We might be physically distant, but we’re socially together

Physically distant but socially together

Ahead of The Drum Awards for the social media industry, Twitter's David Wilding, who chairs the 2020 jury, discusses how social media has played a crucial role in keeping us all connected.

In the middle of March, as normal life ground to a halt and our new lockdown lives started to become a reality, the ever brilliant Tess Alps tweeted:

“Annoying that it got called social distancing when we really mean physical distancing. We need to keep as close as possible socially, albeit virtually.“

Tess doesn’t have the words “wise old bird” in her Twitter bio for nothing because of course this is exactly what has come to pass. Over the last few weeks and months we have indeed been physically distant but socially close, and have leaned on each other socially perhaps more than ever.

Social media has, of course, been a huge part of enabling that. Usage of social media platforms has risen significantly during lockdown and the ‘community’ aspect of social media has been a particular comfort for many.

People have used the voice that social media gives them to thank and praise the heroes that have emerged in lockdown – NHS nurses, key workers, Captain Tom – genuine heroes keeping us going and inspiring so many. At the same time a slightly different set of many people have risen to the occasion on social media in helping to keep our spirits up.

One such person and a particular favourite of mine is Matt Lucas. Very early during lockdown Matt rewrote the lyrics to Thank You Baked Potato, a song he made famous as George Dawes on Shooting Stars in the early 2000s, to incorporate official advice on social distancing. The remake was a huge hit and very soon the brilliantly infectious “wash your hands and stay indoors/thank you Baked Potato” was being sung throughout the country. A Twitter user suggested to Matt that he release it as a charity single to raise money for Feed NHS and within hours of that happening it was number one on the iTunes download charts. Since then the song has been performed as a duet with the great and the good of the UK music and entertainment industry with Matt posting new versions of the song each day as well as sharing versions sent to him by fans and their kids.

If you’re STILL receiving the brief “make it go viral” (and I sincerely hope you’re not), then you could do much worse than look at what Matt has done with Thank You Baked Potato as your case study. There are lots of component parts that help to explain why it has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many.

An understanding of what people need in the current context and your role in fulfilling this (entertainment and levity), doing something tangible (rewriting the song) rather than simply saying something, being prepared to let the idea go in lots of different directions (as well as a charity single there is now a Baked Potato soft toy and book) a willingness to collaborate with other players for the greater good and just a sheer relentless positivity, humility and determination to do something nice for people.

These things have always been important for great social campaigns and are only heightened by the new context – a context that of course defines almost everything that we do in 2020 including obviously The Drum’s Social Buzz Awards.

I hope that we’re inspired by the many remarkable examples of ingenuity and creative thinking we’ve seen on social media and elsewhere in the face of adversity and constraint. My big hope is, to paraphrase Tess, that these awards become a celebration of some of the brilliant things that have helped us to keep close together socially.

David Wilding is head of planning at Twitter and will be chair of The Drum Awards for the social media industry this year.

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