When mobile messaging service WhatsApp tipped over one billion monthly users in 2016, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a sign that we are being more social than ever; living in a world of updates, sharing our every moment and mouthful and controlling the way our lives are being played out with the press of a thumb.
Although we're more connected than ever, does it mean we are actually more social?
Pubs, the cornerstone of people's social lives for generations, are closing at an alarming rate with 10,000 fewer pubs in UK since 2002. There are fewer social occasions where the pub and alcohol has a role to play in people's lives. Mid-week drink catch ups and Saturday afternoon sessions are becoming a thing of the past. What's driving this? Health considerations and alcohol concern have had a positive impact on millennials' attitude to drinking such that one in four now consider themselves to be teetotal. But, if you look a little more closer there are other factors at play. The needs around drinking to facilitate bonding have changed.
No longer does the pub need to facilitate the lads catch up. WhatsApp and other social platforms do that for us. We can all be watching the same football match at the same time in different parts of the country, or responding to what is happening in an episode of Game of Thrones from the comfort of our sofa and still feel like we are getting the banter, and feeling the connection to our friends. The drink of choice no longer needs to be alcoholic to fuel the chat, it could be a nice mint tea instead, or for some, a clinking beer mugs emoji.
When it comes to finding love, the pub is also no longer the only facilitator of meeting others in the hope of a finding a happy ending. That's far too random for millennials. Why take the risk when Tinder and Happn can do that for you?
With the help of technology you can pre plan, de-risk and control how your evening plays out in a way that just wasn't possible five years ago. Jack, a student at City University of London stated in a recent innovation project I was working on that: "After a session in the gym, everyone knows what I'm up to and with who. I've just had four comments on my Strava bike times for the triathlon I'm training for. Nowadays my friends and my girlfriend all know what I've been up to day-to-day, my achievements and mishaps. I kind of always feel connected."
There is a paradox with this situation in Jack's world. If you are in the drinks/pub/leisure business you need to think differently about how you connect with him to allow him to feel more connected with others but, at the same time, there are also fresh unrealised opportunities at play. In finishing my drink with Jack I asked him how 'always being on' felt. He paused and then said: "I guess it's great, it's like everyone I know can see what I've been up to but there are times when I want to be able to share how I'm actually doing and there seems to be less space for that nowadays."
Working in innovation, I'm consistently presented with ideas for more apps and technologies that hold the promise of liberating consumers' lives and, of course, helping brands to be more connected with their target audience. The promise is one of being able to tap into the fabric of consumers' daily lives in a way marketers never before believed possible.
Being able to help consumers to feel more empowered, connecting, ordering and curating decisions whether that be through dating, eating out, shopping, catching up with friends and exercise opens a Pandora's Box of opportunities for brands and yet with the growth of new behaviours comes winners and some surprising losers. So, how about that pint?