The year ahead for social media

The social media dream has finally come true. This means agencies must get to grips with all the tools available to them, while brands need to find their purpose.

James Whatley
James Whatley

As the wise and wonderful Kanye West once said: "The thing younger people are begging for is a more beautiful world where brands help people achieve things rather than simply barking at them."

Never being one to tell Kanye he’s wrong, it strikes me that perhaps his statement needs a little investigation to correct a few assumptions and point out some inaccuracies.

Let’s break it down. "Younger people are begging for a more beautiful world." Younger people. Younger than you? Younger than me? Or just younger generally? Maybe you mean young people. And that’s fine.

But it’s not just young people, Kanye. Generations X through Z all wish for a more beautiful world (admittedly, they are not your target market, so you probably haven’t done the Target Group Index).

Begging the youngsters may be, but alone they are not.

The oft-sought-after millennial audience will be the ones who (unknowingly) hold the power in 2015 and, as they make their way into the digital world they were born into, how brands affect that world will become very important indeed.

How do you make it better? What is your legacy? Is the world a more beautiful place because you exist? Questions such as these will challenge brands this year (both on and off social media), and those that win will be the ones that have robust and well-thought-through answers to those questions.

Maybe that’s what Kanye was thinking when he said "where brands help people achieve things". Maybe. But if we analyse this sentence in isolation, you could say: "Well, Kanye, this is kind of true. In fact, it’s already happening. Brands help people achieve things every day!"

I achieved cleanliness this morning because of the Dove soap in my shower, the Philips electric toothbrush in my bathroom and the Fairy Non Bio in the kitchen. All of those brands help me, and millions of others, unlock the achievement of being clean every single day – and that’s before I’ve even left the house.

I’m being trite.

When Kanye talks about helping people achieve things, he obviously means things of meaning. Meaning for some brands might be found in the mission to increase body confidence for young people the world over. It might be found in the quest for world peace. It might even be found in simply enabling people to create something. Meaning is important. Whatever your flavour might be, your purpose – and your plan to execute it – will make brands not only stand out in 2015 but also achieve success beyond their wildest dreams.

But meaning is the point and, on this, Kanye is on solid ground. Brands need to have a purpose, a reason for existing. At Advertising Week Europe 2014, Ogilvy & Mather’s UK chief executive, Cheryl Giovannoni, said that, to succeed, you should "make yourself indispensable". Brands should take note. For the promiscuous consumers of 2015, the indispensable brand will be the one that not only has purpose but also the plan to deliver against it. Align your values. Be true. Be there for your consumer.

And execute, execute, execute – "rather than simply barking at them".

If you’re wondering when this was going to get social, well, that’s the bit where Kanye says your ads suck. Kanye says all your ads do is bark at consumers. That’s not really true, is it? Barking doesn’t work any more.

In 2014, O2 extolled the virtues of being "more dog" and, in doing so, its private brand desire couldn’t have been more transparent. The consumer used to be able to be trained to do as a brand wanted. Social media, along with the digital revolution, has instead turned the consumer into a cat: individualistic, idiosyncratic, autonomous. The data now available to all has broken down the barriers of limited choice, and brands need to work harder to get their hands on consumers’ cash. In short: bark at a cat and it runs away. Bark at your consumer and they will do the same.

To combat this, you’re probably thinking that smarter, more targeted content is going to help, right? Wrong. But we’ll come back to that.

For the promiscuous consumers of 2015, the indispensable brand will be the one that not only has purpose but also the plant o deliver against it. Align your values. Be true. Be there for your consumer

Moving away from the words of Kanye for a moment, it needs to be said that 2014 will be remembered as the year that Facebook said "no more" to brands and agencies expecting to use the platform for free (read: "organic") advertising. This should not be taken lightly for three reasons.

1. Social is no longer an afterthought

As a social media director, of course I’m going to say such a thing, and you may laugh at the repetitive nature of this never-dying point. However, I laugh at your bone-rimmed spectacles and state with clarity that it is, in fact, inarguable that the social media dream finally came true in 2014.

From Three’s "#SingItKitty" in February to "Monty the penguin" at Christmas, the social component for 2014’s leading ads pulsated through campaigns at their very core, throbbing with social currency and leaving viewers itching to get involved.

Social media is no longer an add-on, an afterthought, a thing you get the social guy to put some thought around the day before the pitch. It is part and parcel of everything we do in advertising. It doesn’t matter if your brief isn’t "integrated" (which ones aren’t these days?) because, while social media may not always be an output per se, it should always be an input – a point the planners among you will already be familiar with.

To paraphrase David Ogilvy: "Unless your social advertising contains a hashtag, it will pass like a ship in the night."

2. Know thy platform

With Facebook maturing into a proper ad platform, the question of "how does this work in Facebook?" may seem a bit redundant in 2015. Especially if your answer is to just repost the same piece of content that you’re sticking on the side of a bus shelter. The tools and options available to us as an industry are almost godlike in their all-seeing ability. Harnessing this power and using it as rocket fuel for your creative seems like common sense.

You need to know what tools Facebook makes available to you. If you know the difference between a six-sheet and a 48-sheet, then you should also know the difference between the size of an image in a Facebook post and that of a Tweet. It’s really not that difficult, yet brands bigger than the company you work for get it wrong every single day. Amazing.

Yes, the platform changes and, yes, it’s hard work to keep up with it. But if the beautiful video you spent nine months developing is going to be viewed via a five-inch mobile screen on the top deck of a bus somewhere in Brixton, you better make sure that the preview image has been optimised or else you’ll be gone quicker than a Tinder swipe to the left.

3. Forget about big data

2015 is about smart data. With Facebook killing its organic reach, the free ride is over – and you’ll have to start remembering to commit media money to hit your social targets. This is not news. The thing that continuously blows minds is just how niche you can get with that detail. In the autumn of 2014, one enterprising data monkey even managed to get his targeting so perfect that he set about specifically serving ads to his roommate as part of an elaborate prank. That’s mind-blowing.

In 2015, it would be great if the creative industries could get familiar with the smart data available to them. There were a few examples recently (British Airways’ "magic of flying" stands out as one, The Sun’s "Dream Team" as another), but expect to see more in the year ahead. Many more.

As for Kanye, I don’t think he knows how much of this stuff we’re doing already. Brands don’t bark any more (that’s so 2009). Achievements are huge (hello, London 2012!) and, now, we’re moving to a world where brands are the arbiters of truly amazing content. When advertising is beautiful, the world is a more beautiful place.

See you on La Croisette, Kanye. Let’s do lunch.

James Whatley is the social media director at Ogilvy & Mather