What is lo-fi social media content, and is it right for your brand?

  • Categories:

    Social Media, Influencer Marketing

  • Date:

    May 16, 2023

What is lo-fi social media content, and is it right for your brand?

Social Media Influencer Marketing

It’s no secret that we’ve entered a new era on social media. The online community’s glamour factor is dwindling, and while the desire for an aesthetic Instagram grid may not be completely gone, in 2023, most users are not intent on achieving a picture-perfect presence.

But what drove this change, and why does it matter for brands?

For one, many people, especially millennials and Gen Z, have perfection fatigue. A study conducted by YPulse found that:

  • 79% of 13- to 36-year-olds are tired of seeing polished images in advertising

  • 88% of people like it when others showcase their flaws and imperfections

With users desiring less polish in their social feeds, innovative brands are creating and sharing significantly more lo-fi content, or content that requires minimal production (e.g., shot on a smartphone or on a low budget). The term “lo-fi,” in fact, is short for “low-fidelity.”

But in order to understand the significance of lo-fi content, we need to know its origin story. So, let’s travel back in time to 2020, in the early days of the pandemic.

Where does lo-fi content come from?

We can trace the shift to lo-fi content back to TikTok, a platform that fundamentally changed how we use social media.

After being sent home with no plans for in-person social interaction in sight, we turned to our phones more than ever as a means to connect with others. In 2020, TikTok users increased by 180% among 18- to 25-year-olds. Meanwhile, people all over the world consumed more short-form video content produced on a smartphone.

But individuals weren’t the only ones fueling the change.

Savvy brands, too, understood their organic social media had to deliver a high ROI without reliance on a professional studio. So, social media brand teams set up camp in their homes and started filming low-production videos for TikTok.

The power of a single video clip to make a brand go viral — and potentially increase sales — may have been the most surprising early revelation.

When leveraged as part of a smart organic social media strategy, lo-fi videos can act as a conversation starter by attracting attention and allowing customers to engage with the brand or influencer on a meaningful level — whether through sharing excitement or by asking a question.

How are brands leading with lo-fi content?

This seismic shift from polished images to lo-fi videos helped hatch a new era of authenticity. Today, brands are sharing content that feels raw and in the moment through videos that appear to be quickly put together (though oftentimes they are not).

The production process for these videos varies. A social media manager may remain behind the scenes or appear in the frame. Other times, brands work with influencers to bolster their brand relevancy on TikTok and Instagram through user-generated content.

The bottom line? Successful videos often have a person in front of the camera.

But what does it really mean for a brand to lead authentically through video content? Let’s take a look at an example from a brand that’s made a big splash with lo-fi content.

Meet Duo: The Owl Behind Duolingo

Duolingo is perhaps one of the most famous brands on TikTok, and it’s easy to see why after a quick scroll through its channel. The language-learning app has successfully tapped into the Gen Z audience through its mascot Duo the owl, known for his quick-witted ability to take the lead on popular TikTok trends in a hilarious and clever way.

In this video, Duo hopped onto the “if doing ____ (blank) becomes illegal” trend, where users post something they would be arrested for doing if it became illegal. Duo chimes in with this gem: If TikTok were to become illegal, how would he incessantly remind you to do your Spanish lesson?

What appears to be a quickly-put-together video for laughs is actually a result of a meticulously planned, smart social strategy. The Duolingo team knows that their mostly Gen Z audience appreciates it when Duo jumps onto a funny trend with his own authentic twist. Plus, it’s a clear reminder for Duolingo users to complete their lessons. This video likely did not take a long time to create, but its impact is resounding, with approximately 77,000 likes.

One word of caution: Hiring a TikTok personality proved to be a good fit for Duolingo, but what worked for one brand may not work for others, including your own.

Before hopping onto any social media trend, consider whether it aligns with your brand identity and social strategy. Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What are my goals?

  • Who is my target audience?

  • How will I measure success (e.g., general awareness or quality engagements from a specific audience)?

How can my brand use lo-fi content?

As entertainment platforms, TikTok and Instagram thrive off videos that entertain without appearing too polished. And yet, while videos that generate laughs perform well, every successful video does not have to fall under the umbrella of comedy, as Duolingo’s did. These platforms position brands to make an impact through their unique niche, whether through sharing content that entertains, educates or inspires.

Ready to get started?

Here are three ways you can incorporate lo-fi content into your existing social media strategy.

1. Tap into fast-paced trends by filming and editing on your phone.

The speed of social media requires you to have your head on a swivel, constantly tracking and keeping your eyes peeled for the latest trends. However, you don’t have to worry about missing a trend due to production delays when you film and edit from your phone.

In order for your videos to perform well in the long run, your content should still fit your brand voice. Younger audiences love ironic content from brands, but a brand should never tap into a trend simply because it’s trending. You should be strategic in your post. Think: How will this video start a conversation that builds a community of interested users rather than viewership from people who won’t engage with my brand or purchase my product/service?

Here’s an example of how to use existing photography to tap into a relevant trend. Huber Engineered Woods jumped onto the Owen Wilson “Wow!” trend by showcasing some of their jaw-dropping Zip System® builds.

2. Leverage your UGC.

Did you know user-generated content is a subcategory of lo-fi content?

This specific type of content comes from individuals who create original content featuring different brands — for example, a product-in-use video. During a time in which authentic content is of utmost importance for success online, UGC performs particularly well, because it initiates conversation and garners trust among followers. Hootsuite explains it well:

“UGC gives customers a unique opportunity to participate in a brand’s growth instead of being a spectator. This influences brand loyalty and affinity in a big way because people thrive off being part of something greater than themselves, and creating UGC allows them to be part of a brand’s community.”

Social media is all about community building. What better way for a brand to grow its community than by sharing original content from its followers?

Here’s an example from Stanley Tools, which often repurposes UGC content for TikTok and Instagram.

In this video, a creator uses a Stanley® FATMAX® Tape Measure on his woodworking project. The video generated product praise in the comments section because users trust individuals who share their love for a tool organically instead of through a paid partnership (which sometimes causes skepticism).

3. Speak into the camera.

Bringing a face in front of the camera is another way to increase your chance of success on these platforms. Doing so helps humanize a brand, which is an important attribute for creating authentic content.

When creating educational lo-fi content, having a person speak to the audience — especially someone who has expertise in the niche — increases the possibility of enhanced brand trust because it reinforces that the information is coming from a knowledgeable person.

Here is another example from Lowe’s featuring a popular influencer in the gardening category.

In the video, Lowe’s teamed up with the well-known TikTok mother-son duo @judybaogarden to teach their audience how to make an herb garden. The video performed well because it features a well-loved gardening expert, trusted by the TikTok community, and provides simple instructions explained in a visually compelling way. By partnering with the popular garden team, Lowe’s builds brand trust on a subconscious level.

Final Words: Be Authentic

In marketing, authenticity is about staying true to who you are, what you do and whom you serve. Yes, lo-fi content’s rough-hewn, spur-of-the-moment quality can help drive deeper connections and meaningful engagement. But though it may be minimally produced, successful lo-fi content is rooted in intentional, thoughtful social media strategy. Every piece of content you share must not only relate to your brand and goals but also deliver something of value to your intended audience — be it entertainment, education or inspiration.

That’s authentic.

Looking for more ways to harness the power of social media? Read up on our recent social media blog posts.

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