The identity crisis in social


Campaign recently published this article by me about putting social thinking at the heart of marketing strategies. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below:

Unsure of your role in life? Feel like you don’t know the ‘real’ you? If you answered yes to the previous questions, you may be experiencing an ‘identity crisis’. From being the new cool kid on the block to the recent tantrums over Facebook’s declining organic reach, the social media industry is reacting to a challenge to its “sense of self”.

Borrowing from the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, who coined the term identity crisis, resolution of the crisis depends on achieving a balance between a state of commitment and exploration. Commitment to the principles of what has always made social media a powerful part of the communications mix, and exploration of what change might enable while remaining grounded in those original principles.

It will be interesting to see how the role of paid media evolves in relation to social media, but it would be a mistake to recast social media entirely as an advertising-led, mass-distribution channel. Instead, we should remain committed to focusing on how we place ‘social thinking’ at the centre of marketing strategies. It’s about creating ideas based on understanding consumers not just as individuals but as members of connected communities. It means understanding the needs and motivations of people, and activating these through creative solutions that encourage connection, conversation and sharing.

Such insights are what takes communications from being interruptive content that, in the words of Banksy, “butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and disappear” to ideas worth sharing. But, sadly, many marketers still believe a social idea is something that is just executed on social media – indicated by the all-too-common practice of taking a traditional broadcast advertising idea and attempting to “adapt” it for social channels. Such efforts, at worst, create the epic social media fail moments of our industry and, at best, have no impact at all.

Placing social thinking at the centre of marketing requires a shift in how brands and agencies collaborate, a shift in mindset in terms of how ideas work and a depth of understanding of what makes an idea truly social. We Are Social was created with this in mind. Our analysts work quantitatively to provide our teams with an understanding of communities and their behaviour. Our community managers give qualitative feedback based on the daily observations of conversation dynamics. Our strategists use these insights to ensure we’re reaching consumers in the most effective way. And our channel-neutral creatives produce ideas that people want to talk about. Every part of the agency has been built from the ground up to create truly social ideas.

Our “Live young January” campaign for evian shows how social thinking can drive an integrated strategy to create mass impact. At the heart of the campaign was the insight that January is the most miserable month of the year, with people sharing their misery through social channels. We took this insight to create a stream of daily content to cheer up commuters with evian’s ‘Live young’ message. It was one of the year’s biggest print and outdoor campaigns, and included content on Transvision screens and escalator panels in train and Tube stations across London, as well as experiential events and content for social channels. The campaign generated a 19 per cent year-on-year sales increase for evian.

Social thinking can help marketers understand their audience, and listening to their communities and conversations can not only help develop better communications ideas but also products that consumers will love and naturally want to talk about. Our “Get Well Soup” campaign for Heinz embraced this approach and has been so successful that it has now run for four consecutive years. This concept began with a social insight – recognising that people were sharing their complaints about colds and illnesses during the winter and that others were responding with sympathy. We provided consumers with the means to help their friends feel better: a personalised can of soup, sent via Facebook. The concept even formed the basis of Heinz’s winter TV ad.

Social ideas unlock real value in how brands can build deeper, more impactful relationships with people. Social ideas encourage active conversation – it’s built into their DNA. People naturally want to talk about them, which, in turn, drives them to understand and formulate opinions about the brands they engage with.

Of course, that’s not to say that social media isn’t important – of course it is. This is where consumers are spending most of their time now, even overtaking time spent watching TV. But being able to understand and use social media for the insight needed to develop social ideas is where the future lies. And the agencies that will deliver the best work for clients in this future will be those that are putting social thinking at the centre of marketing.