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Why content activism can save brands from the tyranny of always-on

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Let's replace the always-on content approach with one where you don't say anything unless it's meaningful and backs the brand purpose. Specsavers won plaudits for a quick witted and relevant response to the mix-up while Snickers’ got in there with its own rather more forced "you go la la when you’re hungry" jump on the bandwagon. Neither tweet is likely to have harmed the brand but they are indicative of a situation where the noise levels from brands on social media are out of control.

We’re all guilty of it. All of us working in social media for the past decade have, from time to time, churned out content we’re not proud of. But, while there were good reasons for this preoccupation with always-on social content activity five or six years ago, consumers are no longer wowed by brands leaping into their social feeds, they’re used to advertisers talking to them and tend to respond with an irritated "why are they selling to me?" attitude. The always-on focus shifted up a gear with activity from the FMCG sector, notably from Oreo, KitKat and Skittles, which provided a twist on current events by overlaying reactions with creative insight. But there was a dark side to this because, for every success, there were many content plans that flopped. Now it’s time for a sea change in content thinking.

A move towards what I term "content activism" will stop the churning out of content and lead to a focus on relevance and quality. While there were good reasons for this preoccupation with always-on social content activity five or six years ago, consumers are no longer wowed by brands leaping into their social feeds, they’re used to advertisers talking to them and tend to respond with an irritated "why are they selling to me?" attitude.

Let’s replace the always-on content approach with one where you stop, take a minute, and don’t say anything unless it’s meaningful and backs the brand purpose. The need for this shift is driven by the big changes in social media over the past ten years. Growing out of the early iterations of Facebook and Twitter, social media was initially conversation and copy-led, a community discourse around a big current topic that saw brands grow followers by being involved in the conversation. But things have moved on from the days where Facebook had few photos, let alone video. Now the success of Instagram highlights that social media content is propelled by the highest quality visuals and relevant, brilliantly produced film.

Content activism requires changes from both brands and agencies, starting with the acceptance that social content needs to be brought into the strategic mix, with content directors working alongside the rest of the team to ensure it’s not just something that’s spat out at the end of the line.

Embracing this also requires an acknowledgement that social has grown creatively and strategically, requiring the resolution of the industry-wide tension between the advertising ‘big idea’ and social media’s journalist edge. This will be achieved through actions such as applying greater energy and thought to social content, making photo shoots relevant for Instagram and other social channels, rather than simply repurposing poster or brochure shots.

Greater rigour and action around the process will deliver results for brands. Those looking for examples to follow could do worse than watch what Paddy Power does with its tone of voice and follow the high-end fashion brands Burberry, Chanel, and Hermes, which have nailed it in terms of creating the brand and editorial mix required to deliver compelling social content. And here at Southpaw we've worked with Ciroc Vodka and Mario Testino to create content activity that is beautifully shot as well as relevant. Above all though, my advice would be to look beyond the advertising world for inspiration.

Check out what the magazine editorial teams, the artists, and the designers are doing on Instagram.It’s a world away from the tyranny of the always-on content plan and focuses on giving audiences what they want rather than attempting to solve big business challenges every day.

Ria Campbell is Head of Content at Southpaw

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