The perils of Twitter, a telco on Snapchat and online communities: Socialites founder Wendy Thompson on why brands need a social media agency

Looking at the continuous stream of faux pas that brands share on Twitter, social media sometimes seems like a PR nightmare waiting to happen. Despite its brevity, a 140-character message leaves a lot of room for ambiguity. And brands active on the channel are often only a simple click away from being construed as misogynistic, insensitive and opportunistic.

So risky is Twitter that Wendy Thompson, the founder of social media agency Socialites, advises clients not to dabble in platform.

“It’s really dangerous,” she says. “And we often recommend to our clients not to go onto it, because you’re just setting yourself up for negativity. There are a lot of bandwagon people on there—and that’s fine, but it’s not great for brands.”

The general negativity of the Twitter platform has recently seen another social media aficionado in Flossie founder Jenene Crossan deactivating her account on the service due to becoming disillusioned with the nastiness it engenders.

Unlike Crossan, Thompson is still active on the platform on a personal basis and she does see advantages in this.

“What I’ve found with Twitter is that it’s useful for some things but not for others,” Thompson says. “Where it is good is for news media – all the politicians and celebrities are there. It’s a great listening tool.”

However, for brands, Thompson argues that Facebook is a better place to be, because it allows for the creation of communities through brand pages—and she says that this is at the core of what social should represent to brands.

“It used to be that social was part of digital, PR, advertising or marketing, but it’s really its own entity,” she says.

“It’s about building communities through two-way communication. If you go into this community and engage with it, you immediately get this sense of what’s going on.”

Since founding her company in October of 2010, Thompson has worked with Spark, Jed’s, Auckland Airport, Mitre 10, Charlie’s, Rekorderlig and Bell Tea. And she recently also won the social media account to work with House of Travel, which is good news given that the travel company spent around 68 percent of its advertising budget on digital advertising in 2014, with 40 percent of that going straight into Facebook.

Given the company’s successes with some of New Zealand’s major brands, it isn’t all that surprising that House of Travel is putting its social media account in the hands of the 10 staff members that inhabit Socialite’s Auckland office.

“Because social media is so new, we’ve had to prove ourselves from day one. People are always asking, ‘Well, what’s your return on investment on a Facebook page?’ and they don’t ask that about a TVC. Now, luckily, the platforms are catching up and we can now [track campaigns]down to the cent. That’s probably one of the reasons we’ve grown so fast, because we can go ‘look, you’ve spent $20,000 with us and we’ve made you $100,000’. That makes it easier to go back and ask for more money.”

In working with Mitre 10, Thompson says that Socialites aimed to build New Zealand’s biggest DIY community, and adds that on 3 March SocialBakers placed it as the fastest growing Facebook page in the country.

Socialites was also involved in the Spark rebrand, orchestrating the company’s foray onto Snapchat off the back of the ‘Automatic Thanks Machine’ campaign.


“We got a call from Jason Paris saying, ‘can you sort out our social media for our launch,’” says Thompson.

“Because our main brief was a younger audience, we decided to use Snapchat. At that time, no one had really done anything big, and the results were great. And we also got to go on a road trip across the country.”

And as explained by Spark Home, Mobile and Business PR manager Lucy Fullarton, the campaign was hugely successful: “Our first Snapchat campaign was the Spark Automatic Thanks Machine last year, which was wildly successful – in our first week we averaged 11,500 views each day. On average, we’d receive around 50 individual Snapchats a day from our friends, which allows us to have really fun, humorous and timely dialogue. It’s a channel that we can be personable in – directly responding to customers snaps quickly.”

Thompson adds that Spark also gained over 3,000 Instagram followers over the course of the campaign.  

But developing social media communities necessitates constant moderation, and this is an area where many brands still struggle, according to Thompson.

“You’d probably be surprised, but most companies don’t have an internal social media department,” she says. “We’re in the process of building one up for Spark, but it really depends on the client.”

Spark currently has two dedicated social media experts on its team, and it’s currently recruiting an additional pair to assist in managing the social media side of the business. However, Thompson explains that this approach isn’t necessarily the norm.

“In the case of Mitre 10, we’ve got a key person that we report to, but we run the strategy, implementation and everything. It’s almost like we’re the in-house social media team, but we’re outhouse. It’s different for each client, but for most clients we really consider ourselves as part of the company really.”

As part of its services to clients, Socialites offers a community management service from 9am to 9pm, seven days a week.

“As soon as somebody comments, they get an answer right away. So they’re not having to wait 24 hours for a response,” she says. “We don’t use interns. I actually like to support the blogging community, so we hire bloggers. So, after-hours we actually have super amazing writers who create a bit of banter with the community.”

The idea of a social media agency is so new that in some ways it might seem like a concept spawned by the confusion that has accompanied the disruption of digital, but Thompson says that this isn’t the case.

“It’s just like a media or creative agency, because it’s such a specialised skill. [More and more businesses need to] hire specialist social media marketers—and I’m not talking about customer service people because that’s quite different—and there are very few people in New Zealand that do that. We come in, set the strategy and implement it.”

She adds: “We’re such a strong company, because we’re so specialised. When we first started, we did some email marketing, but then I decided to focus on just doing one thing well. Without the number of staff, you are going to battle to do all of this well.”

As someone who cut her teeth in direct and email marketing at DDB and Whybin\TBWA and Publicis, Thompson is familiar with what it takes to work in the agency world. And while this is major advantage when it comes to bringing campaigns to life in social, it doesn’t necessarily imply that agencies always get creative control. 

“We have our own social media budgets that aren’t necessarily tied into a campaign. It’s not related to selling something. It’s about looking after our community. And that means we can do something cool for Valentine’s Day, on Easter or because it’s Friday.”

Most brands are unlikely to add to their marketing spend, and this means that the social media budget has to come from somewhere. And, as has been seen by the rapid growth of digital ad spend at the expense of other channels, this is clearly being pulled from the traditional channels.  

Because digital platforms like Facebook offer sophisticated metrics, brands are able to gauge exactly how effective their online efforts are. And given Facebook’s commitment to evolving its analytics, this advantage will only become more pronounced over time, leading to a further inflation of those social media budgets—and this is certainly something that Thompson and her Socialites won’t be complaining about.  

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