Joe Federer’s expertise in digital runs deep; from building Reddit’s Brand Strategy team and writing Reddit’s brand engagement playbook to managing top-performing brands in Pinterest Ads’ alpha and beta programs, to developing campaigns achieving ROI in the top 95th percentile of Facebook advertiser studies.
Having led social creative and strategy teams at major ad and PR agencies, Joe’s approach to social marketing starts with understanding user mindsets in various social networks, borrowing models from the worlds of evolutionary biology and psychology. His first book, The Hidden Psychology of Social Networks, will be published by McGraw-Hill in 2020.
Joe is one of the keynote speakers at GITEX Technology Week 2019. Ahead of his presentation, MarTech Vibe caught up with him for a quick email interaction. Excerpts from the conversation:
Tell us more about your book and your anthropological approach to social media.
In marketing, we tend to lump every website with a feed into this category of “social media” and apply similar thinking to platforms within that category. But we also know that we act differently on Twitter than we do on Facebook or LinkedIn. Online communities and cultures aren’t so different from offline ones — we act differently in our own house than we do at the mall or in an airport.
My book, The Hidden Psychology of Social Networks, helps marketers start with an understanding of the nuanced differences between social platforms and how to engage them effectively. The average social media user maintains 8.5 different social profiles — and that number is growing. Great social marketing platforms are born when brands understand the cultural ecosystem into which they’re entering and find a way to use their marketing dollars to add value to users’ experiences. Adding value has the combined benefit of both grabbing attention and creating a positive impression for brands. That’s at the heart of all of how I build brands’ social campaigns.
What do brands get wrong about social media marketing?
Too often, brands see the world through their own lens. Social media is the most challenging arena for marketing because we’re closer than ever to the actual opinions of the people we reach. We don’t have the arm’s length comfort of TV or print advertising — now, people can tell us immediately what they think and how they feel about us. Many brands now default to a strategy of disabling comments or blocking sceptics, and I think that’s very unhealthy behaviours. The people who don’t like us may have as much to teach us as those who do.
As brands in social space, we often lose sight of the fact that when people engage with our content — when they “Like” our ad or click the “share” button — they’re not doing it for us. When someone shares our post on social media, they’re saying “This content from this brand communicates something about myself to the people with whom I’m connected.” That’s a significant difference, and it’s something we need to carry through our social creative and strategy processes.
So according to you, what goes into putting together a successful social media advertising campaign?
Great social campaigns can vary broadly, but every great social campaign succeeds in two consistent dimensions. First, the campaign needs to be contextually relevant to the space — it needs to understand the culture in which it’s participating, and at the very least, not make any grave social faux pas in the space. Second, we need to add value. Sometimes adding value is just being funny and entertaining, sometimes it means providing information or expressing a shared perspective, and sometimes value is added through the product alone.
What social media avenues have gone unnoticed by marketers? How can B2B brands leverage them?
We’ve created a funny situation for ourselves as marketers in social media. Because we’ve tended to buy media at a demographic level in the past and because we now have this ultra-advanced targeting technology with Facebook, we tend to forget an entire category of platforms that are anonymous in nature or that organise users around their interests. Having led Brand Strategy at Reddit for over three years, I found that many brands are uncomfortable with psychographic targeting, and many felt they needed demographic information to justify an advertising investment. But these anonymous, interest-based platforms are often the ones in which people are making the decisions they carry through the rest of their social platforms. Investing in interest-based platforms is an effective way to advertise “upstream” and reach people where they’re making decisions.
When it comes to the marketers in the Middle East, cultural and language barriers restrict marketers. In KSA, there are 10 million Instagram users who interact in Arabic, comparatively only 3.4 million use English for communication. How can marketers tackle this challenge to ensure their message reaches out to their ideal target audience?
As with all great social creative, I think the answer starts with listening. Apart from the basic business questions like, “Do speakers of one language or the other tend more often to convert?”, there are a number of questions that organic space can help answer for us. When we identify key influencers or growing organic communities in the space, how are they handling this problem? Do they provide translations in both languages within the same post? Do they create two separate streams of content for speakers of different languages?
However we decide to solve that problem, we need to balance the opposing forces of customising our approach for our different audiences while also remaining consistent and authentic. We may change our editorial voices, our sense of humour, and even the content we share depending on the audience we’re reaching, but we must also ensure that what we say to one audience doesn’t contradict what we’ve said to another.
Governments and political leaders have also begun using social media to reach out to their supporters. Barack Obama is a great example of this. From viral campaigns to free advertising, and from fundraising and direct contact with voters, to tailoring campaigns for each target audience, so many things are now possible. What do you think will be the future of social media in governance?
The ability of politicians and government officials to interact with their supporters makes social media especially powerful to people’s relationships with their governments. However, social media can be dangerous for politicians who aren’t closely connected to their voter bases or who say and do inconsistent things.
One of the quotes I often return to when thinking about this topic comes from Gabe Newell, who became an early internet celebrity when he established the Valve corporation: “You have to stop thinking that you’re in charge and start thinking that you’re having a dance. We used to think we’re smart, but nobody is smarter than the internet. One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will de-construct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.’”
Social media can be harnessed to fuel grassroots movements and spread messages that resonate deeply with people. It can also be used to manipulate and mislead. But the Internet tends to find a way to uncover the truth when the stakes are high enough. My personal hope is that social media allows politicians to share themselves more candidly and openly with the world so that we can facilitate more candid conversations between governments and the people they serve.
With Deep Fake and FaceApp thrown into the mix, what lies ahead for social media users in terms of privacy and data breaches?
We’re simply going to trust less of what we see. We already see fake tweets and social posts every day, we’re growing more sceptical of whom we trust with our data, and Deep Fakes are just the next logical step. The 2017 Forrester report showed that consumer trust in brands was at an all-time low, and Americans’ trust in government is also in a dramatic decline.
I think this trend will continue to a point at which we’re all sceptical of everything we see online, particularly in places like social feeds, in which we’re not always sure why we’re being shown one piece of content or another. As we grow more sceptical of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the importance of our online communities will grow proportionately. Interestingly, platforms like Reddit, which culturally value honesty and transparency despite being entirely anonymous, demonstrate a high amount of trust between users — like this example of a top post which reads, “I add “reddit” after every question I search on Google because I trust you all more than other strangers.”
Name you top five social media marketing tools
I’m a purist when it comes to social media! Even when managing large brand campaigns, I prefer to interact on the platforms directly because that’s how our audiences interact with them. I’ve used a huge number of tools for campaign management, consolidating posting flow, measuring reach, predicting trends, and understanding engagements, but most often, I find myself using platform-direct analytics and posting mechanisms. That said, I find social listening tools like Radian 6 to be extremely valuable in excavating trends and insights in retrospect.
What makes a piece of social media content successful? Any brand you think has got it right?
The internet is funny about how it judges good social content. The format of our posts tends to be just as important as what the content itself is saying. As brands, we’ve fallen in love with video content, and while video can be an extremely engaging and effective medium, we seem to have lost sight of the other types of social content that drive sharing and earned reach.
The most important quality of social creative is efficiency — how quickly and easily is our message being communicated? And once we’ve grabbed attention, are we delivering on our promise? Wendy’s is a brand that’s done an outstanding job of entering digital meme culture. Burger King continues to surprise and delight with its creative, out-of-the-box campaigns. Audi hosted a series of Reddit AMAs (“Ask Me Anything” interviews) with celebrities being driven around a racetrack at 130+ MPH. Adobe just facilitated an incredible digital graffiti wall on Reddit. Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” was simply an inspirational 3-minute video spot. Those brands are out in front of the digital landscape and definitely worth paying attention to.
Why should CMOs invest in social media advertising?
Social media and online communities are where people form their opinions. As advertisers and marketers, that’s really all we’re trying to do — change people’s opinions about something. Especially for brands that hope to succeed with Millennials and Gen Z, social media isn’t optional anymore. A thriving social presence says, “This brand is alive, engaged, and worth exploring.” A brand without a strong social media presence makes us wonder if the company is still in business. The real question now is — in which social media platforms should we invest? The answer to that question varies largely upon the brand, its products, and where people will be most likely to engage with it.