Four lessons from #ContentMarketingShow: brands can be social

Four lessons from #ContentMarketingShow: brands can be social


The story of media and organisational communication over the last 20 years is a shift from mass forms of communication to social forms of communication. Mainstream media, itself a work in progress, is giving way to personal forms of media. This media is social and is created, shared and curated among communities.

In a talk at the Content Marketing Show  in London this week I challenged delegates to consider whether a brand could ever be social, and how they communicated on behalf of their clients and organisations.

The Content Marketing Show is a sign of how Internet mediated communication and marketing is growing. 1,000 people gathered at the Institute for Education to hear from 14 speakers. It was a fantastic event.

There really has never been a more exciting time to work in our business.

Here's my deck and a summary of my speech.

#1 Shift in organisational communication culture

Brands need to shift from a corporate tone of voice to a human voice, and replace formal command and control structures of communication with informal frameworks and customer relationship management.

This is the shift in organisational culture that was foretold in the Cluetrain Manifesto, and more recently in Euan Semple’s book Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do.

Public relations is undergoing the single biggest upheaval of its 100 year history. It is no longer siloed as a communications function but must be part of every area of a business.

What’s more our business has the opportunity to become the organisational conscience and operate at the highest levels of organisations. This is the shift to social business.

Moving beyond traditional media as a proxy to build influence to direct relationships with publics, or audiences to use marketing parlance, will be critical to future success.

There are early signs that this is starting to happen. Asda, IBM, O2, P&G and the UK Government, amongst others, are notably examples of organisations that have set out on this journey.

#2 Stop posting shit on the Internet

However for the majority of organisations social media programmes have been bolted on to existing marketing and public relations efforts, with mixed success.

In the session at the Content Marketing Show I shared examples of ways that brands are failing in their attempt to engage with their publics, or audiences.

  • Airheads talk rubbish. They are most likely to ask daft questions, and have no interest in your response. The Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook celebrates their work.
  • Nutters are inane. They have no awareness of context or empathy. They are most likely to hijack a hashtag inappropriately.
  • Automated brands are wedded to content calendars and robotically push out content with limited engagement.

Tom Liacas has made a study of these different personas. He’s a provocative thinker who I had the opportunity to meet in London recently. I’d thoroughly recommend his blog.

#3 Bravery required

During the last 12 months I’ve personally experienced the power of social networks to respond in a very human way.

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in September last year. She’s well on the way to recovery, recuperation and rehabilitation but over the course of her treatment I shared some of the highs and lows with my Facebook network.

Cancer remains one of the great taboos along with mental health and miscarriage, and yet people in my network responded in incredible ways each time I reached out.

Friends responded with messages of support and practical help, and colleagues at Ketchum quietly got on with working around me whenever I needed to excuse myself from the business.

I think we’ll see huge breakthroughs in human understanding in the coming years as social media breaks down barriers and brings people together in this way.

The big challenge is how organisations fit into this mix. They need to be human.

#4 Being human

A model for the motivation of human relationships was described by Abraham Maslow in a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation in Psychological Review (Wikipedia summary) in 1954.

The psychologist identified human motivation on a scale from Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence.


Brands building relationships with publics, or audiences, via social media need to root their purpose as firmly as possible in a lower order need.

Can a brand ever truly be social? Of course it can.

Social media provides us with an incredible opportunity to engage with publics, or audiences, directly. But it’s an intrinsically human form of communication that requires empathy and humility.

Organisations need to be brave in adapting their communication.

Related links

#1 3 Incredible Takeaways From The Content Marketing Show 2014, NewRise Digital #2 #ContentMarketingShow | Can a Brand Ever Be Truly Social? Stephen Waddington, VerveSearch #3 Content Marketing Show: Key takeaways, #4 Content Marketing Show – Session 1 Round up, The Media Flow #5 Ten tweets that sum up key takeaways from Content Marketing Show, The Drum

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