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When it comes to social media, change is constant and inevitable. But how do you harness the force of platforms which are forever shifting, and disrupting each other? And what will 2016 look like for digital marketers everywhere? 

In our final episode for 2015, Isentia TwoSocial head of agency Richard Spencer drops by to chat with Mark and JV about the spectacular successes, and even more spectacular failures of social media marketing this year.

Richard also shares his thoughts on long-form content, the rise of the vertical video and the imminent demise of  wearable technology.

“The one defining constant is change, as organisations are still learning how to use direct contact with consumers and stakeholders to great effect – we’re still getting our head around how that fits as users,” Richard said. “That’s blurring the lines between how we’re using the channel from an organisational perspective, from an HR point of view, from a customer service perspective, from a marketing and a communications perspective, and from a direct sales perspective.”

“All of those are blending into one.”

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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Megan Wright

Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee

Design Manager – Daniel Marr

Graphic Designer – Chris Gresham-Britt

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Participants – Mark Jones (MJ)
Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Richard Spencer (RS) 

MJ:       Thanks for joining us on The CMO Show. I’m here with JV Douglas, g’day JV.

JVD:    Hey Mark.

MJ:      And our very special guest today is Richard Spencer, head of Agency at Isentia Two Social, thanks for joining us.

RS:      Thank you very much.

MJ:       We want to talk about all the social things today and, look, the starting point for me is that we are seeing social in a lot of marketing disciplines, if you like. So it’s – it’s part of our content world, it’s part of our digital marketing world, it’s part of PR and messaging. How do you see things evolving – and you might even want to introduce yourself a little bit.

RS:      I’ve worked in and around social media now for six years or so and I think the one defining constant is change effectively, and I think what you’ve described is the latest iteration of the way that the channel is being used. And largely speaking, I think because we are as organisations still learning how to use direct contact with consumers and stakeholders to great effect and we’re still getting our head around how that fits as users, as society at large and in general. We’re beginning to get better at using social media, social channels for connecting with brands and with one another.

So we’re all kind of learning together in many respects, and you’re right, I think that’s blurring the lines between how we’re using the channel from an organisational perspective, from a HR point of view, from a customer service perspective, from a marketing and a communications perspective, from a direct sales perspective and all of those are, in effect blending into one. Yeah, this is an interesting space.

JVD:    What I think’s really interesting about this too is we’re getting this shift from, sort of content producers who were traditionally publishers and disseminators. So we used to have – we used to have newspapers who would create the news, write the news, print the news and disseminate the news effectively, you know. Now all of that has been kind of chopped up into little bits and we have content creators who aren’t necessarily the initial source of the news who are then turning it into news but then relying on a whole series of other channels to disseminate that are constantly changing. , you know. And one of the things that we talk about in – in content marketing is – is not to build your – your base on land that you don’t own.

So you can’t entirely depend on a social media platform that might disappear in 12 months’ time, you know? How do you actually I guess strategically handle that sort of rapidly shifting market? And where does the power now sit?

RS:      I absolutely agree with you in terms of not building on sand or not building within a context of the shifting dynamic but it’s – the amplification opportunity that those networks bring to the table means you can’t really ignore them either.  We tend to talk to organisations about 12 week rather than 12 month strategies and we tend to talk about it more than enact it.

It’s quite hard for organisations to get their head around strategising on a quarter by quarter basis. Not the least because we budget on an annual cycle and we write annual marketing plans before we kind of get stuck into the year. But I think more realistically 12 weeks is about as far as you can plan out for – for exactly the reasons you outlined in that who knows what – what any of the major applications are going to be doing over a 12 week period and what fundamental shifts in the they way operate are going to take place that may fundamentally change what we can and what we can’t do with them from an organisational perspective.

So it is finding the right and most judicious way of using everything you’ve got at your disposal to disseminate that information because you also need to be putting your news, your data, your offer, your content where people are spending time and they’re more likely to be spending time on a – on a bigger application than – than they are on – on your owned territory I guess. So there is that balance that needs to be struck.

MJ:       I’d agree with that perspective in terms of both and because usually that’s what happens– you see a lot of companies going into this 12 week cycle. It strikes me and we can use the your taxis, you know, snafu as a bit of an example here, you can be quite opportunistic. You can try something new for the sake of trying something new because we’re in the sort of real time live mindset. But we can actually kind of wreck it.

RS:      Yeah absolutely. I mean test and learn is the vernacular, right. Your taxis is a really good one, I don’t work with anybody inside the taxi organisation or in the industry per se, but from the outside in they feel a little lost as an industry in terms of how they are looking to respond to the – the disruption they’re facing – so there is a bit of test and learn thing in there but I also I think you’re right in terms of asking the fundamental question: What is their brand built on? And I’m not sure they know and if they do, they’re not doing a particularly good job of – of explaining to – to audiences and/or potential customers.

MJ:       So you probably shouldn’t be out in social if you don’t know.

RS:      Yeah, I think absolutely not.

JVD:    But aren’t we just a really savage public. If you respond by collapsing and just withdrawing everything, which is effectively what the Victorian taxis have done – they’ve fired their PR company. They’re responded in a really negative way and – thrown their hands up in the air and said “Well this doesn’t work”.

Then it’s the worst scenario because you don’t have a chance to make things better; you don’t have a chance to respond and then have positive messaging.

RS:      I think well Woolworths are the serial offender in – in the local market. They’re very much still in the space. I think the difficulty is that the same basic rules to engaging with an audience apply within any channel, digital or traditional. As they do comfortably in social media too.

You apologise, you – you pull the campaign, you don’t necessarily overreact but you – you regroup and you move on. You don’t try and press on because you think you’re still right. There’s a point in time in which you go, yeah, okay we got this wrong, what do we do about not getting it wrong again? But you’re right, you don’t necessarily throw the baby out with the bath water either.

JVD:    Can you just tell us,– those sudden sort of sharp increases in interest around a certain issue, how long does that interest really last? Like is it possible to sort of sit out the storm?

RS:      Typically the longer tail within the context of social communications comes if there has been a genuine impact on individuals rather than a wider story that maybe isn’t as impactful on my day to day life. Equally if there is fun to be had – and the organisation keeps perpetuating that fun then there are lots of people who will spend their downtime, you know, enjoying the malaise that the particular organisation is heaping on themselves.

Black Milk is a classical example I think of an organisation who got that tragically wrong. They had a post of a – of an extremely attractive model in – in a swimsuit that was kind of R2D2-esq, next to an arguably less attractive person from a – from a television show and so geeky versus model and which would you rather be kind of approach.

JVD:    This is what I think I look like and this is what I actually look like.  It actually didn’t start off too bad. It’s just got a cute little meme, right? And then somebody on their Facebook feed got offended and rather than saying, “Oops sorry, we didn’t mean to offend anyone”.  Whoever was managing their Facebook that day started going, “Well, if you’re going to get offended, you shouldn’t….” And it just turned into an absolute avalanche and the thing about Black Milk is they’re entirely built on their followers online.

Social media is their thing, that’s where they are, they haven’t had any other type of – of advertising or marketing or anything like that. So they really have been built by their followers– and their customers feel a sense of ownership and because of that felt a huge sense of betrayal as well.

RS:      They really put fuel on the fire though – they released an official statement which was words to the effect of, “well if you didn’t – if you didn’t get our original post, you’re not the kind of customer we want anyway”.

JVD:    Thousands and thousands of people closed their accounts there was huge backlash, massive backlash.

RS:      But to your point, they’re still around, they’re still trading, they’re still in business. So, you know, does it go away? Ultimately, arguably, unless you get it tragically wrong, then yeah.

MJ:      So the story is if you’ve having a bad day, stay off social.

JVD:    Step away from the computer!

RS:      Yeah.

MJ:       Richard you must see this from a big picture perspective, the cycles of negativity around campaigns. Are you seeing that generally speaking there’s more fails happening at the moment, is that just because more people are getting it wrong or is it because, we’re just more aware of it now?

RS:      I think the percentage of fails is probably significantly smaller than it used to be. I think there’s just more people trying to use the space proactively. And so more people getting it wrong inadvisedly is just a factor of more people actually having a crack at using social media for proactive reasons

Apart from the serial offenders that should know better by now and clearly don’t, lots of organisations made these mistakes three or four years ago, when – everybody was making those kind of mistakes and as users we were making mistakes all the time so we forgave people very quickly. If they said, look I’m sorry I won’t do that anymore. Famously Habitat, a furniture retailer in the UK, not understanding how to use hashtags was hashtagging, you know, tweets about their sales of lounge suites with Arab Spring because they were using it as an opportunity to get into conversations rather than understanding the context.

They apologised very quickly, closed their account, said we’re going to go away and learn about it and we’re going to come back and do it properly and – and had no negative impacts on that on the basis that they were like sorry we made a mistake.

Fail fast is a really good way of thinking about it. But – but if you’re going to fail fail, and – and move on rather than try and perpetuate the myth.

JVD:    Is it because we’ve all been numpties and brought into this idea of – of going viral? Because so many of us, that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we’re trying to do, to get that hashtag that will make us go viral.

MJ:       Are you even allowed to say that anymore?

JVD:    I’d say you shouldn’t, but this is the thing right, these are all these companies that are actually trying to create something that achieves a life of its own. And they’re trying to tap into some kind of social phenomena there right? But what they’re doing is they’re going viral for tapping into the wrong idea rather than the right idea.

RS:      Absolutely and I think organisations don’t really understand that by using the name of a product or a brand or a service or a spokesperson or their corporate in their hashtag they no longer really control that – that brand in quite the same way.

#qantasluxury went away really quickly, but #mcdstories, their hashtag still, even now – it’s still perpetuated, being used at least once every seven days. And that’s, I mean that’s years. Once you’ve used something you own and you trademark a hashtag, you’re genuinely losing control of your owned media and it’s becoming earned media and – and again, I don’t think organisations are always 100 per cent over the – the risk that they might be taking in that context as well.

JVD:    Do you want to tell us the #mcdstories story?

RS:      Effectively it was again one of those – those great examples of a campaign that arguably wasn’t as well thought through as it could of been. Not massively dissimilar to your taxis where they – from memory, the – the organisation asked for stories to be shared, your favourite story of McDonald’s with the hashtag #mcdstories and to be fair, they got what they asked for, my favourite story of Maccas was finding a toenail in my burger, etc etc etc. So they – they did get what they asked for…

They maybe didn’t think through what they were asking appropriately enough.

When we’re trying to put things together for organisations and, you know, these things are easy to do. Great ideas in the – in the confines of a boardroom sound amazing. We definitely refer to it as the bottle of red wine test. So if you’ve had a couple of – or if you’re somebody that has had a couple of drinks, how could they unpick your great idea. And if there is a way in which somebody can unpick it, you know, Murphy’s Law will tell you that social media will find a way to unpick your great idea and once somebody’s done it, there’s plenty of fun to be had then.

JVD:    I’m wondering if it’s also a reflection of how isolated some senior managers and senior marketers actually are when they say, “Hey let’s find out what people really think of us”, without actually knowing what people really think of them and when the cold hard truth hits them up against the face, it’s just – I mean it’s public if it’s on social media.

RS:      Well, Goldman Sachs did exactly that, didn’t they, tell us what you think of us #goldmansachs.

MJ:       Another thing that fascinates me about social is the move to real time or live. You know, and we’ve seen this coming for a long time in terms of the importance of now. And Periscope of course is perhaps one of the – the more visible examples, Facebook live is – is another thing. And it’s all about, I’ve got an audience and so I want to share exactly what I’m thinking right now and I’m going to try and bring people into a conversation and almost kind of create something on the fly and then move on. It’s a very ethereal temporal kind of an idea but it seems to be getting a lot of attraction. What’s your – your thoughts on that movement?

RS:      Snapchat photos were supposed to be disappearing after 80 seconds and they still seem to be around, so I don’t know how quickly Periscope videos actually disappear, which is another thing to be mindful of if you’re going to use any kind of digital communication. It isn’t necessarily gone forever.

I think that what’s interesting about something like Periscope from a philosophical perspective is content ownership and content rights. Because if I can pitch up to the Olympics and Periscope the 100 metre final, why if I was ABC or the BBC or – and obviously the content ownership rights have been a problem or a discussion point as long as the digital media around, certainly as long as social media has been making it easier to – to share that kind of information. But that’s – that’s going to open up another can of worms.

MJ:       I mean it’s never going to be the same though…

RS:      No.

MJ:       …I mean the experience might have been quite intriguing and you probably could have heard it okay. But, you know, it’s not the same as being there, nor would it be the same as the quality you’d get from a DVD.

JVD:    Unless they have learnt nothing over the last 20 years from like the music industry or the movie industry or anyone else, there’s no point in fighting it. If you’ve lost that distribution, you need to understand how to use the technology– you can’t legislate against people using the technology that exists.

MJ:       Actually it really strikes me that I think there’s some big bands that are going to get really moody about this – because they’re not making their money. You know, they’re making all of their money out of the events right, that’s where the music business has gone to stadium events, making your big bucks on the tour rather than, you know, the music business, with the – sort of it’s all commodity etc. But now they’re going to be disrupted again, by all these fans, you know, Periscoping the live event.

Speaking of Periscope, this might be a moment of catharsis for me but talk to me about vertical video, is it a thing?

RS:      Yeah, it is.

MJ:      Now, why is it a thing?

RS:      Practically it’s a thing because it fits the page makeup particularly for news dissemination organisations better than horizontal video.

MJ:       Now aren’t traditional TVs horizontal, just correct me if I’m wrong here?

RS:      Yes, they are but newspapers aren’t and newspapers on smartphones aren’t and so a lot of this is being driven by smartphone communications.

MJ:       Ah.

JVD:    So you can fit writing down the side of them.

RS:      And also it fits the screen better if you’re holding it in your hand and we’re becoming so lazy in terms of disseminating that we’re not prepared to turn our smartphone in our hand to the horizontal because – if we’ve got it in the vertical. So yes, it is a thing.

MJ:       I’ve got to tell you it kills me, I care about quality of video production and, you know, I have this thing in my family where I see them taking family photos – photos, I’m like turn it around, you know.  You’re killing me, stop it! So it – the game is over, is that the story? It’s all over.

RS:      No it’s a thing, it’s not the thing necessarily.

MJ        Okay.

RS:      More and more we – we are shooting content for vertical video so it’s being shot with vertical in mind and obviously that’s changing the – the nature of what you’re shooting.

JVD:    Exactly.

RS:      I think arguably horizontal or less box is a better medium, better format. But a lot of the vertical videos are actually in situ so it’s – it’s additional content or supporting content around another piece of material. Then it becomes more about how it’s – it wraps into other content rather than being a piece of content in its own right.

JVD:    And if you think about it too, if you were drawing together user generated content for news purposes you would – you wouldn’t just have one video… you’d probably be bringing in several and then putting the commentary around it. So it kind of makes sense in – in that context no matter how much pain it causes Mark.

MJ:       Yeah, I’ve got to tell you I’ve got a long way to go before I’m going to be happy about this.

RS:      The world is just trying to get at you.

MJ:       Yeah, pretty much, pretty much. Some of the best videos that I watch are on the mobile device and I’ll quite happily turn it sideways and – and get a good experience.

RS:      Alex Kolos at YouTube talks about the difference between fans and audiences and creating content for fans versus creating content for audiences and typically to compare and contrast branded content online versus a broadcast experience. But I think arguably you can translate that to different forms of content on a smartphone. So if you’ve chosen to go find something and watch it and you’re happy to plug it in and sit on a bus or a train or in the back of a cab and watch a piece of video, that’s different again to looking at a news article and having additional video content to support the piece you read. So there’s – it might be about usage as much as it is fans versus audiences.

MJ:       Yeah, that’s a good perspective I like that.

JVD:    We tend to get obsessed on the short pieces, so when it comes to writing for the web, often at times we think that the most effective pieces are sort of your 400 to 600 words and we want to write short because no-one can read on a screen and all that kind of stuff but it’s exactly the opposite. The pieces of content that people really deeply engage with and that do well are actually about 1600 words.

And so I’m just wondering if – if this whole kind of focus on videos that aren’t available for very long by Periscope or videos that are ridiculously short via Vine, is – is actually kind of just short lived. That the actual content that is going to engage people and going to be of interest and going to be worthwhile to develop if you’re in that marketing realm is actually the longer pieces, the more in depths and better and pieces with higher production values.

RS:       Yeah, I think you’re probably right and I think it also plays into interruption versus participation so if I’ve – the Facebook style of video which is very much around interrupting you’re experience of timeline, it has to grab your attention very quickly, needs to be short because we have very short attention spans etc etc. Whereas a YouTube hosted video which is more about storytelling or is part of a channel that I’ve subscribed to and I’ve bought into the concept thereof and I’m going to go and search out, I’m prepared to allocate much more time to and there’s plenty of data that shows viewing times on Facebook video being really short versus, you know, 10-12 minutes on – on YouTube because I’ve gone and looked for that piece of content.

MJ:       That reminds me have you seen Facebook’s 360 video?

RS:      No.

MJ:       Oh my goodness me! It’s any – literally any direction. The first video I came across was – I don’t know how they do it but these 360 degree cameras are in North Korea and – and showing a procession of, you know, all these people in front. And then you can actually twist your mobile phone sort of left and right and up and down and turn it and you can get a full 360 degree view of the scene in video.

JVD:    As though you’re looking around through your phone?

MJ:       If you spin and turn the – the screen, instead of pinching and zooming you can actually spin it so you can see what’s behind, above, below, around this entire scene that’s unfolding as if you were actually there. The second video I saw was a surfing video of a guy holding this 360 degree camera surfing through a tube, just mind blowing and then of course he falls off and then you’re underwater, and just amazing. So, you know, I think from a social perspective that’s highly engaging…

RS:      Yeah.

MJ:       …and I wonder from Facebook’s perspective and you’re talking about some trends in that direction, they are sort of pushing things into yet another realm of engagement and maybe they’re sort of saying how could we get people to spend much more time in a video environment? You can’t not watch the whole thing. In fact actually I think about it now. I think you can tell I’m quite excited about this. There’s a – there’s a Star Wars trailer that’s come up exclusively released for, you know, the episode 7 coming up.

RS:      Yeah, yeah.

MJ:       And you get to go on this speeder, you know, through the desert past these big giant, you know, battle cruisers that are lying there on the ground and you can spin around and look at the whole kind of scene. I just had a little mind blown sort of moment and I wonder, that’s going to really play into the social things, because what do you do with a video like that? You share, you know, you talk about it, it becomes this kind of, you know, I hate to say it, viral.

RS:      It changes a couple of different things though, for me, because Facebook would have to reinvent how it serves content to make it more searchable. I think if they’re going to make more immersive content, they need to make it a bit more – a bit more participative for want of – for want of a better word.

The other thing is how it changes things like, again, you know, back full circle to things like content rights because you can imagine watching an English Premier League game or the San Francisco 49ers and with 360 degree video on your mobile so you could actually be a part of the action and you could look at it from every angle and you could see what the quarterback looks at, that would be something we should be – certainly game changing from a publishing perspective and not something you could do with your television on the wall.

MJ:       Well also privacy. So if you imagine if you’ve got a 360 degree camera, you know, live from the stands you’re looking at the bloke next to the bloke who’s got the camera, right.

JVD:    It’s going to be interesting to see how this whole immersive experience plays itself out because we’ve also got Google Cardboard which is essentially an immersive experience that is being delivered and broadly disseminated. We know already marketers in Australia are interested in looking at how to integrate that experience into their overall branding and messaging. So it’s just going to see who’s using it and where it all lands I think.

RS:      It’s got – play back into wearables and I think wearables is a device generic that we’re going to skip as a society.

MJ:       Prediction here?

RS:      Yeah, I don’t think there is a strong enough dynamic to wear technology comfortably at the moment. It’s smartphone based still, so unless – I think we’ll skip a generation, we’ll either embed it in ourselves or we’ll be immersed in it in some way shape or form but we won’t be wearing it.

JVD:    I also think we’ve got more of a social trend towards turning things off and to being disengaged and disconnected because we are now effectively hyper connected without meaning to be and there are just so many social movements about spending a day with your phone turned off and spending it – and I don’t know if you’ve ever gone out with people and you all have to put your mobile phone in the middle of the table and the first one to pick it up pays for the meal. Awesome experience. You actually have real conversations.

MJ:       But how do you photograph your food JV?

JVD:    How do you look things up on Google when no-one could remember what actually happened.

MJ:       If I didn’t photograph it, did I really eat it? Just some final thoughts from you, Richard in terms of where you see, I think marketing spend and budget going around social?

RS:      Interesting – I think as an advertising channel it’s going to attract significantly more budget because it’s – it’s targeting is very good. Full stop. I think from a stakeholder management perspective, we’ll see more budget heading towards customer service teams and marketing teams and arguably a blending of marketing and customer service teams because community per se, within the context of having to pay to disseminate your message doesn’t exist except within the context of customer service. So I think that will be quite an interesting shift. But I would imagine that more and more we’ll see greater budgets heading in that direction but we’ll get away from, in the same way as we got away from calling digital new media, we’ll get away from having social strategists. They’ll just be a part of a wider marketing communication strategies. We won’t have digital marketing managers because the marketing manager will understand digital and there will be like a blending of the disciplines effectively. But as a conduit to having a conversation with the stakeholders, I don’t see it going away any time soon.

JVD:    It just kind of reiterates that idea that every touch point is – is where your brand is expressed. That marketing is effectively at every point of which anyone experiences your brand, that’s where marketing and branding has to be, so whether that’s a customer call centre or your social media feed or – or wherever.

RS:      Absolutely.

MJ:       Richard Spencer, head of agency at Isentia Two Social, thank you very much for joining us. I had a great conversation.

RS:      My pleasure.

JVD:    Yeah, thanks for coming on The CMO Show.

RS:      Thank you very much.

MJ: And that’s it for The CMO Show for 2015. Thanks for joining us – it’s been a pleasure to bring you so many unique and interesting perspectives on content marketing throughout the year.

Thanks also to our wonderful producers – Jonny McNee and Megan Wright. Don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes to stay up to date as we head into the new year. We look forward to returning in early 2016 but in the meantime, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Bye for now.

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