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Appreciating the fine line of art and science with Socialites

Wendy Thompson, founder of Socialites.

How has Socialites evolved since you founded it in 2010?

Back in 2010, it was pretty much just Facebook and Twitter. And there were no ads! Brand pages had only just launched and social media was a real wild west full of curious early adopters. As a marketer it was so much fun; testing, breaking things and learning every day.

Over the years the opportunities and creativity for brave marketers have grown exponentially. There’s been data science and dynamic creative, AI and the Ice Challenge, programmatic and phishing, flywheels and filters… the theories and platforms keep evolving and are a whole lot of fun to stay abreast of.

But building genuine communities is still at the heart of everything we do at Socialites – no matter how the technologies and executions change.

Organisations are living entities; at the heart of every organisation is a community of customers, staff, suppliers, stakeholders and advocates that keeps the power on. And we get to create and harness that for our clients at Socialites; there is nothing like the feeling of bringing a group of people coming together in a shared vision. You feel like the Pied Piper! We just love it!

In 2010 it was all about getting as many followers and Likes as possible, as organic reach was really high. We, therefore, built communities of hundreds of thousands of people for brands like Mitre 10 and Jägermeister. Over the years organic reach has dramatically dropped so follower numbers have been relegated to a vanity metric. Now, you need to have an excellent media strategy and your metrics that matter are quite different.

The platforms have changed too. For example, we launched Spark as New Zealand’s first corporate onto Snapchat five years ago and ran a campaign that had thousands of people turn up to events around the country, it was phenomenal! In 2019 we don’t do much on Snapchat at all but are doing a lot more in TikTok and WeChat.

Socialites in 2019 still works with blue-chip New Zealand clients in New Zealand and around the globe. Our managing partner Melanie Spencer joined this year and runs a tight ship producing excellent work with clients such as Invivo Wines, Foodstuffs and The Warehouse.

What were the client challenges you were looking to solve back in 2010? And what are they now?

To be honest, almost 10 years later, the marketing challenges are still the same:

  • To connect with their communities
  • To drive behaviour (sales etc).

What has changed is now we have sophisticated reporting techniques and so much data it can be distracting. The tools, platforms and metrics have changed too; it’s not about likes and followers anymore.

With all this data it can be tempting to look at the quick wins; the sales or clicks or followers. This is valid but it can be at risk of missing the real value in social media; social media is a unique marketing channel, it is your chance to build a priceless two-way relationship with a significant proportion of your community. 

We can’t underestimate the power of a community; when things go well they will celebrate with you and advocate for you; when things go wrong they will help and defend you. They are more than your customer, they are everyone connected to your brand – your staff, suppliers, advocates, customers and stakeholders.

Some agencies talk about Art + Science, with Art referring to excellent creative and Science referring to using data to get in front of the right people at the right time. We believe this is a good start but is missing something important; at Socialites we talk about Art + Science + Heart. It is so important to remember social media is a two-way relationship, and where you can genuinely connect with your community. And that’s where the ‘Heart’ comes in; referring to the listening and the learning and working with your community (not just shouting at it).

Why should marketers work with an agency on this, rather than taking it in-house?

There are real benefits to using in-house and real benefits to working with an agency. The pros of an in-house resource in that they have a direct line to the brand culture, can act fast (if given free rein) and it can be cheaper.

However, an agency is useful to get resource as and when you need it, so no wastage. You also get the benefits of multiple specialists working on your brand instead of one generalist, for example, we find a creative producer, a media expert, a strategist and community managers have very different skills and focuses. Of course with an agency, you don’t have to worry about HR resource and headcount either.

A more subtle positive side effect of using an agency is because agencies tend to work with across a number of brands and industries they give their clients the benefit of all those combined learnings that you just can’t get from an internally-focused resource.

But most of all I think an agency gives a brand that all-important outside perspective. When you start in internal comms at a company you very quickly start to drink the coolade and can very easily get a warped view of what people really think about your company. This is where an agency really helps; by giving a true non-biased perspective – I call it ‘smashing the goldfish bowl’. An agency can help you stay humble and on track with the benefit of an outsider’s perspective. So important in this day and age.

Is there a particular category of clients you work with or is social media a channel all brands are doing?

Every brand needs to take social media seriously. It is your real-time, unedited access to your community. Mass-market brands obviously can get a phenomenal amount of value from social media due to the viralness of it but all brands do well when they take it seriously.

The benefit of social media is about connecting to your community en masse. Social may be used in all sorts of ways; to attract good staff by showing-off your healthy culture, connect with the Chinese community through WeChat, give your customers a platform to ‘humble-brag’ on Facebook or TikTok, or it could be simply advertising your latest products with ads or influencers. There are a plethora of options and the mix will be different as a fingerprint for every business.

Over the years Socialites has launched and/or worked with brands across every industry you can imagine including Spark, Auckland Airport, Vodafone Music Awards, Mitre 10, Icebreaker, Rekorderlig, Cancer Society, Jägermeister, Trelise Cooper, Sanford, House of Travel, Sanitarium, Bell Tea, Starship Foundation and ASB among many others.

We have done some incredible work with B2B brands too! It is so effective to market B2B brands well on social media.

Is influencer marketing a key offer of Socialites?

Influencer marketing has become an increasingly important consideration in the social media mixes we create for our clients. It’s most definitely become more and more important over the past nine years.

We work differently in comparison to other influencer agencies whereby we’re talent agnostic; we don’t manage influencers so we can ensure we provide the best and completely impartial advice and support to our clients. If we were an influencer agency that also ran campaigns we wouldn’t be able to give our clients a truly unbiased service offering. We have strong relationships with talent managers, and direct relationships with social influencers that enable us to provide a non-biased service.

We often get approached by influencers who want our help and we recommend them to the agencies we work with.

Our team has extensive influencer experience in the entertainment space and have managed some of the largest influencer campaigns in the country. Influencers are always fully briefed and managed with their content being approved by the client before anything goes live – no surprises. Our campaigns are managed end-to-end. Everything is tracked, measured, optimized – and reported on.

Building out ambassador plans is very rewarding work; finding and matching the brand values with people, teasing out the creative concepts, building the media layers etc. It’s a really satisfying part of what we love to do.

What lessons have you learnt about influencer marketing in the last few years?

Brand ambassadors have been around forever (think MJ and Pepsi!); influencers are the digital equivalent. And just like anything digital it’s got an upgrade, for example, Facebook has brought in functionality for influencers to sell directly through Facebook/Instagram.

What we like about Influencers in 2019 is the level of professionalism that has been reached; influencers have rate cards and media kits and they are familiar with contracts and advertising legalities. Influencers are expert content creators and know how to harness the asset they have built. The best ones all have in common that they are genuine, curious and consistent. 

There are different types of influencers with different benefits; social celebrities, macro-influencers and micro (or niche) influencers. Each can have its place in an influencer/brand ambassadorship strategy. We are seeing a lot more use of micro-influencers in the last year which is interesting.

Are there any myths about influencer marketing or social media, in general, you’d like to see busted?

Two things:

Being an influencer is not an easy job even if it looks that way from the outside. To get respect and followers takes A LOT of work and commitment as well as resilience, talent and perseverance. This individual has managed to do by themselves what resourced-up marketing departments around the world are trying to do for their brands every day. They deserve our heart-felt respect.

And on a practical level spending thousands of dollars on a flash event and inviting a whole lot of influencers with the hope they will post about it to their followers is old-school (and lazy!). We aren’t in 1997 and you’re not Edna from Absolutely Fabulous. We’re not saying events and influencers don’t work, but you can do much, much better than the old-fashioned ‘spray and pray’ PR approach of gift-boxes and events.

This story is part of a content partnership between Socialites and StopPress. It’s also part of a StopPress series examining influencer Marketing. To read more on Influencer Marketing, click here.

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