The first rule of speech club is to insert an inspirational quote at the start. The second rule of speech club is to show a whole lot of case study videos. And while Giles Tuck, head of Google’s inhouse agency The Zoo-APAC, failed on the former in his presentation about social creativity—the first Champion Speakers event for the recently rejigged CAANZ PR, Experiential and Social Media Committee (PREScom)—he embraced the second. And the main out-take for the 150-strong crowd of gathered marcomms folk was that you can't just do social, you've got to be social.
The Zoo specialises in branding and technological innovation and Tuck, who has been with Google for around six years and has worked in London, Tokyo, New York and now Sydney, has been heavily involved in the development of the YouTube platform and more recently with mobile and wider social media activity.
After pointing attendees to the very funny ‘things real people don’t say about advertising’, he proceeded to take the audience through the Brand Relationship Arc of social media—finding your voice, being agile, talking to the crowd, tapping into existing audiences, amplifying other activity and building communities—and showcased some of the best examples of those things in action from around the world.
"It's about moving from the bottom of that arc, which is brand awareness, all the way up to the quasi-religious Apple-esque brand loyalty, where we will fight each other over the brand. So it’s all just about creating meaningful engagement and actually getting involved ... So far, I think so far the attitude has been 'it’s better to do something rather than nothing' and because of that I think we’ve got a lot of mediocre brand presences.”
Social media is not just about having a Twitter or Facebook page, he says, it's about how you use them. But he's got a lot of sympathy for that, because the brands who do it best know that they need to give people a lot of freedom and responsibility.
"A lot of brands want to be in the space but they're not willing to hand over the keys to the car, so to speak, and engage with people so you get a half-arsed version of it."
Likewise, posting a print ad to Instagram or a TVC to Facebook is very limiting, is just replicating media that’s done elsewhere and overlooks the interactivity of these other digital mediums.
When it comes to finding a voice, he says the question he always asks is 'if your brand is a person, what would it be like?'
And if you're the Solihull Police Force, it turns out you're quite "gobby".
Suddenly, because they're talking directly with people rather than through the filter of the media, he says they’re able to be a bit more open, direct and entertaining. And that changes people's impression of the Police (what Tuck loves about this is that "it’s some brave soul sitting behind a desk who probably on a daily basis is almost getting fired"). Slightly surprisingly, he now follows Solihull Police Force, along with 31,000 others.
Another famous example of finding a voice is the Curators of Sweden campaign, where they handed over the national Twitter handle to individuals. One of the more interesting things, he says, was when someone started posting borderline racist comments and people wanted to shut it down, but the Swedish people felt it was important not to give in and just went with it, which added to the authenticity of the experiment.
"And that's very true for brands. The odd hiccup shouldn’t derail the wider endeavour of having a voice and if you’re able to be truthful and if you tackle the hard things honestly it goes a long way."
It's true that some companies are simply more boring than others. But, as the Solihull Police Twitter account proves, they can make themselves less boring through creative marketing. And Tuck pointed to the work Volvo trucks has done recently. Originally its Live Tests were intended to be a B2B branding activity, but the ideas were good enough to appeal to everyone and its epic splits commercial featuring Jean Claude van Damme ("a counter-intuitive way to sell trucks") became the most watched automotive campaign ever on YouTube—and all in just four weeks. But it had been trying to find its voice before that with a series of ads that aimed to show off the quality of its trucks in unique ways.
Other good examples of companies sticking to their guns are GE, which, while slightly dry content, celebrates science and technology in all of its forms, and Bank of America, which is focused on friendly financial advice.
"What they’ve done very well is trying to tailor the content slightly differently for each of the channels and not just bunging the same content around." He points to the bank's Vine videos, which are small details but work really well.
"If you get it right they’re funny little things that are more likely to be shared."
He says being agile is a tough one, especially if agencies are involved and have to get sign off from marketing and PR departments.
"They could tweet that thing as quickly as ... two days. And that’s where it falls to pieces."
A rare few brands have nailed it, with the famous Oreo black out tweet from the Super Bowl, which was up ten minutes after the lights went out and it was retweeted millions of times.
"That was no accident. They had a graphic artist and copywriter in the room." And while it's not quite as well known, he says Oreo kept this real-time thing going with its Daily Twist campaign, which consisted of 100 graphically-led posts, each one responding to something in the day's news.
Tesco Mobile is another brand doing interesting things on social media and fighting against its largely negative perception by poking fun at its detractors in the #nojoke campaign.
Many brands hope for user-generated content. But it's not as easy as saying "make us a 20 minute science fiction film and win some Doritos".
"It doesn’t happen. You have to be very prescriptive about what you want back and you’ve got to make it manageable and accessible. It’s hugely time consuming task."
But in an era where participatory marketing is becoming more common, humans do seem willing to spend their time creating content for brands—if the hook is good enough.
Tuck pointed to Airbnb's brilliant crowd-sourced ad, Hollywood & Vines, as a great example of that. It asked fans to send in Vine videos, which are shorter and can easily be made from a mobile phone, and it had a director Tweeting tips and curating the film. So rather than competing to win a prize, the fans became part of a community.
Virgin America, "with more than a passing nod to Air New Zealand’s excellent in-flight video campaign", upped the stakes a bit by adding a social element and asking people to submit an Instagram dance video to vxsafetydance.com, which fans could then vote on.
And nnother more advanced version of user-generated content is Netflix's campaign to relaunch Arrested Development, which allowed fans to insert one of the characters, Tobias Fünke, into other content.
It’s a huge ask for people to use green screen, he says, but as the show had a relatively small but very passionate following, they "weren’t looking for mass responses, they were looking for a small number of very high quality responses". And, with the help of Ron Howard's trailer, that's what they got.
The next campaign he covered was Spit Like Busta Rhymes for Google Music. On YouTube, there is a lot of uploading of sport and music and he says it's really thorny issue from a copyright perspective. So they met that head-on, gave the new track away as a free download and asked fans to 'spit his verse'. That created a lot of user generated content and then they made videos of Busta Rhymes and his friends reviewing and responding to the videos.
"It’s a two-way conversation. And seeing the star or celebrity responding is really nice."
That conversational element can also be seen in Epic Rap Battles of History, he says, as it asks the community to tell it who won the various battles and who it should do next.
"It’s all driven by the YouTube comments and in response to the fans. YouTube is often ignored from a social side and it’s seen as a one-way street, but this is a good example of how to involve a community."
Wendy's also involved its community and amplified activities that were going on elsewhere for the launch of its Pretzel burger by adding a new (musical) dimension to some of the fans' Tweets about how great they thought the burger was.
The use of RFID tags for Nike's 'We run Paris' event also amplified activity (this time, actual activity) by allowing runners to Tweet automatically by running through a gate.
"It was such a simple concept and it was really effective."
Tuck also heaped praise on Melbourne's Remote Control Tourist, which he says was a really good example of real-time campaign.
"But the big thing for me was that it brought the people of Melbourne to life. It adds an element you wouldn’t get with other formats. Using the Google Maps API to track everything was really nice. But it was the personal interaction that made it really interesting."
Aligned to this idea, but done in a different way is a recent experiment by Google Maps that allows users to do an interactive, curated night walk through Marseilles. While the Remote Control Tourist campaign now has lots of video content, this idea encourages users to explore things on their own terms and at their own pace and, over time, it seems likely that users will add to it and populate the site with their own content.