- Carine Hawkins, Caro Communications
- Maxwell Blowfield, Sir John Soane’s Museum
- Holly Hyams, Victoria and Albert Museum
- Owen Vince, London Design Festival
- Kate Le Versha, British Council Architecture Design and Fashion
- Rachael Jones, Parkinson’s UK
- Rose Etherington, Clippings
- Zosia Swidlicka, Tala
- Sarah Akwisombe, blogger and social media influencer
- Mary Middleton, blogger and social media influencer (chair)
Find your niche: How do you perform authentic storytelling in a crowded digital space?
Whether you’re an independent blogger or working on behalf of a brand it was agreed that having a niche is crucial to survival. “Digital is so saturated the only way you can stand out is knowing your audience, knowing what you’re doing and sticking to that. Staying consistent and not straying; it’s so easy to say yes to something that’s not right but what you don’t post is just as important,” argues Sarah Akwisombe, blogger and social media influencer.
“As a young start-up, in terms of brand there was everything to construct,” explains Zosia Swidlicka, Tala. “With social media we start with why rather than what. We have brand values written down and every time we post it has to hit at least one or more of these. It helps you to have an honest voice, and to form much deeper connections with your audience. If you chased instant gratification and quick wins, as a business you wouldn’t last that long.”
“It’s too easy to use fleeting moments for chasing likes,” agrees Owen Vince, London Design Festival. “Don’t be reactive, don’t submit to the dopamine kit, don’t post pink flamingos. It’s important to stay true to your audience. We encourage our clients to be more authentic with their content, and to lead the conversation.”
“At British Council the primary source of content is our own projects,” explains Kate Le Versha. “It can be difficult in terms of crafting consistent and coherent messaging, we have offices in over 100 countries, and to craft a narrative through these sometimes disparate threads is a challenge. The issue for us is how do you get people to care about the projects. A solution we’ve started with is to generate themes, tapping into universal issues and bigger picture ideas such as sustainability and design for ageing. For this approach you have to ignore metrics, and have confidence in what you’re doing.”
“We are each working across so many different areas that it is sometimes challenging to demonstrate the value of putting time into social media to colleagues and trustees,” explains Maxwell Blowfield, Sir John Soane’s Museum.
“To get buy in you have to show how it can translate. We have used paid content and over time this works, and going on Facebook works, and the museum can see this. It is hard not to just fall into the trap of using social media as a marketing tool to say: we’re having this event, buy tickets.”
Curating: How do you maintain the balance between consistency and diversity in your content?
“Over the festival period we posted over 300 times on Instagram. The only way to curate a feed like this is to issue guidelines to partners at the outset,” explains Owen Vince, London Design Festival. “This way there is something to fall back on when it comes to accepting or dismissing an image; a way of saying ‘send me something else’, if it looks like an advertorial or an event poster for example. Especially if it is a small atelier, it gives you ways of saying no.”
“The challenge we face is to attract a general audience as well as pleasing those with niche areas of interest – from medieval embroidery techniques to furniture restoration,” Holly Hyams, Victoria and Albert Museum, explains. “We create content geared specifically towards academics and researchers, as well as general audiences and those who are completely new to the V&A.”
Tracking: How important is it, and how can it inform your strategy?
“Looking beyond numbers is important to us, to distil down to the people who really care,” explains Zosia Swidlicka, Tala. “We want to see if people have reacted positively or negatively and look at what people are posting about us on their channels, and if they are coming to our events. There are so many tools now to track people’s journeys and to gain understanding into who these people are.”
“With such a small team we don’t track that much” explains Owen Vince, London Design Festival. “We’re not just chasing numbers we want our audience to be engaged. People want different angles, they want the story behind the designs, but at the same time people want lusher brighter content so there is a mixed personality. There are design practices we like that are so niche and obscure, that a takeover with them, of their factories in Belgium for example, would look a bit odd.”
“To be a blogger and influencer you have to do both,” explains Sarah Akwisombe. “Post stuff you know is going to have a positive reaction, and push your audience a bit. At Milan Design Week for example I make a lot of posts that receive no reaction. To be a leader not a follower you need that balance of mainstream engagement and stuff that’s out there, that puts you more on the line.”
“You have to know the company, the brand, and the group of people you are talking to,” adds Rose Etherington, Clippings. “Clippings started as a consumer facing market place and then we responded to the fact that architects and designers were using us and pivoted to this audience. You might get engagement but what’s crucial is whether it’s engagement from the audience you are building right now. It’s important to have events and actually talk to your audience that way.”
“Every brand can use metrics. How to measure your success depends on what’s important to you,” points out Sarah Akwisombe.
Tone of voice: What value can social media bring to an establishment and its brand?
“People think we’re quite stuffy. Twitter can change that perception and give us a more human side,” explains Maxwell Blowfield, Sir John Soane’s Museum. “Emojis help. People are surprised to see us use this kind of more informal language. It has helped to show we are different.”
“Digital should show you’re human, that’s the most important thing you can bring, whatever the platform” agrees Rachael Jones, Parkinson’s UK. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate personality asides what you’re curating. In charity the user has to be at the centre more than ever before. Its challenges, compared to the culture sector where I worked previously, are that you are more reliant on the organisation for content. There is more responsibility to what you post.”
“Historically charities and museums have adopted a formal tone of voice. And people’s perceptions of these organisations has been very stuffy,” agrees Holly Hyams, Victoria and Albert Museum. “When the Science Museum and Natural History Museum had a playful face off on social media about who has the better collection, it went back and forth like top trumps. There was personality there, but it also surfaced lots of facts about the collections, so it was a win-win.”
“With big museums it’s catching on,” Maxwell Blowfield, Sir John Soane’s Museum points out. “But when you have curators who are tax payer funded making comments on twitter, it can backfire.”
Negativity: Is it avoidable and how should you deal with it when it does arise?
“You have to have personality and authenticity. If you’re robotic in your response you create more damage,” argues Rachael Jones, Parkinson’s UK. “As you would do in person, you hold your hands up if something does go wrong.”
“My blog is very marmite. You love it or hate it so I don’t really get negativity,” explains Sarah Akwisombe. “It’s so specific that if you’re not into it you’re not going to be coming here. The more niche your mind-set is the less trouble with negative feedback you have. You make a much more harder job for yourself the more people you try to please.”
The value of live content and how to overcome common pitfalls
“With live content you can be less precious and relax a little bit,” explains Rose Etherington, Clippings. “Its not up there forever and people can choose to engage with it or not.”
“We are currently undergoing a push towards Instagram and away from Facebook and Twitter,” explains Owen Vince, London Design Festival. “And we’re increasingly making it about our UK audience. Even though we have really engaged audiences in Brazil for example, a very design-aware country.”
“Considering the number of Instagram stories I do I’m not great with live, I forget it’s there,” admits Sarah Akwisombe. “I should be using live. The Instagram algorithm means it goes straight to the front of the feed. I need to do it more. It works a lot better I have found when you say when and where you will be doing it, like ‘tomorrow at eight I’ll be live streaming from…’ you get a better response. You have to dig into the result though find out who had the sound on.”
“Are people still interested in well packaged video content that’s really neat?” asks Carine Hawkins, Caro Communications.
“There’s still room for highly curated content,” argues Owen Vince, London Design Festival. “Nowness I always come back to. I watch the features in full.”
Scheduling is sucking the life out of social media, how do you get content out there?
“We are grouping our content into themes, creating one brand story as a package, and delivering this,” explains Zosia Swidlicka, Tala. “It’s much easier to be efficient and plan content in advance this way.”
“We work very directly with brands, there is an enormous amount we could say at any one time,” explains Rose Etherington, Clippings. “It would be very easy for us to be very scattered with our content, so we pick a story and follow this as a thread.”
“When we create content we’re not looking for a spike,” explains Holly Hyams, Victoria and Albert Museum. “We produce very polished video content with a long term life. We posted a video on Facebook a year ago for example that has just accumulated one million views. We know we have an audience for content that is timeless and informative.”
Would you sink or float with a social-only online presence?
“Platforms do disappear. MySpace for example,” points out Sarah Akwisombe. “You need to have a website or a blog for your content to live on so that when that happens you can move it on the next platform.”
“Our content strategy always starts with the website and we are constantly seeking to drive traffic back there,” explains Kate Le Versha, British Council. “To build up a presence, and a name, content needs to be searchable.”
“When it comes to finding influencers for certain campaigns, Instagram may be the first place we look but if there’s nothing behind the account, it’s not sufficient for me to make a case for a collaboration,” explains Carine Hawkins, Caro Communications. “Social Media should be a shop window into what it is you do.”