Expert Interview: Matt Navarra’s Story and Thoughts on Social Media for 2019

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. 

Some of this roster of clients include BBC, the United Nations, and the International Red Cross. Matt is a regular commentator in the news, appearing on TV, radio, and across media outlets such as BBC News, Sky News, The Guardian, TechCrunch, Mashable, and more. We wanted to speak with the industry expert to get his thoughts on social media trends, the biggest mistakes marketers are making today, influencer marketing, and so much more. Here’s what Matt had to say: 

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?

My root into social media was bit different for most because when I left university, it was 2002. At that time, the social media world was limited to MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook wasn’t even on the scene. Seven years later, I found myself working as a Press and Media Relations Manager, then subsequently a digital communications specialist for the UK Government.

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?

Here are some areas that I think will be some of the biggest growth areas or trends in 2019: 

  • AR/VR
  • Audio (Podcasts) 
  • Stories Format 
  • Communities / Private Groups / Messaging Apps
  • Creators/Shows 
  • Social Commerce 
  • Influencer marketing with micro-influencers 
  • Chatbots / AI 
  • Voice Assistants
Sometimes things creep up on you such as a new app or social media format trends, like Facebook Live, Instagram IGTV, and Instagram Stories, and it catches you by surprise. Sometimes an incident happens which changes the landscape or how people view a platform or how they use social media. Much of it you can see building and growing in importance or popularity.

3. How important is data for informing strategies - either for an influencer or brand?

The importance of data should not be underestimated when it comes to social media marketing campaigns. You need to get close to your brands' key social metrics and make sure you know your audience - both in terms of the who they are, where they are, what they do, but also what their social media behaviors are, and what content they tend to engage with most. You need to have some sort of benchmark for your current performance in order to track the success of any campaigns you launch. Basic stuff, but still often not done or done badly by some businesses.

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?

For those looking to build influence on social media right now, I would suggest these tips: 

  • 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
There’s always a benefit to being and early adopter of a new platform when it’s in its infancy. It often provides a great opportunity to get noticed and reach a new audience in a new way. The beauty of social media is it’s open to all, so anyone can become an influencer. You literally start tomorrow and potentially become the next big thing on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or whichever platform suits you or your needs. The important thing is to have great content, or an alternative point of view that resonates with an audience, or perhaps be doing something that is exciting and unexpected. Creating great content and meeting the audiences’ expectations of you, or exceeding them should be your focus.

5. What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes brands are committing on social? What do you wish marketers would stop doing?

Honestly, some of the mistakes I often see are things I’ve been guilty of committing myself at times...Though, doing these things consistently or excessively is the problem.

  • 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 broadcaster

I 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 pasting

From 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 trendy

Brands (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 lame

Today, 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?

Instagram will continue to grow in popularity in light of Facebook’s bad 2018, and as a result of lacking any strong rivals right now. As for NEW social networks, any new platform that attempts to breakthrough will find it extremely tough. Facebook will probably either buy them, copy them or limit their ability to grow in some way. Apps that are focused on private sharing, groups, communities, and messaging will do well right now. Videos and the stories format are key, so an innovative take on these things could also work. Audio is also hot right now e.g. podcasts or audio only broadcasting.

7. What are the social media formats you are excited about?

Shows and longer form serial content is trying to breakthrough on social platforms, but it’s not cheap to make great content. Also, I question if users will watch it via a social network vs. a dedicated app accessible on a main TV screen e.g Apple TV. Stories still have a ton of room for innovation and new features. It will be even more interesting once AR/VR comes online, and it will transform how we engage online, but still, these technologies are still some years off for mainstream audiences for many reasons.

8. What media publishers do you think are currently doing it right on social media?

Any publisher with a strong Stories game, top quality video content, and a diversified distribution model will do well. Cheddar, NowThis, BBC News stand out for me due to content, business model and distribution of content strategies used.

9. How important is creative freedom for influencers and thought leaders in the social media space?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a social media manager working at a company or brand, or you’re an influencer, anything that involves social media, engaging and communicating with an audience, whether it’s selling something or trying to develop a community, the point is this:
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.

Matt Navarra is a digital and social media consultant with over 10 years industry experience, working with some of the world's biggest brands including ITV, BBC, United Nations, International Red Cross and many others. Over the past 5 years, Matt held the position of Director of Social Media for popular global tech news publisher The Next Web. He was responsible for the social media strategy of both news editorial output and TNW Conference, one of the world's largest tech conferences. Matt was also responsible for audience development, content syndication, branded content partnerships, vendor and social media platform stakeholder management, training and development, and content optimisation (including copywriting).Earlier in his career, Matt held the position of digital communications lead for the UK Government. He has worked for the Intellectual Property Office, Cabinet Office, and Government Digital Service (GDS).


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