Let’s face it, there’s fewer of us hanging around the water cooler these days. So much of our chit chat now happens on social media, something that TV bosses and their socials team understood a long time ago. But how are they capitalising on social users’ desire to react, share, connect over TV shows?
Enter Owen Williams, MD of the social media agency Siml, and former Head of Editorial Strategy at the BBC. Find out how publishers are curating creative content that stimulates and resonates with social media users, and learn how to tackle social media advertising with our social media agony aunt Stacey.
To see Owen working his magic online, connect with him on Twitter @OwsWills. You can also email email@example.com with your own social media dilemma. Sprout’s own social media agony aunt Stacey is on hand to help you out!
CAT ANDERSON Welcome to Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. I’m Cat, and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media. This is a space for everyone. And, really, nearly anything goes. But what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it’s hard to know. But that’s what we’re here to find out.
Throughout the series, we’ll talk with the brands behind the accounts you know and some that you don’t to explore the weird and wonderful ways that businesses, organisations, and individuals have achieved success on social media, all with tangible insights that you can apply to your own social strategies. And we’ll be heeding the advice of Stacey, our social media agony aunt, who’s here to guide you through some of your trickiest digital dilemmas.
So this week, I’m joined by Owen Williams. A social media strategist with just about the most interesting professional experience ever. In a career spanning 20 years within the digital sector, Owen was previously the social media lead at BBC1 and BBC Wales, as well as the head of editorial strategy for BBC Content Social.
Nowadays he’s the finder and managing director of Siml, which helps publishers maximize creative content, but above all focuses and makes social media simple. We’ve got Owen here today to talk about chatterboxing. So, if you’re not familiar with that phrase, that’s when people weet about a show while they’re watching it, so they’re connecting with others and sharing hot takes and opinions and jokes all as fast as they’re happening on screen. With one eye on the TV and the other on your phone screen, it is a genuinely great way to watch TV.
Owen is also one of the funniest, energetic people I’ve met in a long time. So I literally cannot wait to hear what he has to say today. If you would like to follow his personal account, you can do so @OwsWills.
Owen welcome to Social Creatures.
OWEN WILLIAMS Wow. What a lovely introduction. What way to start!
CAT ANDERSON Owen. I do think if we’ve had a guest on the podcast who lives breathes and enjoys social media, as much as you do, I’m struggling to think who that could be, which is brilliant.
And it’s so exciting, so it makes me wonder, what is it that excites you the most about social media and how and when did you come to the decision to make it the focus of your career?
OWEN WILLIAMS I was a television producer, I was children’s television producer for many years. I know, I look really young. It’s Polyfilla.
It’s all held together, thank you for saying as much. Back then, I was getting commissions for shows for S4C, a Welsh language channel. We were making this cookery series nominated for children’s BAFTa and it was hilariously funny. My approach was emotive content that would resonate with the audience. Of course, social media didn’t really exist back then, there wasn’t a theory or a strategy really that was being shared about how these things worked.
But I was, I was creating content around a TV show called Cariad At Iaith, which in English means “Love For Language”. And it was a group of celebrities placed in this amazing sort of glamping resort in west Wales. They put them there to learn Welsh over the course of a week. And I sort of captured this because I felt it could be resonant for an audience, mostly on Facebook, some on Twitter as well, mostly on Facebook. And it really drew an audience, people really engaged with it. This was 2010, 2011, was pointing people to the Facebook page and to the Twitter channels, which is very, very early days – quite revolutionary back then really.
I was attended a conference, it was a sort of working group conference over the course of a few weeks. Um, course for a few months think it was. Not long after we finished TX on Cariad At Iaith series and the lady given the conference asked, “what have you seen on social media, the internet that has really struck you recently”. And this girl put her hand up and she said the thing that’s really, um, struck me was the social media for Cariad At Iaith. The guy leading the, that sort of lecture just laughed and said “Owen did that” and she went, “You did that?” I went, “Yeah” And she went “It’s amazing!” I went, “Is it?!” I didn’t have a frame of reference.
You know, I was working on social content for various outlets at that point in time, but then down BBC Wales in 2013, it was the first ever social media lead there. The head of news and current affairs at the time called me The Axe Man because within three weeks, I’d axed about 30 different Twitter accounts a they shouldn’t have existed in the first place, and they were terrible! It dawned on me very quickly that there was a rationale for what we did and how we did it, but I just needed form of words. I recognized that emotive content worked on audiences and worked on people, but I couldn’t structure it in my head and I’d never really given it due consideration and I did a lot more digging and I’ve come up with this concept in time.
It’s something I’ve seen in various places, but Information, Identity and Emotion – that’s my holy trinity of making content go viral. And that’s, I do talks on these things nowadays, but information how does a piece of content better inform me, and I’ve just sort of gone, “Right, how do I sort of put this through as sort of a filter for it to make sense to people and for it to make sense to those people I instruct in talks and seminars and keynotes, how do I drill down and go, right? What’s the nub of this?”
CAT ANDERSON I have a million questions for you. I think before I go down the rabbit hole of television and social media and how they overlap, there is a chance that our listeners will be furious with me. If we don’t talk more about your recipe for going viral on social, so remind me again what it was there was… I know it ended with emotions. Was it information? What was the middle one?
OWEN WILLIAMS Go on, have a guess.
CAT ANDERSON No, I should know… Information…
OWEN WILLIAMS Iden… uh, information.
CAT ANDERSON Oh, Identity?
OWEN WILLIAMS Yes, yes! You’ve got it. Information, Identity and Emotions. So it’s a sort of Holy Trinity, as I describe it. How a piece of content better informs me about the world around me. And when I say me, I don’t mean me, Owen Williams or you, Cat Anderson. I really mean the individual, the audience member. And I talk a lot about audiences cause that’s my BBC background. It’s the individual that perceives that content once it’s published. So you wanna put yourselves in their shoes and honestly, so many social professionals would do a lot, lot better by placing themselves in the shoes of the person who’s about to view their content rather than going no, no, I’ll just type this.
Information, how a piece of content better informs me about the world around me. Identity, how a piece of content better informs me about myself and fundamentally, Emotion. How a piece of content makes me feel. And what I’m talking about in feel is they’re actually heightened emotions that sort of forgive the filth, but arousal emotions, they’re elevated emotions, you know, it’s that dopamine hitting your brain.
It’s delivering more powerful emotions than you just sort of are general sort of smirking. You really want to elevate these emotions, right? Whether that’s horror or excitement or you turn them on in some way. Those arousing emotions actually work exceptionally well because, I talk about this as well when I do keynotes, but that idea of it being social media – yes, it’s gotta be about people – but when someone perceives content, it becomes selfish media. It’s me, me, me, media. It’s how does it affect me? What does it say about me? What does it say about the world in which I live and how does it make me feel – information, identity, and emotion, all of those things. And that’s the reason content goes viral. That’s the reason dog owners see USGIs coming home from Afghanistan and the dog jumping all over them. So it’s all of those things and that’s a very simplistic version of, but if you can deploy that strategy in what you do.
If you want me to talk about the big cats thing, I will at length because that is a crystalline example of that trinity working in practice. December 2017, I had marketing approach me with creating and said, “Hiya and welcome. We’ve got this new series called Big Cats, we’d like to put it on social media. And I said, oh, okay, so Big Cats sounds interesting, can I see that? And they said, “Yeah, yeah, of course. We’ll send you, we’ll send you the first few episodes.” “Well, great great great. Can you tell me the trailer as well?” And what they’d cut was a, was a sort of wide screen television trailer with this long language. Look at a landscape at the start, this, this Savanna with these big cats running these lions running in the far distance taken from a helicopter way off, you know, so it was not disturbing running across Savannah. I was like on a screen, the sides of a matchbox, I cannot work out what I’m looking at, those first 3 seconds are so vital.
During this trailer, about 20 seconds in, this little tiny wild cat emerged from beneath a leaf in a forest. And I went, “That’s what you put at the start of the trailer, that’s how to drag people in!” They went, “Are, you sure?” I went, “Sure? Sure?! I know it!” Anyway, that’s what they did. And they made this square version and it was fabulous. And this two and a half, 3 million views. What we eventually got was these collection of videos that were. So powerful and so resonant that every August 8th, and of course every lesson will know that’s International Cat Day. These videos get released again, and it is the same source video on the same channel on the same, uh, Facebook page. And they just propagated once again to the majesty of Facebook crossposting and you’re talking about videos with upwards of 350-360 million views by today. And that’s, what? Six years later? But they are incredibly powerful legacy evergreen content for the BBC there.
CAT ANDERSON Yeah. It makes so much sense. You know, when you think about stuff that does go viral for all sorts of different reasons – you’re right. Because on different levels and different scales, you’re like, oh, those three elements are totally adhered to, but, um, as you know, as I mentioned in the introduction, we are going to talk about chatterboxing.
I really love watching either something maybe controversial or just, you know, the Olympics happening live or eurovision is a big one, and you see what’s happening on Twitter. For an uneducated outsider, I would think this would be a big thing that TV producers are thinking about, like “How can we make sure that we inspire a conversation? How are we gonna think about how social will run alongside this program?” Is that the case? Is it something that on the inside TV producers are thinking about?
OWEN WILLIAMS The pressure is such on television producers, particularly in the, in the non SVOD, sort of in the non-streaming world, the pressure is such on them to deliver the TX show, the transmitted show, that other things often fall by the wayside. What you would end up doing was end up in a meeting with marketing a few weeks before transmission to talk about what we could do on social and ctually we’d missed the boat by then really, because what we should have been doing is working with a commissioning editor way back when it was commissioned to ensure we got the best out of things.
We did work with the commissioners there and we’d work with the Independent Television Company. But again, getting someone in there right at the outset to work across, it was, was slightly more difficult because it was a slightly looser sort of thing. What I love though, is taking that sort of theory and going, “Right, how can we not necessarily take the program itself and distil that onto social, but how can we draw out elements of that show? Or how can we talk around it in some way?”
Some early examples of the stuff I was doing at BBC Wales way back was there was show called Hinterland, which was like a Scandi-Noir cop drama. Really dark, set on the Ceredigion coast. See these wild sweeping vistas, beautifully shot. And, I just started playing with it on BBC Wales social media, and just talking about the fact that in one shot they’re in outside Aberystwyth, Borth way, and they take a road and they end up in Aberystwyth. But you can’t go on that road toward Aberystwyth because we know that road. So you could talk about that on social media and people from that area be killing themselves laughing because yeah, you can’t go that way. That’s, that’s just a decision they’ve taken. And also, in Borth right, this tiny town, the Aberystwyth coast, with one single train line running through it, doing this one shot about four trains ran through there’s like one a day and people are just going, “Where are these trains coming from?!” And the other thing was most people in it had a beard and a bobble hat on. So you guaranteed to have a murderer when there’s a beard and a bobble hat, so I was playing on these themes. And this was sort of 2016, and the marketing department were like, “You can’t do that! You gotta have respect for the source!” five years later, everyone’s doing it because it’s this extension of brand, as it would. It’s recognizing the audiences that are engaging with a concept of an idea, and then you’ve gotta run with it.
So for example, with Big Cats at BBC1, I went in with this argument that. We’ve got the science of these cats and that’s really important. So we need to fold that in, in some way. But in the first episode, in the six-part run, the audience just went, “Oh my God, look at the tiny floof! Oh my God!” And I went, “Yeah okay, that’s what we need to do.” And then one evening I’m sitting in my hotel room and it’s on a couple of people, started posting pictures of their cats watching the show Big Cats and I just went, “I’m just gonna do it – #CatsWatchingBigCats”. And I think you can still probably find that on Twitter, #CatsWatchingBigCats and that’s me running BBC one, and I just said, “Send us your cats, watching Big Cats.” And we got thousands of photos. And the following week then, we got people sending dogs and I said, “Send us your dogs watching Big Cats.” And there they were and I’d comment on these, on these cats and retweet them and people just thought it was amazing.
I think if you are too closely aligned with the content, the difficulty is for producers and commissioning editors and television is letting go of the thematic driver that they want to parlay to the audience through dint of having spent money and time and energy and resource on making this beautiful thing they’ve made for television at half an hour long. And you’ve got some social producers sitting there going, ah, look at his bobble hat. That’s really difficult for commission edges.
You have to work directly with each other, but you also have to recognize that people’s disciplines are so, so – they come from two different angles, but they both want to achieve the same thing, which is enriching people through the power of the brand.
CAT ANDERSON Now, here at Sprout Social, we know that social media is a wild and wonderful beast. It can surprise and delight, but it can also confuse and perplex even the hardiest of social media users. Who better to turn to for help than our social media expert, Stacey Wright, who’s here to answer your questions over a cup of tea and some biscuits in the part of the show we like to call Sound Advice.
STACEY WRIGHT Right. I’ve got my cup of tea and I’ve got my letters, which can only mean is time for us to take a break and cosy down together. This is the part of the podcast where I, your social media agony aunt, Stacey, guide you, our dear listeners, through your trickiest digital dilemmas.
Right. Let me see what social media conundrums you’ve sent my way today.
“Dear Stacy, I’m writing to you from a financial services company aimed mainly towards small businesses to offer tax advice. I’ve managed to secure a budget as part of our VAT and tax returns campaign launching soon. But this will be the first time that we will be creating and launching social media advertising.
The objective is to drive new, qualified leads so LinkedIn feels like the safest bet, but as it’s so specialized and the competitive space, I have concerns that we will burn through the budget too quickly. What questions should I be asking our media agency to make sure that we are setting ourselves up for success and not a 0% return rate.
Aiming to spend money to make money,
Sav, I know how much those Cost Per Clicks on LinkedIn can sting, especially if you’re not used to them. In terms of questions. The first one I would ask is, “How and why has the budget been portioned in that way?” If the budget has been allocated by your internal team to then present back to the media agency.
I would ask, what is the Lifetime Value of a customer and what conversion rates do you normally see from other channels, if this is the first time that you’re doing social advertising? This will indicate a benchmark of what success looks like and therefore give you more questions to ask the agency to keep you on track.
If the budget split has been proposed by the agency, asked them why they’ve portioned it that way and given you a certain percentage for social media. They see customers day in, day out. They know what successes look like for social ads and for your sector. And then you can start to ask those follow up questions around creative, “What works well? What doesn’t?” And if you have creative assets already produced, what’s their thoughts on it?
Then you can start to ask, “How can we measure the success of these in flight while the campaign is running?” And “What are the options to optimize this campaign while it is running?” This is all linked. So if you have one version of an ad, yo u’re a bit stuck – you have that one ad you can run for the whole campaign. But if you have multiple options, then you can start to add flexibility and change maybe the format, the placement, copy, the narrative of a video and how that paces, if you want. And then start to talk to them about budgets. Will it launch with a high daily budget and then drop down as the campaign wears in or will it ramp up towards a key moment? So in your case, have a tax return deadline date?
I’d also ask why is LinkedIn right for this campaign? Yes, it’s very powerful, especially in the B2B space, but what about all the small business users that are active on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to promote themselves? They’re on those platforms to market, to their own audiences. But they’re also available in those networks to be marketed to by you.
YouTube is another option here as well, search history can tell a lot about a person, including things probably they don’t wanna admit about themselves, but it could be a good place to start targeting small business owners from there too. Whilst leads are the most powerful metric in this case, always, I suggest having followers as a soft target for social ad campaigns. It’s great to engage with people using the marketing team’s wallet, but followers are not only free to reach the majority of the time once they follow you with organic content, but they also offer a wider pool of warm leads for your next campaign.
Sav thanks so much for sending in your social media quandary. I hope this will help you not find campaign planning for social media so taxing. Until next time listeners – stay strong and stay social. And now back to the interview!
CAT ANDERSON Something that, again, has come up on this podcast is that people acknowledging that sometimes there is almost an innate sense with social media, for what will work and what will not work. And I think it’s very interesting to hear you talk about then how TV producers who are, you know, making a piece of art where it’s a sweeping Savanna, and it’s really beautiful and gorgeous, but how that program is going to be interpreted on social. Actually, we’re gonna have to find a little silliness moment or the moment that will capture our social media viewer’s attention and we maybe only have half a second to do that.
And I know you mentioned there as well about people in Wales. I think that’s such a thing. When you see a program that’s been filmed in a location that you know and you go, well, that’s not right because I’m originally from Belfast and Line of Duty is terrible for that, like they’re all over the shop.
I wonder, you did some work with line of Judy didn’t you? And you made a particular, a particular social media experience off the back of Line of Duty, which was totally separate from the TV show, I believe. Could you tell us a little bit about that little magical moment?
OWEN WILLIAMS BBC Creative were making, so they do all this amazing stuff for the BBC, they make it, or in house make all their promos and things, and they’re stunning by and large. So, what we did was we created this Easter Egg hunt, this sort of scavenger hunt, these digital Easter Eggs. The trailer had this QR code on this magazine. And if by some chance you scanned the QR code, it took you to a Google Doc, this letter from the Chief of Police about the department in Line of Duty.
So, there was a, a hidden link in one word in that Google doc, but it was knocked out of context in the sentence, but it was just a bit of a strange addition to the sentence. Anyone who scrolled their mouse over the word here would go to a prescription. And that prescription existed on this little sort of image dumping ground, where you could skewer a link.
There was a Morse code buried within this prescription image you saw. And the Morse code is a web address, but you can’t build the web address until, you know what the Morse code’s gonna be, and you can’t build the Morse code until you’ve, until you’ve got other things. It ended up being nominated for Promax award, um, in London, so there’s big award ceremony for promotions on TV and film. I didn’t even know it would be nominated until quite recently, but I was, it was a blew my mind that’d be nominated. And it was just this, just this such a deep experience.
But the earned media thhat came off the back, and by earned media I mean just this, this media that we didn’t plan, but ended up being written about not only the show, but about this audience sort of pedagogical journey that people went through, these learning journeys. The people who saw it adored it. We could track the links as well. So four and a half thousand people scanned this QR code, which doesn’t seem massive, but the media came off the back of it was enormous. Four and a half thousand meters scan the code, about 200 people completed the whole thing, because it was just so hard to do, really hard. It’s worth having a look at Reddit for the line of duty Easter Eggs, because all of that comes off the back of this insane idea. And then this crazy person in Wales going, I think we could make this work.
CAT ANDERSON I wonder, what is your proudest social media moment to date?
OWEN WILLIAMS Oh my God. You should broadcast the silence. Um,
CAT ANDERSON A rarity, a rare moment in your life, Owen.
OWEN WILLIAMS Is it social to say that I was one of the two individuals who pitched and subsequently won and by won, I mean, it was approved, we are the reason that the Whales, Scotland and England flag emojis exist on handsets and devices worldwide today. Is that socially enough?
CAT ANDERSON Yeah. Tell us that story. How did that happen?
OWEN WILLIAMS Wales famously got to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in France. Amazing for Wales football. I was running BBC Wales social media throughout that, and that was fantastic in and of itself. But, before that started, I had no idea how long it would take to get an emoji onto people’s devices, but I thought there’s no harm in trying this.
So, I got together with Jeremy Burge and Jeremy Burge is an Australian man who ran a site called Emojipedia. So we worked together. We wrote this paper, submitted it to Unicode, who are the authority on keyboard characters and they’d come together to decide which characters should exist. Emojis were evented in Japan and they were character sets that you could access through key presses, now it’s really easy to them, emoji keyboard. But they get added to every now and then, but we were like, right, we want these to exist. We essentially wrote this paper and laid out the reasons and the rationale and how it could be done. We think it would get use. And it is not a transient thing. It’s a historic thing and, you know, I had people saying to me, “How’d you get the Tardis emoji? I was like, “You can’t, it’s a transient thing” and they approved it. You can’t just have a transient thing. You can.. they’d other methods of doing that kind of thing, like Twitter, hashtags, um, but the… We got that. And it is the most exciting thing.
There’s a sense of weirdness to it because it’s really associated with what I do. And it’s such a strange one for me to think about this idea, that they’re the reasons that we wrote a paper and they’re the reasons these digital ephemera exist everywhere for everyone and are used constantly. It’s just… That, in short.
CAT ANDERSON I mean, that’s an amazing one. Our final question. And this is a question that we’ll be asking everybody on the podcast. If you had to delete everybody that you follow on your Twitter account but leave just one account. Who would it be and why
OWEN WILLIAMS Cat it would be you. just you. Nobody else.
You’re such a liar!
CAT ANDERSON I am. You barely tweet. Damn you. Um, no. Hugh Edwards, Hugh Edwards Uh, the BBC news anchor. Hugh and I have this… Bizarre sort of professional, personal working relationship, or I DM things to him. I sent him this picture of him standing in front of the Welsh flag and for reasons unknown, this image shot way up the tree in BBC and the BBC asked him to take it down and Hugh being Hugh and rather brilliantly, he told everyone on Twitter, he’d been asked to take it down and he made news headlines that he’d been asked to take it down on which part, Welsh Twitter, and there are many of them, Welsh Twitter, sort of, jumped on board and changed all their Twitter handles to “I’mHughEdwards” or changed their tweets to “I’m Hugh Edwards” and put his name in like “I’m Spartacus”. And I just went right, I’m gonna have some fun with this. So I changed my name to Hugh Edwards, I changed my avatar at Hugh Edwards, I then tweeted as Hugh Edwards and put up all these images of him doing amazing stupid things as Hugh Edwards.
Like him on a motorbike “I’m Hugh Edwards”, on a Panigale Ducati, “I’m Hugh Edwards!” Jaws of.. Jaws of Steel. “I’m Hugh Edwards.” Bloody, uh, “Suns out guns out” all this stuff. And it was hilarious. If, and as a result met the guy we got on like a house on fire, and now we wanna make a show together by the way, but that’s hilarious. And during the chat with him, I took his phone off him and unbeknownst to him. I just tweeted the words, “Hugh Edwards” from his phone, cuz he didn’t think I could get 10,000 likes in an hour. And I got 10,000 likes about 20 minutes, but Hugh Edwards, October 1st, last year I tweeted Hugh Edwards from his phone and went crazy. As a result. I believe that October 1st, every year now is Hugh Edwards day nationally in Wales and every where, but his editor called him News at Ten going, “Are you… what are you doing? Do you know, you’re Googling yourself on Twitter?!” It was just insane. I was just so yeah, possibly Hugh, or you… or my wife.
CAT ANDERSON Owen thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
OWEN WILLIAMS You’re welcome.
CAT ANDERSON You’ve been listening to social creatures with me, Cat Anderson, many. Thanks to Owen Williams, Siml, for joining me today and Sprout Social for making this podcast possible.
Make sure you catch the rest in the series by subscribing on your favourite podcast platform, where you can tune into a new episode of Social Creatures. Every two weeks, you can continue the conversation around today’s episode by getting in touch on our social media @SproutSocial or by sending your social media quandaries to our agony and Stacy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listen. And we’ll see you in two weeks.
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