Last Friday was a big day for us at Warc, with the announcement of our inaugural Warc Prize for Social Strategy. In all, five Golds, five Silvers and eight Bronzes were handed out at the awards ceremony in London; the Grand Prix went to AMV BBDO for 'Mariachi', a tongue-in-cheek integrated campaign from Doritos, the PepsiCo-owned snack brand.

We set up the prize in the hope of uncovering social media campaigns that demonstrated solid strategies and – most important of all – impressive business results. Ahead of the announcement, I spoke to Molly Flatt, word of mouth evangelist at digital agency 1000heads and one of this year's judges, to discuss whether or not the entries had met this brief.


Overall, what did you think of the entries?

There were some great examples of what you’d want to hold up as good social strategy. Things like MINI and Mizuno seemed very deeply insightful about their community – the people who loved them; their advocates – and how to feed that in a very authentic way. They were examples of brands being social and not just doing social. I was impressed with a lot of the results: there was some good integration and good isolation, too – people were able to focus on what their strategy was doing rather than other aspects that had driven results in the campaign. They were better than I expected – because results are a typically gnarly area when you get into social!

I really liked the concept of behaviour change too, in examples like Ontario’s social smoking campaign and the British Heart Foundation’s CPR campaign. I liked that there was an attempt to use social to actually shift real world behaviour. Not just get people talking about stuff, or even buying stuff, but actually to get them to change what they do. And, hopefully, winning over the cynics who see [social] as just an echo chamber.

Did you learn anything that you might apply to your own campaigns?

I really liked the ASB Loan case – the crowd-sourcing loan idea – and that’s a great encouragement to continue to be bold in different categories. So you need to be pushing clients who may be constrained by a lot of red tape and privacy concerns, but to really be pushing out of their category. You know, crowdfunding and group buying isn’t hugely innovative in itself, but if you apply it in another industry then it is quite groundbreaking. So that made me inspired to go away and really cross-apply strategies to different industries and different clients.

Do you think clients and agencies are making a credible link between social strategies and business impact?

That’s the issue which every single panel, conference and conversation always come down to! Measurement. Quite frankly if anyone tells you they can fully measure the results of their social campaign they are lying. It’s just not possible. I often think that by definition the most successful campaigns, and the ones I like most, are the ones that are hardest to measure. Because they go out of the control of your branded social spaces and the people you contacted to get involved in the campaign – instead it gets talked about among friends, at the school gates and on people’s own locked down and private pages. You don’t have control – and nor should you. And those most private and intimate places are the most valuable.

There’s a real tension between what you can measure – and whether what you can measure is the most valuable stuff in terms of business impact. In awards, people know that measurement is what we are going to be looking at. And some people tried very hard but didn’t get very close. Some, like Mercedes’ #YouDrive, were very channel-integrated so they could get a lot of rich data they could show to people to show how social drove measureable interactions. But it’s still almost an impossible question.

Some of the most successful social strategies require a leap of faith – or a big dose of common sense. Which is very hard when you’re trying to justify your budget to your board. We find that we’re caught between spending a lot of time investing in our own algorithms and models and very detailed ROI stuff, but on the other side having to educate people and getting them to buy into this. And sometimes it takes a lot of investment before you start to see the great results. It’s rare to get a big result in social without having first spent years building up your advocacy and building up your presence.

That said, some clients see social as a way of cost-cutting or as a quick fix…

2007 was the year that brands really started being interested in social, because of the recession! And they didn’t have the money for their traditional budgets and they also felt a lot of cynicism among their consumers about how they were being marketed to. Everyone flocked to social because they thought it was quick, cheap and easy; they thought you could just throw something out there and it went viral.

The difference is with social is that you earn incredible results with time and effort – by thinking and relating to human beings as a human being. Not by building an expensive microsite!

Is it useful to make a distinction between ‘social strategy’ and ‘social media’?

I kind of do, because we’re a word-of-mouth agency – not a social media agency – because it’s like calling yourself a “fax agency” or a “pen and paper agency”. Social media is a tool. So I’d much rather us be rewarding strategies that are social – inherently conversational, about relationships, encouraging behaviour change – but then of course the definition of a “social strategy” is a really tricky thing.

For me it implies going beyond the campaign. Instead it implies something that is embedded deep within the company and is part of their approach, how they see themselves and how they approach their consumers, clients and partners. But I do like the move away from looking at things as platforms and instead looking at how a strategy is encouraging your consumers and your company to be social.

Do you have any advice for entries to next year’s Warc Prize for Social Strategy?

Putting a video on YouTube and spreading it via social does not a social strategy make. For me there were a lot of entries that were digital strategies – or even old school TV strategies – masquerading as social strategies. Coming up with a strong, slogany message for their campaign, using that to create a bunch of content and pushing it out on social sites.

Instead, concentrate on other people’s content and not yours. This is why we’re in business. All the stats say that what’s making people buy more are recommendations and people talking to each other. But there’s still an obsession with brands’ own social presences. While you need places like this, where you can amplify your content and do customer service, what you’re really looking for at the end of the day is stuff happening away from your tiny little branded closet.

Look beyond Facebook. I think Facebook is a very tricky place for brands to get any traction – and it's getting more difficult. Because brands fit into social media with people’s passions; if you really love spaniels, when you’re online you’re going to read about and talk to other people who really love spaniels – who share your passion. Brands can join and enhance these conversations. But Facebook is people you know. It’s not built around those passions that give brands an ‘in’. It’s not a natural place for brands to stick their oar in.

What other platforms should brands be on?

Blogs and forums have been there from the very start! And it’s easy to forget they’re there because everyone gets totally fixated on a few big platforms. Look at upcoming things too – not just Vine or Snapchat, which are a bit old hat now – but other apps that are coming up that are more authentic and more granular. Keep your eyes and ears open for interesting communities that are emerging in which brands can be useful. I’d love to see more of that: not just shouting into people’s ears but do what you naturally do better in social media. Use interesting new platforms in new ways, rather than just contacting some bloggers or putting some photos up on Facebook.

What about real-time marketing - brands chasing the next Super Bowl blackout tweet?

I think that’s great, but it’s got to be done well and in a relevant way. The most retweeted brand tweet ever was Nokia’s brilliant response to the launch of the iPhone 5c. They’d taken note of the rumours pre-launch that Apple would launch a multi-coloured phone, and had taken the time to create a beautiful graphic of their multi-coloured Lumias. It was that mix of preparation, listening and responding that was great.

But then you get into that situation where everyone has to have an opinion on the royal baby. And you sit there and you see every single brand producing their own pun, image and deal.

Do less, but better. Do reactive marketing, do blogger outreach, do crowd sourcing, like McDonald’s did with the Build the Burger example, integrate TV with social, use all the strategies at your disposal – but do it only where it’s going to resonate with your audience.