impactmania spoke with Harriet Riley, a Creative Strategic Thinker, who has worked with companies such as REI, Microsoft, Uniqlo, Nikon, and NatureBridge in developing creative that ignites conversations and impacts culture.
Harriet Riley shares how social media is going back from consumption to curiosity; how even in the digital world, we need to slow down to do more; and how entrepreneurs could partner with influencers to get their messages across to their community.
Tell me what has changed in social media?
Social media for quite some time was an open platform in which people were driven by curiosity — for a new technology and a new way to communicate. Over the last seven years that curiosity has largely died down.
To get people’s attention, we need to have a breakthrough message driven by visually arresting content, but very few of us have started figuring out what that really means. I think it’s because we’re not slowing down soon enough to be thoughtful and not moving fast enough to keep up with culture, the artists and the radicals…the people who earn that attention the rest of us crave.
Give an example of an unknown entity that experienced a breakthrough in social media.
Water is Life is a great example. Around 2012 they entered the Twitter conversation with #FirstWorldProblems to bring awareness to the lack of safe drinking water around the world. The hashtag was being used daily (for years) to poke fun at the “problems” people whine about when they have more than the basics covered.
The group had impoverished residents of Haiti recite these tweets in a minute-long video. You saw a man outside of a shattered tin-roof house say, “I hate it when my house is so big, I need two wireless routers.” It’s important to note that the purpose wasn’t to humiliate people who used the hashtag. It was rather used to encourage people to consider the more important problems in the world.
The hashtag, in this case, was powerful tool because it highlighted to the fact people have become desensitized to human suffering…and that we can change.
Broadening our perspective and shining light from another world can inspire bigger thinking and action outside of the first world problem zone.
I think that that was a really cool example of finding a unique way to flip a conversation on its head and bring awareness to very real issues.
Where was social media and where is it moving into?
As we look at 2011, it was largely an organic mass exposure platform. Meaning, everyone was eager to share content with everyone else. We quickly generated this idea that things could “go viral.” This happened when the U.S. was the most dominant group on the Internet, so the sameness of ideologies/pursuits allowed it all to grow very quickly.
Moving into 2014, algorithms came into play, which meant that social platforms started serving up new content it thought we wanted to see. This in turn affected the way we shared. The thought has since become: “Well, I don’t need to share that out with my community, I assume that they’ve already seen it.”
Now we’re in 2017 and many of the big platforms have shifted their focus from being a people driven platform to an advertising driven platform. With it, people’s behaviors have changed. Generally, people are less active, they share less, they have started using it as a resource, more than for fun.
So how will it change? A return to the idea of being organic. Meaning, creating something that deserves to be shared on social, instead of simply putting a message in front of them.
Mix this question with the fact that global populations coming onto these platforms and you have continuous change. Today, South America is coming online and joining Facebook at the fastest rate. China’s still largely blocked, but there are certain outlets that are bringing them on to Facebook and Twitter. Current platform growth is happening outside of the U.S.
I think a lot of people in my industry simply are not thinking about that, or at least how it affects the way we use the platforms and what we create for them. I hear a lot of people are saying, “Okay, we just need more ads and we’re lucky because we can buy our audience.” I don’t believe we can stop there.
What kind of misunderstandings regarding social media platforms have you run into?
There is a lack of perspective driving the mediocracy of social and digital content these days. For instance, the leading trend reports that hit every “key decision makers” desk reflect data points to drive interest in social platforms. Like Facebook-platform usage would suggest that is still the number one social media platform among teens. I sit there and think “I simply don’t believe it.” So I helped my company understand the data by interviewing teenagers.
I found that the majority of teens sign up for Facebook for the Messenger app because it’s like an address book. It’s a place they’re able to find the people they need, but they’re more likely to talk to them on other channels. Other than that, they’ll sign up to get token or points for video games or a discount at a store. They’re almost never set it up as a social media platform where they sharing their thoughts, ideas, or publish photo galleries.
That’s driving those numbers up. They’re not actually using the platform for social media but rather as a play and communication tool. This is vital information and this is not what the reports say. Reports that indicate anything else are all too focused on appealing to the numbers driven minds that make quick (and largely meaningless decisions). It’s a game, really. But I am happy to play and help people make the most of it.
If you would start a business tomorrow, what would you do in terms of social media?
My first recommendations would be to define a single goal. I’m serious, just one. Digital gives a lot of people the idea they can do everything, all at once. And that’s a sure way to be unsuccessful. I heard this recently and I think it’s true: “When you see everything, you see nothing.” Be clear about what (and why) you want people to see and figure out how to bring it to them.
And when you bring it to them, be real. Be transparent. Be honest. Let people know how they can help. Give them a role. No one likes being talk to. Invite them into your conversation.
It takes a long time to build up a community and takes a sort of confidence in your mission and your projects. If you’re starting a business or an initiative, I assume you already have somewhat of a community that you’re interacting with. So secondly, I would start looking at similar readers, leaders, or engagers in your area.
It’s about saying, “Okay, who am I talking to now? And, who can help us facilitate that outreach?” I would look towards partnering with other people with established social presences: influencers in particular. I would say, “Can you help me get my message out there? Or can you activate your community to come and participate with this campaign or check out this experience?”
What’s really cool about influencers is that there are so many different types, but they each in their own right have spent a lot of time building that trust, and having really strong relationships with their communities. They know what they like and will share what is worthwhile. Their communities trust them in this.
Because they are driven to be rock stars of their own channel, they’re looking for people like you to give them more to work with — more to get involved with — generate more to influence.
Can you break down the influencer tier for us from your perspective?
The three influencer tiers: Celebrity Like, Rising Thought Leaders, Localized Thought Leaders.
Tier 1: 250K – 1 Million followers across social channels. Use these guys to represent your brand, but don’t expect them to engage 1:1 with you or their community. Think of them like celebrities.
Tier 2: 100K – 250K followers across social channels: Use these guys to get engagement around your subject or initiative. Their community is more likely to respond and want to take action. Think of them as rising thought leaders.
Tier 3: 1K -100K followers across social channels: These guys have a super intimate relationship with their community. Use these guys to have the 1:1 conversations you wish you could have to start a groundswell of interest around your subject. Think of them as your localized thought leaders.
We can partner with them in three ways:
Discover: Share new news from the project/initiative.
Action: Activate community participation on behalf of the brand.
Conversation: Bring the brand to the center of existing cultural conversation.
There are more ways…people are infinite and creativity is endless. It’s all about finding the right person and the right project to help you achieve your single goal.
Have you seen any data on how much of the social media visibility translates into actual action?
Yeah, a lot of people are looking at action, through this traditional advertising lens of what drives the purchase?
You look at things like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as a great example, where everyone saw those videos in their feed for months. While donations were raised, studies showed that the majority of participants did not actually donate. People were just having fun and participating in the ice bucket challenge. You see a lot of results when you’re using social media to drive people to an event. The Women’s March is a huge example of that, every city expected, a tenth of the people that actually showed up. That had to do with many more reasons than social media, but social media played a role, because it held people accountable.
What other ways can you use social media to benefit a project or brand?
I enjoy doing what we call social listening which is where you use a tool to understand how people are talking about your project or your topic of interest. With this, understanding where pain points are in one to one communication is vital. While a lot of research can level up big trends, understanding the language that people are using between one another is always a good directional indicator for engagement.
People don’t want campaign-y, but rather communication that is natural but also stands out, pretty basic. But when you have a huge room of board members that are trying to hit deadlines and raise millions of dollars, things like tone of voice and personality can quickly fall to the wayside.
Give people an experience. You have to get them excited about being the special next wave of engagers. It can come down to having live events that connect in to the campaign, create beautiful hands on products, gifts that stand out.
A core of your idea will always happen offline, special, targeted experiences can drive the share and excitement.
In the end, social media is a channel, like anything else. If your core is not right, then no social media is going to fix it.
Yeah, companies always ask, “If I put $5,000 or $10,000 for some paid post, is that going to do it for me?” You’ll have to do the bigger things first — fix the brand, the product.
What has been a surprising learning?
I think my biggest takeaway is that there’s this facade that time doesn’t exist on social media. If you can just get your content out there, then you’re going to start seeing results the fastest. It has been a five-year challenge for me to sit back and say, “No, we need to be really thoughtful.”
We need to spend as much time planning, as we need to spend executing. Getting people to slow down and to really consider what they’re doing is nearly impossible.
I’ll say, “We have to do this to be effective.”And everyone goes, “I don’t have time to be effective, I only have time to be efficient.” You cannot compromise; I think that that’s true in any industry, in any business. People have the idea that my content only lives for an hour anyway, “Why am I putting this much thought into it? Why can’t I just produce the damn thing?” That’s when I am like, “If you want to waste your money, that’s a really great way to do it.”
I am starting a new job! I am joining a really cool group; they work with a bunch of outdoor and lifestyle brands. I am really excited to get in with these brands that do have a core purpose and a responsibility towards the environment and towards the youth and their livelihood.
These guys at the agency are in these types of conversations day in and day out, because that’s where they’re from. They were at the birth of snow and skate and BMX and mountain biking and camping. I’m excited to be with people that are a part of a culture, not just observing it.