Chris Hirst on Social Media: Let Go

Thankfully another season of the Apprentice has now ended. But there’s a lesson from this latest season that I can’t shake.

On one episode, Essex boy done good Alan Sugar accused one of his boardroom boors of making “a complete Horlicks” of the task set out for him.

As chief exec of the agency responsible for Horlicks’ communications, I, of course, cringed. Nobody wants one of their brands to be the primetime euphemism de jour for ‘bollocks’.

My discomfort at the unsavoury connection was abated before I even went to sleep that night. Graeme Ford, social researcher for Grey London’s new social media agency, The Social Partners, pinged in my email and put me at ease. He had been watching the BBC’s The Apprentice as well, caught the reference and had already fired up his social listening software.

Within minutes of Lord Sugar’s utterance, Graeme had captured an abnormally large volume of tweets, musing about all things Horlicks. There was a mountain of ‘I love Horlicks’, ‘I haven’t had Horlicks in years’, ‘I’m going to get me some Horlicks’ type tweets. OK, so there were a few folks tweeting less than lovely things about the brand – but they were still tweeting about it.

Tweeting about it so much that, for the first time in history, a malted milk brand was officially trending on Twitter (#horlicks), officially lodging Horlicks smack into the centre of British consciousness in a big way. Thanks for not just saying ‘bollocks’, Alan.

Love it or hate it, this is the world we live and work in.

We live in a world where a throwaway comment from a b-list reality TV host (OK, A-list businessmen in all fairness) can ignite a nationwide reminiscence for a malted milk brand. We live in a world where more and more people are two-screen viewers.

This is the social era. Social media has disrupted the comms industry and agencies need to get social. They need to talk less and listen more. They need to loosen up. They need to let go.

By now agencies understand that the most important offering of the social web is social research. Advertisers and marketers need to listen to wider and wider array of audiences online and be able to make sense of what is being said.

Just as important, agencies need to be loose and able to act on that data.

Jane Young, social business consultant and one the Social Partners for Grey London says, “if you aren’t investing in developing a loose culture, you’re probably going to wake up one morning soon, buried knee-deep in data, wondering what the hell happened. A flat, decentralised, trust-based, collaborative, loosely networked approach to business will win”.

Agencies need to let go and become more comfortable with less control.

How many times have we heard agency heads say “we can’t open up our blogs to all staff” or “we can’t just get everyone tweeting”?

Social media is no longer something that someone else does. Everyone in an agency has to be social now. Agencies need to be able to trust each and every one of their employees to interact in the social sphere as if they were speaking on behalf of the agency and clients. Clients need to trust agencies to take risks and move fast in order to get results.

When envisioning social work, agencies need to let go of the tools and be post-platform. Social media isn’t about Facebook or Twitter anymore, it’s about engagement and holding attention. Agencies can’t get hung up on one network or another, they need to be flexible enough to move their match their message to the medium and the audience, wherever they may be. Likes, views and followers are a false economy. Online communities are fickle – Facebook is one hot competitor away from being the next Myspace. Facebook and Twitter cannot come up with the next big idea that will move or persuade people.

Agencies have to make clients feel like a part of the idea and consumers feel like they are involved in the creative process. Interact with consumers, engage them, talk to them, pick their brains, crowdsource ideas and you’ll find the key to winning their hearts and minds.

Most importantly, agencies need to let go of ads. There’s too much chaos, too much noise to just blast ads at consumers and their technologically stunted attention spans. It’s about the long game now, the narrative, the involvement. Agencies need to tell stories to engage consumers in whatever media is most relevant.

Here are my favourite pieces of work that show a true understanding of the potentials of social media:

American electronics retailer, Best Buy, is an elegant example of how far social media can take a brand. The success of the Twelpforce is two fold – Best Buy have highly focused their comms in the most relevant channels and harnessed the knowledge and passion of their on-the-floor retail employees in a way previously unheard of for a big brand. Best Buy have empowered and energised their staff and provide their customers with an invaluable resource.

The recent Cannes-winning “Write the Future” campaign from Nike is an outstanding model of modern integration. Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam didn’t just create a multi-channel campaign – they created a series of engaging, interactive and linked components across television, Facebook, YouTube and Xbox Live that truly integrated themselves into the participants’ lives.

Grey London’s Live Every Litre campaign for Honda started as an effort to involve real people in the launch of a new hybrid sports car and resulted in the world’s first co-created, crowd-sourced, multilingual film. The whole thing was completely driven by social media. The mass creative process pulled together people from all corners of the internet, from Facebook and Twitter to specialist blogs, forums and other digital meeting grounds. Car fanatics swarmed to the campaign because of the real value Honda was offering them – the chance to be involved with a process, the launch of a new model vehicle, that would normally be unattainable to them.

The social media “Response” to Wieden & Kenndy Portland’s latest and much-loved Old Spice spot was so successful because the brand let go and gave themselves over to the power of the crowd. “Response” was loose and it was fast. It wasn’t about platforms, Isaiah Mustafa responded to people directly now matter where they were posting – be it YouTube comments, Tweets, Yahoo! Answers or blog posts about him.

The “Response” campaign released 180 videos in real  time over the course of three days. That’s brand bravery – you can just imagine the huge amount of trust Old Spice had in WK to just keep churning those films out.

 

 

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