Hacking it: the importance of being innovative

As part of our Curiosity Stop: Innovate or Die event in London next Tuesday, 9th February, our Head of Creative Technology Matthew Payne will take the audience behind the scenes at We Are Social’s hack days – sign up now for one of the last remaining tickets. In this post, he explains why hack days are an important part of life at We Are Social.

Here at We Are Social we hold a monthly hack day, where our members of our dev, creative and design teams get in a room for a day and work on a brief. These briefs take many different forms – they’re sometimes issued by our innovation team who want to solve a certain problem by applying social thinking to creative technology, on occasion they’ve been to come up with something with which to wow potential new clients or show our existing clients what more we can offer. Either way, these hacks have to be completed in just one day, by the time everyone goes home – or else.

Hack days are an important part of our learning here at We Are Social. They allow us to continually evolve, ask questions, learn and explore. Sometimes, they allow us to fail fast, so that when we’re presented with a similar problem for a client, we know our way to a faster, more efficient solution (and what to avoid doing). And of course, they’re a lot of fun – fast prototyping and guerilla testing isn’t something we get to do every day in agency life!

We’re now even going as far as to hack our own hacks, by trying out the format with clients in workshops, running more intricate and important experiments over regular slots and inviting some new faces, internal and external, to feedback on our progress. We’re also getting involved in hack day events where we can learn from people outside the agency, like The Drum’s Do it Day, where I worked on a challenge for IBM.

So what kind of stuff have we been creating? Here are just a few examples of the hacks we’ve completed at We Are Social over the last year.

For the 2015 Rugby World Cup, we created #GetMeToTheGame – a hack that plotted a route to all of the pubs in the UK you can get to in time BEFORE the next RWC game starts by public transport. If you were late out of a meeting, only had 20 minutes to get to a TV screen or were away from home and you didn’t know where the closest pub was – #GetMeToTheGame was the solution. As with all our hacks, it was built in just a day, using HTML5 Geolocation and the Google Maps JavaScript SDK.


Sometimes our hack days can be focused on experimenting with new technology and educating ourselves, which was the case with Humper. To create this hack, we tried out a new social tech tool called WebSockets, which make it possible to open an interactive communication session between a user’s browser and a server. With this API, you can send messages to a server and receive event-driven responses without having to poll the server for a reply. The result? The weirdest way to meet people online – but in a safe sex environment! Check out the video below for more details.

Last year, Facebook Messenger opened up its API to developers, allowing non-Facebook companies to integrate their mobile apps with Facebook Messenger itself. So we decided to dedicate a hack day to experimenting with this new function. We asked our 11 offices what kind of app could we create, and the best response was this: “Have conversations in messenger using only lyrics from songs. You type in any word and several lyric suggestions will pop up”.  So we created Singchat, which allowed you to do just that. It’s no longer live, but the image below will give you an idea of how it worked – and if you want to hear more, just sign up for Innovate or Die, where I’ll be going into much more detail.


There are only a handful of tickets left for Curiosity Stop: Innovate or Die, which also includes talks from BBC’s Match of the Day’s Chris Hurst, Shazam’s Sam Woods and London College of Fashion’s Matthew Drinkwater, as well as a guided tour through some of the best, recent social thinking innovations from our Curiosity Stop report. If all this sounds like your cup of tea, get your hands on one now. We look forward to getting innovative with you soon.