Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production
Maria D’Souza on the Impact of Social Media on Content Marketing
Media Agency
London, UK
Maria D'Souza, Partner WM Content at Wavemaker gives her thoughts on social media's effect on marketing content in the ad world

It is common for medical students at the beginning of their schooling to be told half of what they are about to learn will not be true by the time they graduate, what cannot be said for sure is which half. The world wide web and its evolution is on a similar trajectory of growth and evolution. Technology has given us unprecedented access to information – to create and consume. We are watching over five billion hours of video each day, and 90% of the data that currently exists on the internet has only been created since 2016. Google’s number of indexed pages has grown from 1 trillion to more than 30 trillion in the last seven years alone.

Social media networks, also sometimes referred to as Web 2.0, have made it possible for people all over the world to communicate with each other with or without previous familiarity. This coupled with unlimited access to faster internet, the possibility of being able to consume large volumes of content on apps like YouTube and Facebook, the ease of discovery of all content that ever existed on the web have contributed to the elevation of social media in our lives. Without these advances, social media may have been limited in its ability to impact the world we live in, and the way brands develop content.

At the beginning of this decade, we began to experience the virtual water cooler phenomenon, largely fuelled by Twitter. Whether it was breaking news, a TV show, or the latest musings of a quasi-celebrity, ideas and thoughts spread like wildfire over the internet through social networks. In 2009, the news of a possible plane crash in the Hudson river in New York broke on Twitter a full fifteen minutes before it did across mainstream news media. A local resident tweeted what he saw and within minutes residents along the river peered out of their windows, hundreds from across New York rushed to the site to document and share their own version of the story, and journalists from all major news outlets scrambled to validate the details. The connectedness and transparency of Twitter meant that not only New Yorkers followed the story as it unfolded, everyone across the world was tuned into Twitter, to watch history being made and televised.

It was around this time that brands began to realise they had to be present on social media, and the importance it was to have in the lives of their consumers. It was clear that brands had to be where the consumers were, and most of them were spending their time on social media networks – whether to comment on a brand’s negative press, complain about poor customer service, show off their latest purchase, or openly thank or praise the brand for its work.

Social media gave brands an opportunity to humanise themselves in a way that was previously unattainable. It changed the tone of voice for brand to consumer conversations; it was no longer a one-way broadcast message, it was a dialogue being watched by everyone. Social media forced brands to be transparent and accountable, which shaped the stories brands were choosing to tell, and the way they told them. Social media encouraged brands to think ‘consumer first’ instead of ‘brand first’. Brands were expected to be authentic, and honest in their communication with consumers – to think of what the consumer wanted to hear about rather than what the brand wanted to communicate. A synergy between the two became vital and this impacted the ideas for content that have come into existence in the past decade.

There is one striking case of how social media impacted brands and branded content. Oreo has been a household name for over hundred years. At the time of its 100th anniversary, social media was growing in popularity and Oreo was perceived as a classic, traditional, American cookie brand. Oreo wanted to refresh the hundred-year-old traditional brand image and get closer to a global audience. By understanding and utilising the fundamental principles of social media, Oreo was able to create a branded content campaign that exceeded expectations and delighted consumers across the globe. “Daily Twists”, as the name suggests was a series of daily branded content posts on social media. Oreo listened to which stories were driving global conversation among consumers on social media and created content that would naturally fit within those conversations with the signature Oreo twist. The celebration of gay pride, the marking of Mars Rover landing, remembering music icon Elvis Presley – these were all moments that brought people from across the world together and Oreo found playful ways to embed itself in these moments by re-creating them with its own iconic cookie. To best utilise social media, Oreo adopted a flexible and agile approach to creating branded content, which in turn allowed it to develop and deliver creative, clever content on social media in real time. As a result, the content was easily discovered, and shared over a million times over every day. Many brands tried to copy this idea, but only a handful succeeded.

However, on social media, the churn of content is so high that audiences get bored very easily; novelty has a very short shelf life and brands are expected (by consumers) to present new ideas, formats, talent to pique interest.

Today in 2018, more than ever before, we are exposed to an unprecedented volume of content on social media. Everyone is a creator, and every creator can say as much or as little as they choose. Brands are competing with other brands on social media, as much as they are competing with publishers, influencers, and other consumers who create their own content. Furthermore, the fundamental algorithms of social media networks create echo chambers of content and confirmation bias. Whilst the opportunity for individuals to seek new and content that challenges one’s beliefs exists in abundance, the need for it is diminished by algorithms that anticipate consumer needs and only serve content that aligns with one’s interests. Brands once again need to adapt their approach to creating and distributing content through social media – one size no longer fits all.

To create effective and relevant content, brands are working with social media influencers.  Influencer marketing is an example of a new dynamic, like social media, is refreshing traditional marketing practices like PR and talent partnership. The focus is shifting from big name A-listers alone, to many long tail social influencers who have built their fanbase strictly through their style and voice of their individual content. This presents both an opportunity and challenge for brands - to reach their intended audience whilst allowing the brand’s story to be created and told entirely by an individual who hasn’t been involved in shaping the strategy. Social media and influencer marketing has demanded that brands be brave and lenient when it comes to creation of branded content, with the payoff that it makes brands appear accessible and relatable to consumers. Beauty and fashion brands have successfully worked with influencers to reach audiences with specific tastes to drive better return on investment.

Vodafone launched a new product Voxi, exclusively targeting a generation of 18-24 year olds in the United Kingdom. The challenge was to shift the perception of the Vodafone brand among the mobile savvy, next generation of customers with very specific needs and wants. The brand was launched in a manner that these specific customers have come to understand content and advertising around them. Instead of a traditional TV launch, Voxi went for a social media launch, and instead of using celebrities, they worked with top influencers in art, fashion, lifestyle, food, and travel to create their content. Voxi Creators and Curators gave the brand the resources to create an authentic platform for youth-generated content. It was a brand launched for the young generation in collaboration with their peers they’re likely to trust. The influencer partnership drip fed through every brand activation – whether it was video content or experiential, influencers represented the brand. Most importantly, it grew consideration for Voxi and Vodafone.

This example and many others rely heavily on insights to develop the right ideas and measure their impact. The principle of Garbage In Garbage Out is tested in the case of social media and influencer marketing. If marketers fail to fully understand the environment or techniques they’re utilising, the ideas will be weak, the execution weaker, and the returns the weakest.

Tim Berners Lee said, The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people’. Web technology will evolve rapidly in the next couple of years as will the way we connect with each other, and what social media is really preparing us for is an agile and dynamic way of communication.


Written by Maria D'Souza, Partner WM Content at Wavemaker, this chapter was originally published in Fifteen Years, A Branded Content Story - a book by Andrew Canter and Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA), which is available now on Amazon.

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