If you’re an avid reader of The Next Web, you’ve likely heard of Matt Navarra. Formerly the Director of Social Media for the global tech news publisher, Matt has now gone on to fulfill his dreams of digital consultancy to work with some of the world’s biggest brands.
1. You are the go-to person for all social media related news. Could you tell us about your journey? Was that something that came naturally to you after being a Social Media Director of @TheNextWeb?
This was really my first opportunity to explore social media professionally when it was in its infancy. I worked for the Intellectual Property Office which was not really using social media at the time (in 2009), unlike other government departments. However, I started to create different profiles for the department; this was unbeknownst to anyone because the bureaucratic nature of the public sector and these types of organizations are always nervous with this type of communication. I did this for a while and had great success with it. Eventually, after being in the role for a while - and as I got better at it, I was nominated for some social media awards in the public sector. In 2013, I got offered the opportunity to work in the Cabinet Office, specifically for the newly formed Government Digital Service (GDS) in London. At that time, this was the place to be if you loved all things digital in government. It was like the Facebook of the public sector world; it reminded me of some sort of Silicon Valley startup with people sat on bean bags working on their laptops, and funky chill-out areas to get creative with colleagues. This was unlike anywhere else in government at the time.
Later in 2013, I became Director of Social Media for The Next Web (TNW). At the time, TNW didn’t have any formal social strategy in place, but they knew they had the potential to leverage their content and business activities using social platforms. The co-founder of TNW, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, became a great mentor to me. From Day 1 I was given a lot of creative freedom. He would say things such as “Do what you want, we trust you” and “We know you’re good at what you do, so don’t ask for permission, just ask for forgiveness”, or “Go experiment!” This was great, however, I still kept nervously asking for his input because this was a big technology news brand and events company, and I was doing things that might not work or if they failed, could make them look bad. He just kept saying things like “Keep pushing and doing things that are unusual or kind of quirky, to the point where we get taken to court and get sued. That’s when I’ll know you’ve pushed it to the limit. Up until that point, just do whatever you think is best and I will defend you”.
That was a lot of creative freedom. It gave me a lot of confidence and enabled me to experiment without fear of things going wrong or thinking that it could end my career at TNW, or anywhere else for that matter! This freedom to experiment was the complete opposite of my previous role working in government (at that time), where you had to ask for permission to do everything. I was with TNW for 5 years, but in April of this year I branched out on my own to become a freelance social media consultant. Now I work with companies such as the BBC, UN, Red Cross, and lots of cool social media startups. Typically, I tend to work with a smaller number of very big and well-known brands.
2. Do you think people can predict certain social media trends or do you think none of us can see where everything is going? If we can predict, what do you think are the biggest trends for the coming year?
- Audio (Podcasts)
- Stories Format
- Communities / Private Groups / Messaging Apps
- Social Commerce
- Influencer marketing with micro-influencers
- Chatbots / AI
- Voice Assistants
3. How important is data for informing strategies - either for an influencer or brand?
If you’re a small business or a new startup with limited resources (time, people, marketing budgets); you need to be able to quickly identify things that aren’t working. Conversely, tracking successful campaigns is important as it helps you zoom in on things that are working so you can be agile and quickly amplify content or activities doing well. At the end of any campaign, both successful and unsuccessful ones, you need to review your efforts and evaluate what did or did not work in order to improve and learn.
The benefits of using Socialbakers or any other industry-leading tool is that it gives teams quick and easy access to their social data for powerful analysis and reporting. Creating social dashboards makes it easier to monitor both complex campaigns, as well as tracking your brand’s presence on social at a higher level. That’s where the value comes in from using those sorts of products - they can save you a heck of a lot of time versus using less comprehensive native tools.
4. What is your advice for someone wanting to build influence on social media? Is it too late for newcomers?
- Find a niche
- Engage with other influencers and experts online
- Go to industry events + chat to people!
- Have an opinion
- Be consistent
- Take your time
- Create something of your own / build your own community
5. What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes brands are committing on social? What do you wish marketers would stop doing?
- Broadcasting, not engaging
- Copy and paste content to all platforms
- Trying too hard to be edgy and trendy
- Producing lame content
Don’t be a broadcasterI often observe people using social media as a broadcasting channel only. I find this tends to happen more on Twitter than any other platform. This is where people or brands Tweet with no intention of striking up a conversation, nor do they show any signs that they want to engage. That’s not what social media is about!
Stop copying and pastingFrom a small business point of view, it can be really tricky to find the time you need to create and customize a piece of content for the optimum success on a specific platform. In those instances, it’s better to focus on the platforms that are going to deliver the results you’re looking for, or match the requirements or formant of the sort of content you want to share. Don’t don't try to do everything on all platforms; that will make it very tempting to copy paste content and its format across multiple platforms, leading to very little success anywhere. You’re better off doing your research with tools to understand your audience and figuring out which platform works best with your objectives - and keep it simple, especially if you’re small. If you focus on just a couple of the key platforms, you will save time, then you can use that free time to create more tailored content or leverage a specific platforms unique features to be more successful.
Trying too hard to be edgy and trendyBrands (old and new) are often trying to catch attention and break through the noise. This often leads to them trying something that is unnecessarily controversial or polarizing and unfortunately may not be true to them as a brand and what they do. This is even worse when it’s an older or more conservative brand, and then it suddenly tries to become the ‘cool kid’ on social by pushing out content that doesn’t sound at all like them. This often looks cringe-worthy and is likely to be off-putting to your existing audience.
Producing lame content is lameToday, there are so many companies that are buying space in social news feeds across multiple social platforms. Most businesses have the potential to get value from using social media, but the problem is the type of content they are all using is bland and very similar. It gets lost in the noise amongst other pieces of average or lame content.
The reality is not everyone is great at producing content. They tend to try to do too much themselves instead of investing in outsourcing this sort of work to people that can create great content such as awesome videos or articles, or whatever it is a campaign needs to be successful.
I’d say 80% of the content that is published by small businesses, or brands are not great - it doesn’t work and surprisingly... they’re surprised! They think they’ve done all of the right things, such as social media optimization, used analytics, researched their audiences, but the key thing that matters more than all of these things are producing amazing content which matches up with your audience’s expectations. If you only do the ‘first’ bit, but then produce dull, boring, cheap, uninteresting content….you’ve wasted your time. If the content sucks, the other stuff is not going to make much difference.
6. What do you think will be the next hit social media network?
7. What are the social media formats you are excited about?
8. What media publishers do you think are currently doing it right on social media?
9. How important is creative freedom for influencers and thought leaders in the social media space?
Success in social media requires creative freedom and the ability to experiment.
First of all, things change so quickly in social media. There’s so many new platforms and features launched each month, algorithmic changes, new formats, and shifts in the way people consume media and content. All of those things change a lot in a very short space of time - and to keep a pace with that, or to be able to test new things, you need to be agile and find out what works for you. What was once working well and bringing amazing results might not be now, and this requires you to keep trying other things.
In terms of influencers, it’s particularly important. Social media is a creative space. If you are doing influencer marketing, you shouldn’t be telling an influencer what they can and cannot do. Anything that they would create based on your rules will end up just looking like your other marketing efforts. This may appeal to your existing audience, but to the people that follow the influencer (which is why you’re spending money and effort on working with them), their audience might might cringe when they see something that doesn’t fit with what they came to expect from the influencer they follow.
If you don't give influencers the freedom to create what their audience wants in a way that there audience expects it, then the results from influencer marketing can be limited or disappointing. Creativity should be one of the number one things to think about and ‘prioritize’ when working with influencers.
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