Facebook urges agencies to keep on 'hacking'

Facebook Studio Live was a showcase of the site's constantly evolving offer.

Facebook encourages participants to hack London
Facebook encourages participants to hack London

Events move at a dizzying pace at Facebook. The social media giant, which now has 750 million users, seemingly launches new products everyday. And it has built a culture to match.

At last week's Facebook Studio Live, its first industry-wide event for UK advertisers, the director of product development, Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, spoke of his delight in "moving fast and breaking things". Posing the question: can advertisers keep up?

Studio Live, which was held at Brick Lane's Truman Brewery, just a stone's throw from the hub of the UK digital agency scene in Shoreditch, took the format of a speaker event attended by 500 creatives, developers and media folk. The twist being that, in the afternoon session, the conference was broken up into a "hackathon", which saw delegates compete in teams to develop a campaign idea for Transport for London.

Either side of this interactive experience, agencies listened to a sales pitch from Facebook directors about the opportunities that are available. Stephen Haines, the UK commercial director, opened proceedings and was followed by several speeches that emphasised the apparent scale and sophistication of the platform.

Bosworth's talk, on hacker culture and Facebook viewing its task as "only 1 per cent finished", was the highlight of the morning, providing an intimate insight into life at the network's West Coast HQ.

As Enyi Nwosu, the managing director of the central strategy unit at M&C Saatchi, says: "There is often complaint about Facebook making changes to the platform without consultation. Boz, in an entertaining manner, reminded the audience that if Facebook didn't make the changes, somebody else would. More importantly, the day acted as a reminder to the industry of the need to be more experimental in our approach to creativity."

Sarah Personette, the director of global agency relations, presented on the "multiple opportunities to interact" with Facebook, from the starting point of "can you make it social?". At a later question-and-answer session, one delegate raised an issue many in the business seem to have with the social network, saying that advertising on Facebook is a "way to profess love, not to discover love, of a brand".

Personette offered US case studies from American Express and M&M's in an effort to demonstrate how the network can sit at the heart of brand-building or product-launch activity.

Speaking to Campaign, Personette, a former director at MediaVest Worldwide, emphasised that the agency model is one that Facebook buys into. "We believe agencies are the architects of effective social marketing and are the future in terms of creative ideas and creating integrated campaigns to amplify brand expression," she said.

She added that Facebook wants to work with other media, especially TV, in building effective campaigns for clients. In her speech to delegates, Personette struck a greater tone of confidence: "The interplay between creative and media is probably bigger now than ever before. After 70 years of television being central, we are hopefully moving to where Facebook is the central platform agencies are building on."

The event was the opening salvo in Facebook's campaign to convince the creative community that it offers more than money-off coupons and branded fan sites. Nwosu says: "The challenge is to make the change stick, so we are not sitting here in a year with only American case studies cited as best practice."


Kevin Brown, director of engagement planning, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying: "You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology." In many ways, that principle underpins the success of Facebook and the theme of the Studio Live event.

We were told that the "connective tissue" that stimulates people's interactions are "stories". Our stories, and the ability to share them, are what make us human. Great stories are social, shareable and scalable - the very things that Facebook can facilitate and enhance through its products.

Positioning Facebook as the "engine of storytelling", with the opportunity to amplify and stimulate great "brand stories", was pitching it right for the planning and creative community at the event. It also reminds us of how TV and social media combined can tell, and let people experience, brand stories.

You have to applaud Stephen Haines, the UK commercial director, and his team for their sterling efforts in working with the planning and creative community to realise this opportunity. This was evident in the "hackathon", a clever use of 500 talented people to crack a real problem for Transport for London: "How to encourage people to change their habitual commute during the Olympics to avoid over-congestion on public transport?" What became apparent while judging the 40 entrants was that most people got to similar "executional" ideas, but the best were those that had a strong insight and idea (a story) to guide their judgment on how those executional behaviours should be brought to life. The skill is still in the power of ideas and their planning. It's idea planning, not channel planning.

It was refreshing to see one of the most dynamic forces in the digital age celebrating this opportunity for brands.

Stuart Bowden, managing director, MEC

Facebook is probably the only media owner in the world that can make a 9.30am conference on Brick Lane feel like a Justin Bieber concert. The 500-person audience was packed with senior agency types and Shoreditch Roundabout hipsters. The place was buzzing with expectation about the shiny new news and nutritious competitive advantage we were hoping to get straight from Palo Alto.

By the end of the day, 500 people didn't feel short-changed. This was a breakthrough event, not because of any secrets revealed, but because of the way it renewed the excitement the industry felt about Facebook when we first started dating. By putting its senior leaders on stage, we got to see again the scale of Facebook's ambition and were reminded that this remains the most transformative and challenging business most of us get to work with. Alex Schlaubitz, the director of client marketing EMEA, set the tone for the event. He took no prisoners as the first talk dived straight into a consideration of the challenges he saw in the "triumph of the banal": a social world where every minor interaction with others and with brands is part of a constant refinement and recalibration of one's self-actualised and self-inventorised persona on Facebook.Then Andrew "Boz" Bosworth switched the attack from the head to the heart with a passionate exposition of how and why a hacking culture remains core to Facebook's future.

By the time Boz had reached his "happy hacking" peroration, you could just about hear a pin drop if you listened hard over the sound of people frantically e-mailing the office to reschedule meetings so they could stay for the rest of the sessions and the live hack.

Eat your heart out, Bieber.