Whilst researching for this piece, I asked myself "what is social?"
I haven’t googled it for a long time. Or maybe even ever. Having worked in the field for well over a decade, it isn’t something I have pondered all that much. “Wood for the trees”, and all that.
After thinking about it for more time than I probably should, I went to everyone's go-to toolbar: Google (not a social network, although they did make a big song and dance about one once… or twice… or was it three times?).
Did you ever use Friendfeed? Dailybuzz? Friendster? YikYak? Vine? Google Plus? Bebo?
A cursory glance at the search result brings up The Six Types of Social Media which, helpfully, has over eight examples. This confusion and misunderstanding is endemic across many, many places in this business.
It’s not surprising either – did you ever use Friendfeed? Dailybuzz? Friendster? YikYak? Vine? Google Plus? Bebo? Myspace (which is now a music website and was at one point bought by Justin Timberlake)?
And can you remember which one was the most important? Or what the differences were?
No. Of course you can’t. Not really.
Social is the broadest church in the marketing mix: its practices were written from a mixture of silicon valley bods, PR shops, pure play digital agencies and successful production companies and content makers (or influencers as we call them today). It has its DNA rooted in DM; it's performance focussed, data driven and personalised; all the while being entertainment-, editorial- and media-centric.
Even getting into the sector is insane.
It has its DNA rooted in DM.
You will have seen job descriptions passed around on Twitter – where companies post looking for talent with ludicrous expectations of what they can do: "we would like a Videographer/Motion/Designer who can write copy, manage pages, understand niche audiences with deep analytics skills, with three years’ experience. This is an entry-level job" - classic.
You can’t blame the companies trying to hire this talent; social is a daunting and hugely broad specialism and is now (thanks to the pandemic) is the fastest-growing sector: paid social topping the leader board of wants, with a 116.4% increase in demand. [Source: LinkedIn]
Since the pandemic, the requirement for social media advertising has increased by 45.9%, proficiency in Instagram is up 28.4%, social media optimisation has grown by 26.2%. [Source: LinkedIn]
In addition to that perfect talent storm - It remains the only place that is both shop window, customer service, local gossip and test environment. And you have to execute in 16:9, 1:1, 9:16, with narrative stacking, consideration for sound on / sound off as well as creative restrictions around type size, UX depiction.
And let’s not forget – people can instantly tell you what you think of your work. And more often than not they tell you “it's rubbish”.
Let’s not forget – people can instantly tell you what you think of your work.
OKAY CHRIS, WE GET IT – IT’S REALLY COMPLICATED AND SCARY!
So yes – nowadays you really do need a big partner with multi-multi-talented and hybrid teams to deliver – who all pull from a broad range of skills. But the unifier for great work in the realm of social has a simple focal shift – that moves away from the importance of platform.
Our thinking needs to read: Community then platform then content and tools.
- Community – the actual ties that bind people together – shared interest or locality or cultures.
- Platform – the place they hang out – and I don’t just mean the traditional big three in social media – but crucially – understand that platform and its culture (some of them are entrenched in it – see the Hellmann’s example below).
- Content and tools – we all understand the vernacular for content nowadays but we also need to give our communities marketing tools so they can take part too – everything from Gifs to lenses to badges to skins.
It’s the reverse of the old tenets of big brand thinking – but it’s an organic thing that most people in social can’t really see without having to think about it, because we have always done it that way.
It’s the reverse of the old tenets of big brand thinking.
We have simply been plugged into the coalface of feedback and digital communities for years – community managing, Twitter responding, crisis managing and making work for the people using the platform all the while.
No matter what you are trying to execute, even if it’s being talked about in parliament, Community, Platform then Content and Tools should still be your go-to steps for making work.
You can see this in practice with the incredible results for this Skoda campaign, Climb for this is our time, that focussed on the intersection of female cycling, its lack of representation and the power of the Strava community:
I use particular emphasis on the term content and tools, as it might not be a traditional ‘message’ that you need to send (it could be a plethora of them), and you might be giving communication tools to your community to use, so THEY can make noise for you.
You might be giving communication tools to your community to use, so THEY can make noise for you.
This is something that a lot of clients still miss: the shape of the work doesn’t have to be dictated by a film, it just might need to work layered on top of filmic content or within the UX of a platform.
This is true of this campaign for the UN, where the goal was to get Tik-Tokkers to be proud of the contribution they were making to the Covid effort.
Equally, working community, platform, content and tools first brings you to completely new places, where your brand may have no normal reason to be in the first place; like mayonnaise and video gaming (very odd bedfellows).
The shape of the work doesn’t have to be dictated by a film
For their Christmas campaign [below], Hellmann’s Mayonnaise made a bid to reduce food waste: the brand launched its very own Island on Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizon and gave people the chance to make a change and have fun.
So, whilst social continues to morph and change at a terrifying rate, demanding that we all know everything about everything, and relatively new players enter the field (read: Yubo and Clubhouse); the core phases of what is really important to focus on still applies to all.
Social continues to morph and change at a terrifying rate
Which should give you some level of relief?
If you are still completely lost – that’s okay – there are teams of ultra-talented people (including us) who make sense of what makes communities tick, which platform it will land best on and which tools and content you need to make. We’ve done it for years and we are not hard to find.
That said… I still don’t think I really know what social is…
Let me go back to Google again…