoiding their parents who were joining the platforms in large numbers. Remember when your friend's mom sent you a Facebook request? Cringe.

In just a year, digital campfires have become a force that has defined how audiences (typically Gen Z) connect and how they experience the culture. The term was coined by an ex-Facebook executive, Sara Wilson, who defined them as micro-communities of people communicating together. Some of the best examples of digital campfires are: Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats, Slack communities, Twitch communities, and Close Friends on Instagram. It's also becoming prominent amongst Gen Z on gaming platforms like Roblox and Fortnite, with some large-scale events that have been hosted on these platforms. It's no accident that digital campfires started as games. Today, gaming is becoming a part of the broader culture.

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups are by far the fastest-growing areas of online communication." And it's growing even more rapidly with Gen Z.

Since there are many types of digital campfires, it can be confusing and challenging for brands to navigate. Most of the time, these platforms have different rules and requirements when it comes to creating branded content.

This idea, according to HBR, "even before COVID-19 Gen Z was eschewing traditional social media for 'digital campfires,' more intimate online destinations where they private message or connect with each other in micro-communities or larger shared experiences.

This info will help you navigate the various digital campfires that happen on the platforms that you use. It also offers examples of how brands can use these platforms to their advantage.


With over 350 million accounts, Fortnite is the world's largest gaming platform. In December 2020, its season-end event had a record-breaking 15 million concurrent players.

Most of the time, these integrations happen within the Battle Royale mode. Some examples include: Nike and Marvel have launched custom skins for players, and limited-edition products are also dropping in the game. In January 2019, Fortnite also partnered with 23 international football clubs to create a unique and engaging experience for players.

In Creative Mode, a fast-growing gameplay, brands can interact with users by building custom islands and inviting them to hang out. Some examples of companies that have developed their own experiences in the game include eSports company 100 Thieves, which created an immersive experience for its users.


Roblox, which launched in 2004, has quietly gained a reputation as a powerhouse shared experience campfire. Roblox has quietly grown to become one of the world's largest shared-experience platforms with over 43 million players daily and 20 million multiplayer games. More than two-thirds of all US 9-12-year-olds play Roblox, that number is mind-blowing (I have 2 girls in my house that are fairly obsessed).

Some brands have created their own games and experiences on Roblox. Warner Bros. and DC Comics made a Wonder Woman game this summer. Players could buy Wonder Woman accessories for their avatars with Robux, the platform's digital currency.

According to Digiday, for marketers, this is a chance to trade in passive ad exposures for immersive opportunities that actually play a role in the digital lives people are building for themselves.


Discord was launched in 2015 to allow gamers to communicate via text, voice, and video messaging. As of December 2020, it has 150 million monthly active users, and 70% of them use it primarily for non-gaming purposes.

Discord is a classic micro-community campfire: anyone can join, but they need an invite to connect with specific communities called "servers." As for advertising, Discord does not offer it. Most brands use the platform by creating their own dedicated servers, like the Chipotle virtual job fair, which received over 23,000 applications in one week. And in May, AllSaints held an event titled "Inside AllSaints: Meet Scott Anderson, Design Director of Menswear, an event that offered an inside look into how the brand's designers work.

Several brands have joined public servers on Discord to test the waters. They host thought leadership conversations and work with influencers to drive impactful conversations within a particular community.

While Discord can spark organic conversations amongst users and brands, its open forum-style chatting also poses privacy and security risks. Moderation is a crucial component of controlling brand messaging on Discord.


In 2011, Twitch, which Amazon acquired in 2014, became famous as a platform for gamers to earn money by live-streaming their gameplay. In the wake of the pandemic, the platform has experienced massive growth in users, especially outside of gaming categories, like music, beauty, fitness, and cooking.

The platform currently has more than 7 million unique creators streaming each month and 30 million daily visitors, who spend an average of 29 minutes per session on the platform. Twitch's audience is heavily skewed toward Gen Z: 21% are aged 13 to 17, and nearly half are aged 18 to 34.

During the early days of the pandemic, Twitch's live DJ sets became an immensely popular shared campfire experience. However, the service also offers micro-communities a place to interact.

Through Amazon's advertising platform, brands can reach users with video and display advertisements, or thanks to Twitch's brand partnership studio, they can offer users more customized ads and experiences.

In July 2020, Charmin toilet paper created a new game called Deuce Destroyer, a Duck Hunt-meets-Space-Invaders experience where users shoot down flying piles of poop. Streamers who accumulated the most points won Bits, Twitch's virtual currency.

Earlier last year, Pizza Hut offered a series called Friday Night Bites that pitted pro gamers and influencers against one another in games and pizza-themed challenges. Each episode had over 1 million live viewers, resulting in more than 5.4 million total views and more than 26 million minutes of viewing.

Brands will have success on the platform if they have a unique and funny brand personality and tone.


TikTok hit over 800 million active users in just five years. The TikTok subculture is vast and reflects every possible interest, activity, and trend. With explosive growth through the pandemic, the trends are hard to ignore. The platform functions as an umbrella for numerous micro-community campfires. If a user expresses a preference for content from any of these communities, TikTok's algorithm will serve up more of it. There are make-up communities and dance communities, cooking influencer groups, and tons of people giving tips on how to grow on the platform. They are making us addicted to dances and better at doing almost anything around the house.

Tiktok has taken a different approach with branded content. The lines have been blurred. Creators on the platform are driving ad content. The most memorable of all was the Ocean Spray viral moment earlier this year; read about it here.

If you are looking to reach Gen Z, digital campfires are the way to go but keep in mind the audiences are fragmented and not easily engaged. As I've said consistently, building communities is the new marketing. Seek out the best platform for reaching your audience and just start.


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