There’s an iconic scene in Sex and the City, where a stalwart of the party scene berates those who have settled down, shouting exasperatedly ‘What happened to fun?’, and this phrase couldn’t help but circulate in my head as I attended a talk about the future of social media.
Now I know this reference ages me, but, as the world of social media becomes increasingly baffling for brands, hear me out.
My time as a bright eyed, bushy tailed grad many moons ago, coincided with the rise of social media as key communications and marketing platforms for brands, but no one was entirely sure what the formula for success was. In the early stages there were no ‘Social Media Managers/Strategists’ it was usually juniors writing content calendars and devising (at times making up) strategy and best practice based on good old-fashioned instinct, as consumers of social ourselves.
It was a constant test and learn, and, most importantly quite fun. Since success could vary wildly, why not throw lots of things at the wall to see what sticks, as when it stuck it was certainly talked about?
To ensure we were all as up to date on any new formulae for success, and as any keen bean new to PR world, I went to countless talks on social media, how brands should behave, should all brands be on it, what was the right tone, how can we make people engage, and the all-important ‘how to make something go viral’. These fountains of information would then diligently report back the pearls of wisdom, then be wheeled out in front of the clients as an ‘expert’ in what we should do…” expert”, read, “young and on the pulse”.
Fast forward eleven years, and I found myself sitting in the crowd at the Talkwalker event on ‘The Future of Social Media’, partially in support of our Head of Data Strategy John Brasington who was talking about the role of social data in PR, but also to find out what the key to effective social media looks like now. I was intrigued and excited, not just because Rob Mayhew was sharing his 101 on Tik Tok success…
During the talk, I had several flashbacks to events of the days gone by as the topics covered were, to put it bluntly, the same. We talked about knowing the audience, that not every brand has to be on every channel, that at times it is a test and learn, that brands need to find an authentic voice and use data to see what works. Whilst none of this was new news, what it revealed is that with the meteoric rise of social media in brand communications, there has come a tendency to over complicate, overthink and over expect, rather than remembering the basics of what makes brands a social success, i.e., what do people want to see and engage with. And so, I asked myself “What happened to fun?” It was around this point that John took the microphone to say “…well a lot of our data is pointing to a desire for fun”.
Fun, simple, old fashioned, fun.
When the man himself Mr Mayhew, shared his view on why he has become a social media sensation, it echoed what was said back in the social media dark ages, and the take out is that, through the commercialisation of social we have sucked all the fun out of it, leaving the Gen Z mecca of Tik Tok the final frontier that hasn’t been killed by constant ads or diametric opinions on a rat that sneezed on the tube, and with that sweet spot becomes a rare and golden opportunity: to have a bit of fun and maybe go viral, you never know (disclaimer, there is no guarantee).
If the answer is fun, then what is the route to get there. A simple formula is audience/insight + authentic voice + clear objective = fun (and engaging content), and what is clear that in the race to win at social media, brands can lose sight of this.
Looking quickly at brands who kept coming up as a best are ones that hit every one of these elements, whilst I am not privy to the ins and outs, what Ryan Air, Monzo and Innocent Smoothies all have in common is there is a clear objective, audience and voice and most importantly, they are unapologetic with it, resulting in highly engaging content that generates talkability, which is, after all, the holy grail.
Our own John Brasington talked about the importance of leveraging data to really understand audiences and what they want, which results in a robust strategy, but more importantly help you find the key objective and how that is measured. Whilst integration is important, the goal of social media doesn’t need to be sales, it can be about positive perception, taking Ryan Air again, their unapologetic approach to social media, makes them a firm favourite, even if some of the inflight experiences have room for improvement (all thoughts author’s own), showing that winning on social can sometimes, be as simple as people creating memes out of your content.
Rob talked about how finding you niche can be as simple injecting some fun and, dare I say it, taking ourselves a little less seriously, and if you have to be serious, as sometimes you do, as John said there is always LinkedIn, which is a safe space to be unapologetically not fun.
The rules of social success haven’t changed, it’s just the game that has and we can change that, which, after all, is all part of the fun and if fun on social seems scary to clients or you as an agency, rebrand it as a ‘pilot’, as that seems to calm everyone down. (Rob Mayhew 2023).