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
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
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.