Social media has come of age, but some would say in doing so the platforms introducing their own rules and best practices have killed the fun that came from interacting with new and sometimes famous people in real-time digitally from all around the world. Advertising is often blamed for moving into and invading new spaces, however, brands know that to cut through they need to create moments and conversation.
This year’s jury of The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards discussed the evolution of social media and why and how the fun element has arguably diminished over the years and what that has meant for brands using the likes of TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to generate fame too.
The group focused on the impact that TikTok is making in generating content that is engaging because it is currently all about audience growth in its burgeoning days, which means videos are being created to amaze and amuse which sparks interest as a result.
“I’m watching the kids,” says Kinda Jackson, managing director of digital for Brands2Life as to how she follows new trends. “If you watch how my two boys are using TikTok for example and following their friends on social, learning from them very simply how to tap into trends and memes and creating content around what they are currently talking about the work between Wendy’s and online game Fortnite from earlier this year, as one example of success. “They tapped into what they were doing and was in the conversation. But watching the kids and what they are doing on TikTok, it’s incredibly creative, incredibly fun and incredibly social.”
Picking up on engagement and how brands can still tap into and become a part of the online conversation, Justine Bower, director of communications for UKTV cites the continued importance of social listening and finding related conversations that companies can connect to and heighten.
“That’s what TikTok is there for, it’s there to create and for the audience to have fun – they are now creators, so it’s about having fun and letting them create back rather than just broadcasting business as usual (BAU) content out? What is your audience doing? Are they having fun with you? Are you having fun with your audience?”
Immediate Future chief executive Katy Howell argues that social media has become “boring” with the industry forgetting that the traditional rules of advertising and marketing still apply in this space too.
“We don’t entertain enough,” she states. “We put out too much BAU, social is so boring it’s become mundane and most brands tick a box with someone putting out something every day, there is so much diarrhoea out there. But the brands who are kicking it are the ones that are dealing with emotions and portraying something that is stand out or maybe risqué and they are tapping into older good quality marketing techniques instead of churning content.”
Pointing out that creativity is not restricted by the rules set by each platform, but instead enhanced by the work that goes into working around those restrictions, is Bodgana Butnar, experience strategy lead for Karmarama. “If we think that social media is any media that allows you to have a connection with your consumers and probably the internet is the easiest one because that’s where you can have access to them, it’s harder to do it on TV but maybe with digital TV, then we can find different ways to engage with these consumers,” she explains, adding that even TikTok will be regulated when it aims to moneytize the platform through advertising, and likely restricting the ‘fun’ environment its users have created.
“We have to figure out how we want to deliver on the brand objectives that we have and have fun while doing it. If we are sticking with the ideas that what the creators of social media give us then we will forever end up in the same place – we are going to have to stop the deluge of brand communications that comes on those platforms by forming gateways where these are the formats, and if you cannot deliver across those formats, that’s it, you’re done.”
Arguing that planning around business objectives over finding ways to surprise audiences has been another factor in taking some of the joy out of social media platforms, is Rebecca Holmes, director of social media, Splendid. While she admits those objectives are clearly important, it is surprising that cuts through for brands in her brief.
“If you look at the brands that cut through this year, they have not made cut through because they have made an amazing format innovation or they have pushed the boundaries of what is possible on a platform, they have made cut through because they have surprised people with their messaging which audiences didn’t expect. It’s not about how they used native functionality on Instagram, it’s about surprising someone which is what it ultimately comes down to. And yes all of those things feed into it but we are so focused on all of that strategic laddering up to allow goals and objectives that you get that BAU content that is only pushing our messaging that is talking to people in a real way, which how it works and how social stays fun. Brands tend to ruin how social fun is when they should be the difference from the norm.”
Adding that the two factors should not be seen as being mutually exclusive, Saskia Jones, data strategy director for BBH also believes that the fundamentals of marketing should be adhered to but that the search for fame should be the desired outcome from social media activity.
“If you go after fame then all of your other objectives will follow from awareness and profit, all of that will follow. We’ve forgotten that,” she claims. “When I first started in social media and paid social media wasn’t a thing, that is when you had to work hard to entertain people. As soon as you put paid behind it, people got bored and lazy because they could guarantee that a million people would see their post. But the platforms themselves have got us to a place where we are so adherent to their best practice that everything looks the same and everything is wallpaper.”
Jones adds that she battles media agencies who wish to follow platform format guidelines as breaking the rules can make a difference in successfully engaging an audience.
“So they are not mutually exclusive, you can ladder-up and drive business results, but it is going back to those fundamentals because for so long social has been a thing we have treated as having different rules but all the best pieces of work we see on social adhere to everything we knew about marketing. It cuts through, it’s different and distinctive and those are the principles, then it doesn’t matter what platform we are talking about,” she concludes.
As to how creativity can breathe on social under platform rules, Bodgana Butnar believes it is easier to be creative as a result of such restrictions and that the platforms such as Facebook cannot be blamed for clients wishes to follow them.
“There doesn’t have to be a tension there – but the tension might be between that some of those formats just happen to be more effective because that is how the algorithm works. While we might want to do some things with photography, we know the algorithm is pushing video. That’s not a rule that Facebook imposed on us, that’s an algorithm that Facebook has put in place to promote video because it means more time is spent on there and generates more advertising revenue. That’s a rule you can adhere to without thinking that you cannot be creative without following the rules. That’s what is interesting about this – everybody is trying to get to the same place, but you must have best practices. If we are thinking that because of those rules being in place we cannot be creative, then we’re wrong. A lot of the work that brands are doing is working by the rules and not everybody has to go to YouTube to ask to hack its six seconds because it doesn’t work for them. We have people that deliver incredible bumpers without having to hack anything, so it is interesting to work within the system to understand how to break the system. We shouldn’t complain that all of the rules have made it less fun because it’s not true.”
Howell says that the quality of the content being produced is the fundamental ingredient towards success, and that it doesn’t need to be complex.
“Print advertising hasn’t changed much over the last 50 years yet you have some absolutely outstanding examples of print advertising. A copywriter that isn’t 12 years old who has learnt and learnt their craft, who understands how language is used, the old fashioned art director and copywriter together, who are working together to achieve the goals of the brand and everything else, that bit is the bit that has got lost in our rush to get everything out on social. The bit that is wrong is that we have got lazy – we have this format, this carousel, we want to this channel hack – but the reality is the fundamental bit is getting your copy right. A one liner works brilliantly for that market and audience, and that your visuals are impactful whether they are six seconds or seven minutes long.”
Finally, Deborah King, head of paid social at Essence feels frustrated when deliberating over whether social can’t still be fun, she admits, claiming that it is an avenue that needs to go back to basics in terms of who the target audience is and reaching them through quality advertising creative ideas.
“Having digital copywriters is the thing, having digital copywriters is the thing who understand that content is a thing because that is a lot of where our struggle is. You have this TV ad but what does that look like on social” Organic and buzz campaigns work but fundamentally we work for brands who are trying to shift core business metrics, but the infrastructure of how we do that hasn’t necessarily evolved to let us do it. Our team is always looking at how our best practice isn’t killing the creativity but enhancing it and we are getting to the point now where we have people who understand the craft of creative and content but also the algorithms. What does organic mean versus paid because those are two avenues that if you have one strategy but both, then you are going to fail. But if you understand how they work together then you are going to hit that objective?”
So social media can remain a fun environment despite the imposed restrictions brands face when utilising the platforms, it seems. It just takes good old-fashioned ideas and personality in order to form a community that wants to be surprised and amused by a brand’s work.
The Drum's Social Buzz Awards winners will be announced on Wednesday 27 November at The Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London.