Social media has come of age, but its troublesome teen years have forced platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to introduce their own rules and best practices around marketing. Have these stipulations killed the original fun that came from interacting with new (and sometimes famous people) in real-time digitally from all around the world?
Ahead of the big event later this month, The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards jury for 2019 came together to discuss the evolution of social media, as well as why (and how) the fun element has diminished over the years.
Questions remained about what this means for brands using the likes of TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to generate fame too.
The group, which included brand and agency-side marketers, focused on the impact burgeoning Chinese app TikTok is making in generating engaging content to grow its audience.
“I’m watching the kids,” said Kinda Jackson, managing director of digital for Brands2Life as to how she follows new trends.
“When I watch how my two boys are using TikTok and [how they] follow their friends on social, [I learn] from them very simply how to tap into trends and memes and create content around what they are currently talking about," she explained, highlighting brands like Wendy's and Fortnite as ones that have been using TikTok in smart ways.
Picking up on engagement, and how brands can still tap into trends and conversations online, UKTV's director of communications Justine Bower underscored the importance of social listening.
“That’s what TikTok is there for, it’s there to create and for the audience to have fun – they are now creators," she added.
Has social media become 'boring'?
Immediate Future chief executive Katy Howell argued that social media has become “boring” with the industry seemingly forgetting the traditional rules of advertising and marketing still apply in this space too.
“We don’t entertain enough,” she stated. “We put out too much business as usual content. Social is so boring; it’s become mundane and most brands tick a box with someone putting out something every day.
"There is so much diarrhea out there. But the brands who are kicking it are the ones that are dealing with emotions and portraying something that is stand out or maybe risqué and they are tapping into older good quality marketing techniques instead of churning content.”
Pointing out that creativity is not restricted by the rules set by each platform, but instead enhanced by the work that goes into working around those restrictions, was Bodgana Butnar, experience strategy lead for Karmarama.
“We have to figure out how we want to deliver on the brand objectives that we have and have fun while doing it.
"If we are sticking with [only the ideas] the creators of social media give us then we will forever end up in the same place – we are going to have to stop the deluge of brand communications that comes on those platforms by forming gateways where these are the formats, and if you cannot deliver across those formats, that’s it, you’re done."
An element of surprise
Elsewhere, Rebecca Holmes, director of social media at Splendid argued that planning around business objectives (rather than finding ways to surprise audiences) was another factor taking some of the joy out of social media marketing.
Though she did admit those objectives were clearly important, she said it was in surprising audiences that brands would be able to cut through the noise.
“If you look at the brands that cut through this year... they have made cut through because they've surprised people with their messaging which audiences didn’t expect," she said.
"It’s not about how to use native functionality on Instagram, it’s about surprising someone which is what it ultimately comes down to," she added. "And yes all of those things feed into it but we are [too] focused on all of that strategic laddering up to allow goals and objectives."
Adding that the two factors should not be seen as being mutually exclusive, Saskia Jones, data strategy director for BBH said she believes that the fundamentals of marketing should be adhered to but that the search for fame should be the desired outcome from social media activity.
“If you go after fame then all of your other objectives will follow from awareness and profit, all of that will follow. We’ve forgotten that,” she claimed.
“When I first started in social media and paid social wasn’t a thing, you had to work hard to entertain people. As soon as you put paid behind it, people got bored and lazy because they could guarantee that a million people would see their post. But the platforms themselves have got us to a place where we are so adherent to their best practice that everything looks the same and everything is wallpaper.”
Jones adds that she battles against media agencies who wish to follow platform format guidelines as breaking the rules can make a difference in successfully engaging an audience.
“You can ladder-up and drive business results, but it is going back to those fundamentals. For so long social has been a thing we have treated as having different rules but all the best pieces of work we see on social adhere to everything we knew about marketing," she continued. "If it cuts through, it’s different and distinctive... then it doesn’t matter what platform we are talking about."
Letting creativity breathe on social
As to how creativity can breathe on social under platform rules, Karmarama's Butnar believes it is easier to be creative as a result of such marketing restrictions. She also said platforms such as Facebook can't be blamed for clients' wishes to follow them.
"Everybody is trying to get to the same place, but [social networks] must have best practices. If [as advertisers] we're thinking that those rules don't allow us to be creative, then we’re wrong."
Howell says that the quality of the content being produced is the fundamental ingredient towards success, and that it doesn’t need to be complex.
“Print advertising hasn’t changed much over the last 50 years yet you have some absolutely outstanding examples there," she said, highlighting that skills like copywriting and art direction were being lost in the "rush" to get everything out on social.
"We've gotten lazy – we have this format, this carousel, we want to hack this channel – but the reality is the fundamental bit is getting your copy right. A one-liner works brilliantly for that market and audience, and your visuals are impactful whether they are six seconds or seven minutes long.”
Finally, Deborah King, head of paid social at Essence revealed she feels frustrated when deliberating over whether social is still fun. Advertisers, she argued, need to go back to basics in terms of who the target audience is and reaching them through quality advertising creative ideas.
“Our team is always looking at how our best practice isn’t killing the creativity but enhancing it and we are getting to the point now where we have people who understand the craft of creative and content but also the algorithms," she said.
So social media can remain a fun environment despite the imposed restrictions brands face when utilising the platforms, it seems.
It just takes good old-fashioned ideas and a strong tone of voice in order to form a community that wants to be surprised and amused by a brand’s work.
The Drum's Social Buzz Awards winners will be announced on Wednesday 27 November at The Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London.