Candace Kuss is Director of Social Media, Hill+Knowlton Strategies. This year, she joins the judging panel for the WARC Awards in the Effective Social Strategy category. Here, she talks to Lucy Aitken about why social needs to be more about the person and less about the platform.

In our recent Social Strategy Report, the 2017 chair of the judges, Quinn Kilbury from Heineken USA, said: “In the social world, we don’t compete against our respective categories, we compete against the world.” Does this mirror your view?

I would absolutely agree with that. In general, that’s a good reminder to every marketer. It’s always been that way. In advertising and brand communication, you’ve always had to fight for the attention of your target. For example, a newspaper ad is fighting for the attention of the person reading the paper for the sports scores.

Is it more challenging now?

It’s always been challenging. It might just have seemed easier or simpler in the past.

Mark Zuckerburg at Facebook recently announced changes where posts from your actual friends are prioritised. Yet that’s always been what Facebook is about, so we shouldn’t be surprised when the rules change. It is a mistake to see Facebook as this free space for marketers of all kinds to get their messages out there.

The fascination with social has a lot in common with brand sponsorships: you go to where your market is. If they’re online, that’s great — you can reach them there. Just think about why they’re there, what they’re doing and how they’re consuming content. Just like those brands who want to be in sports arenas because they know that’s where to find their audience.

Fran Cassidy wrote in the same report: “We need to help brands move away from their addiction to metrics based on reach, views and media equivalents, towards metrics that matter, those based on building brand health, relevance and profit.” How much do you think that inadequate metrics are holding social back?

Fran makes a really good point. What’s holding it back is the reluctance to put in proper measurement in the beginning, because measuring something adequately will cost more money than simply throwing it up there. This applies to all brand communication. The social metrics of shares and likes is an indication of whether or not that post had value for your target audience. You have to put in some other way to track business metrics, like sales or other KPIs.

Do you think there is still a tension between the short-term nature of social strategy and the need for a commitment to the long-term for campaigns to be effective?

I’d question anyone who’s adhering to a short-term thing. There’s no reason why social media campaigns should be short-term; that’s a bad way to go about thinking about it. Social strategy should be serious, long-term and integrated.

What does social strategy done well look like to you?

It’s user-centric and 100% integrated into the overall communications strategy for that brand and the target audience.

Can you share some examples?

I’m very proud of the Expat Explorer work that the H+K financial services team did for HSBC’s international bank. At its heart is a global survey of expats that gathers data from around the world. This content is distributed as user-generated tips and advice. So if you’re thinking about moving abroad, it covers things like outdoor activities for nature-lovers.

The programme has multiple elements. The Expat Explorer blog and the Twitter account have been running for over nine years. It’s an example of long-term thinking and commitment to a programme that uses tech platforms really well. It doesn’t just live on Facebook. It’s an owned space with social support.

Does social to you always have to entail social platforms? Or does it have a broader meaning?

It’s a human thing and the platforms are really just a way to enable that behaviour. I absolutely think it’s a bigger thing than any single platform. A lot of the time, media will lump stuff together to short hand it, but some of the platforms we lump together as ‘social media’ may not look or act or sound alike.

For instance, Facebook is a great example of a social platform. Twitter, on the other hand, categorises itself as a news app because that’s what it’s good at, versus a place where I connect with my family and friends. Twitter just isn’t built for that. People put them in the same bucket, but some platforms are more social than others.

What best practice do you preach when it comes to social strategy?

Align with your overall strategy and be mindful about your target audience, where they are spending their time and what’s relevant to them. Make it more about them and less about the platform.

What advice would you give to entrants for this year’s Effective Social Strategy category in the WARC Awards?

Condense your campaign into a two-minute video. Explain the facts and results in a straightforward way, without a lot of explanation points. You can’t win awards by being too boastful. Try to tell the story of the campaign as simply as possible for the jury, who won’t know anything about it.

What would your ideal awards entry contain?

Fresh, original thinking that uses any of the tools in a non-expected way. Make the jury wish they’d done that campaign!

Do you have an effective social strategy campaign that you’d like to enter into the 2018 WARC Awards? It’s free to enter and the deadline is 12 February. Other categories include Effective Content Strategy, Effective Use of Brand Purpose and Effective Innovation. Find all you need to enter here.