I have to admit a bias here – when the opportunity to talk to Lego’s Director of Social Media arose, I was pretty excited. The thing is I’m a living, breathing case study of Lego’s track record of consumer engagement. Back when I was about five or six, I wrote to the Danish HQ to ask why the iconic bricks did not come in pink. Look, I was going through ‘a phase’. Anyway, they wrote back and sent me a Lego soldier key ring and lo and behold, several years later (and to much controversy) Lego does indeed do pink. So. Fast forward to March 2013, Lars Silberbauer is at Promax to discuss how Lego has used social media to reach out to its fans and built a brand, brick by brick.
LBB> Lego is a brand that people have a strong emotional attachment too – what sort of pressure does that present?
LS> As a brand we are very, very lucky because people not only want to talk to us, they want to talk with us. For a brand that is very uplifting. Of course that puts a lot of demands on you too, you have to be able to answer people in a way which is expected and you have to live up to the expectations of the brand. A lot of companies would envy us for having that pre-existing level of interest.
LBB> How long has Lego had a specific social media strategy in place?
LS> I was brought into the company to create that strategy and that was just about two years ago. I basically started developing that and we’re now executing on it. The strategy framework was built on strategizing – that means we are doing stuff then feeding insights back to the strategy and are continuously improving it. It’s not that old.
LBB> When you came on board what were your initial priorities?
LS> The escalation route and damage control – we had to make sure that we had a solid foundation. When we were engaging people we needed to be able to pick up on things that could potentially damage our relationship with our viewers. Before we started engaging in campaigns we wanted to have the basic foundations in place, building Lego brick by brick.
LBB> In the two years you’ve been working on the brand, has there been anything that has surprised you about the ways people want to engage with Lego?
LS> I think the sheer size of the conversations taking place can be overwhelming and you really feel humbled by so many people wanting to engage with the company. When I joined I knew it was a very loved brand, but I was astonished by the scale of the engagement and the strength of the emotion people have towards the brand.
LBB> In terms of demographics, who are you mainly talking to through your social media channels? Is it nostalgic adults, or kids and parents?
LS> We’re covering both, but of course in terms of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter we can only really target the over-13s. But on Lego.com, we have social engagement with kids, but that is a very strict, pre-moderated area. We don’t even outsource the moderation, we do it in-house. We make sure that kids are safe online, that’s a big part of our agenda. Our moderation team does a tremendous job engaging with kids, keeping them safe and also making sure that there isn’t any bullying going on.
However, as we say, we are in conversation with kids of all ages. So on our other social channels we might be talking to a guy of 35, it’s always about play. The language might be slightly different but the core experience is not.
LBB> In your Promax talk, you mentioned the sorts of competitions and events you run through your social media channels. It was interesting to see how you combine the online and offline social aspects to come together.
LS> Basically I don’t think there’s a big difference between online and offline. I think for people growing up right now they have access to digital technology as a matter of course, but they still have the same needs. They have a need to play together, whether that’s on World of Warcraft or in the schoolyard – it’s all because of a need for human interaction. You can see how that manifests in different ways on different channels but it’s basically the same social need.
LBB> In terms of the social media campaigns you’ve been involved in, which are you particularly proud of?
LS> I’m proud about all we do, but we did a holiday campaign at Christmas where we really engaged a lot of parents and families. I really enjoyed that – it was called the Happy HoliPlays campaign. The challenge that we set out for engagement was that kids could go out in nature or in the city and, with Lego creation, put another layer of imagination over the real world. I really enjoyed that – and it’s a way of working that we can use in different ways in different campaigns going forward.
LBB> Aside from Lego.com, which platform is most central to the brand and its fans?
LS> That really depends on which target group we’re trying to reach. Facebook has a mainstream audience and there are lots of people who talk to us there, but we’re talking to moms and dads and teens. We use YouTube in the same way, but it’s a different, more immersive experience. But then we have Google+, which is where the more hard-core, lengthy discussions take place. Twitter is good for real time events and dialogue. Instagram can be useful too. And then of course there’s the question of geography – in Russia we’re on VK, in China we’re on Sina Weibo. It depends on which target group we’re trying to reach, but the other question is about what groups are trying to reach us and the platforms that they use to do that.
LBB> Talking about the different markets, is there a particular difference in the tone and approach you use in different territories? Or, flipping that, how do you ensure consistency across different languages and cultures?
LS> Of course there are different conversations in different cultures, and social media is not special in that regard. It’s just another way of talking to different people. We do a lot of work empowering our frontline staff to have those conversations and making sure they have the right values. We don’t have a big control system; I don’t want to sign off every single conversation. That would be too long-winded. But we have to make sure that our people have the right competencies and freedom to drive those conversations. I think it’s working pretty well and I think it’s the only way you can scale worldwide conversations for brands.
LBB> For now, social seems to centre around tablets and mobile (and young kids seem to love tablets), but there’s a lot of talk at the moment about a new generation of wearable technology. Is that something you’re looking into and how do you think that will change the kinds of conversations that people have with the brand?
LS> We are, of course, always looking into new opportunities and stay aware of new platforms coming up. But it’s still about humans, it’s about people, it’s about emotions, it’s about relationships – it’s about creating this connection between the brand and the user. That’s still what we have to focus on, but then you have a different toolbox for different markets, different purposes, but it all comes back to the same thing. Humans. And the little yellow minifigure.
LBB> In terms of the development of overall brand campaigns, how does the social strategy fit into that process?
LS> We have integrated social media in the whole development process – whether that’s a new campaign or a new product. We have different windows in that development process to feed in insights from social media or sparring with the different brand managers along the way. That goes all the way from the product ideas right the way through to the execution process of the marketing. That’s where you need to be able to react and respond to the feedback we’re getting from the consumers.
It’s important to say that social media is one of many voices involved in that design process. It would be an exaggeration to say social media is designing new products – it’s one of many competencies that are needed.
LBB> Looking forward across the next year, what should we keep an eye out for from Lego?
LS> From a general perspective, I am looking forward to the Lego movie that’s coming out next year. I can’t wait to see a whole feature film about Lego. We are also always thinking about Christmas, it’s an important period of time for us and it’s high on our agenda. We’re always thinking of ways to engage our consumers and to make sure that they want to talk to us.