We recently held a NewsWhip Salon event in London, with attendees from the world of PR and brands gathering to hear from a distinguished panel of speakers from some of the top brands and PR firms.

The evening began with a talk from our CRO and President, Brett Lofgren, who took us through some of the insights the NewsWhip Research Center has uncovered in the last few months. You can find a webinar version of that presentation here.

After that talk, it was on to our main event. Speakers included:

  • Marshall Manson – Partner and Global Head of Digital at at Brunswick PR Group
  • Dina Rickman – Head of Digital for GoFundMe
  • Americo Campos Silva – Global Head of Digital and Social at Shell
  • Stephen Waddington – Partner, Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum PR
  • Moderated by NewsWhip’s CEO Paul Quigley

Panel Recap 

Paul Quigley: So, our title is “how social content is revolutionizing communications” and when we look at the earned storytelling in the era of social, the big difference is a) we’re reliant on the audience to distribute stuff, and b) we have to put up with them talking back to us.
So, what does that mean when you’re telling a story on behalf of a brand?

Stephen Waddington: So human beings are storytellers by nature, it’s one of the things that distinguishes us.

We engage in a story if it touches us, and we share it, and we add context to it. Emotional resonance is the biggest driver. We’re ten years into real social media, and most brands still aren’t quite brave enough to invest their personal self into their story. The ones that do are exceptional, and they’re the ones that get the attention on social.

We’re still at a phase I think, where we aren’t truly listening to our audiences. We’re still in a place where there’s a lot of rubbish being pushed out onto the internet.

PQ: Would you say there’s a better way, and what are the tactics for changing that behaviour?

SW: So, I think you have to be human, and a lot of organizations still aren’t there yet. The internet is a conversation, and any conversation involves listening, and it involves two-way communication; most brands and organizations are still pushing stuff out and not listening to the response.

I think that’s the first thing you’ve got to do, that’s why when you’re using tools like NewsWhip, your insight into communication and data, just really makes for a better form of communication.

PQ: Being more human, maybe that’s easier for some brands than others. Americo, how can Shell be more human?

Americo Campos Silva: It’s difficult, our category is a difficult one, it’s very different from talking about fashion, for example.

Our business is an amalgamation of different audiences; we have all types connecting with our brand, so listening and understanding what is interesting for those audiences is absolutely critical for us, and I think today we are in much better shape than we were just two or three years ago.

PQ: Dina, could you outline a little what you do? It’s maybe a little easier to be more human at GoFundMe, so could you tell us a little more about that?

Dina Rickman: So I was head of social and trending content at The Independent, and I was all about choosing emotional content, and storylines, and optimizing everything.
What I do now is work on an individual level with our campaign organizers, to work out digital strategies for them to make their campaigns go a little bit further than they would otherwise, and I also work on general digital strategies about our growth plan.

PQ: And is there any data or signals into your storytelling, or is it too early to tell?

DR: I think what’s very clear to me is that those signals can be stronger.

Whenever I think about the internet and how to understand it, I always go back to this essay by this guy called Neetzan Zimmerman who was editor of the Internet at Gawker. People essentially think he started viral news. He wrote about the internet as a value barometer, and he was talking about constantly looking at the data.

So you’re always on analytics, and you’re always thinking of that feedback and you’re always listening and you’re always looking at tools like NewsWhip.

You then get this instinct about what’s going to work online, and that’s the main bit of data that you need to know, and it’s much more helpful than some algorithm of what might be about to go viral based on previous signals.

PQ: So it’s kind of a personal algorithm, you’ve seen enough.

DR: Yes, you become the algorithm.  

PQ: That’s almost t-shirt worthy! Marshall, you’ve got a bit more of a B2B client base at the moment, can you tell us about who you’re working with and how you develop a strategy for storytelling today?

Marshall Manson: Well I think rule number one for developing a strategy for storytelling is don’t be boring.

I really like the idea that our job is to make things that people will choose to spend time with, and the reason it’s structured that way is the choice is the really important thing.

When you’re scrolling, which things are you actually going to choose to spend time with, which things stand out?

PQ: How do you get some goal or storytelling job done compared with what the data says people are interested in?  

ACS: Well we tend to do a lot of analysis, and try to find the magic area where it’s a combination of what we want to say vs what our audiences want to talk about.

And then it’s at the intersection of these two things that we try to operate and try to develop our content because in the end it’s all about our audiences, it’s not necessarily about us.

PQ: So a brand that’s listening, a brand that’s responding to audience direction must change with that, so is Shell a different brand than it was twenty years ago?

ACS: It’s different to what it was two years ago!

PQ: Moving on a little, it must be quite hard, developing thought leadership strategies, especially for executives, because people must want to gravitate towards the safe side of things.

MM: Absolutely, having an opinion is downright dangerous. It’s the reason politicians never have opinions, because you always go and offend half the electorate. But the reality is, in our landscape now, I think brands have to have that.

SW: Public relations has always been about finding a mutual understanding and not offending people, and in doing that, hopefully you find your message.

Over the last two years we’ve seen a developing strand of business around executive profiling and helping executives develop relationships through networks like LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be a boom for B2B marketing if it’s done well.

When I started out in PR, executive profiling was selling in soft pitches to Sunday papers doing the weekend columns or a byliner in a trade magazine, now it’s helping execs figure out who the people are the want to reach on LinkedIn and how best to do that through content that’s effective.

PQ: Dina you’ve turned people into influencers very quickly sometimes. If you could outline a little but about what you do with individual campaigns on GoFundMe?

DR: So I don’t necessarily turn them into mega-influencers. It’s about that they might need to reach twelve people and it’s about working out where those twelve people are and how to reach them.

So when you’re discussing someone’s individual campaign, there’s going to be an audience for that campaign, and the difference between what I was doing before is that at The Independent, the goal was to reach every single person in the internet, whereas here the goal is to reach the people who are most likely to donate.

So, I’m not really interested in shares for the point of shares on Facebook, I’m interested in where the networks are, when you’re talking about influencers, that will then go and share it, and maybe donate themselves too.

PQ: Moving onto the potential danger of stories, have your protocols changed internally Americo, for responding to the era of social media, when something might happen involving one of the Shell brands somewhere?

ACS: We have a set up in place that covers the planet 24/7 in terms of community management, so they have the authority and the governance to be able to make a real-time decision and react to what is happening.

PQ: And Stephen, for your clients, in the social media era, how has crisis management changed?

SW: I think it’s a lot faster, isn’t it?

We’re sort of growing up actually and beginning to realize that an organization that faces a crisis on the internet, at that  moment in time it feels absolutely dreadful, but the cycles move so quickly that it’s very quickly over.

There is an exception when you face a sustained campaign of activism, where a certain group of stakeholders are attacking your brand. They’ll take an impact in sentiment, but that will recover providing they’ve done the work to invest in their community.

ACS: And that work also pays back when something happens and you see negative comments, you start to see also, members of the community self-regulate comments, with different points of view, and you can just let them regulate themselves and stay out of it.

MM: I think there’s another really useful role for social and crisis as well. I spent all of last year’s May bank holiday dealing with a PR crisis.

What we could do was provide a really useful real-time update straight into the decision makers which, for various reasons, sometimes being able to walk in and be the voice of the people suffering, as expressed through social media, actually is the most valuable thing you can do for your CEO, or whoever’s dealing with the operational disaster that has struck.

PQ: Last question. How will the environment have changed in three years from now.

MM: No idea, let’s be honest, anybody that sits up here and thinks they know the answer to this is absolutely full of it. We’ll all have a guess. I think AI will play a much more important role in helping us sort what content we want to see and experience. I think WeChat is going to rise in the west. This is a really fun conversation to have, and it’s worth playing out the scenarios.

DR: Presuming the world is still here in three years! I don’t have anything as out there as that, but I think Stories will be the main way people communicate on Instagram, the main way people communicate on Facebook, more than link posts. I think Stories will end up becoming more lasting and less and less ethereal.

ACS: WeChat is going to become increasingly important. Each time I go to China I get surprised by something new on WeChat. It’s a combination of everything, in one single app, which is unbelievable.

SW: If you look back three years ago and you look at the innovation in the last three years you think the world moves very fast, but if you look back 20 years you’ll find it doesn’t at all, because we’re still in a place where most organizations are doing social media really really badly, because they’re not listening.

In terms of organizational communication, I think it’s going to be my lifetime before brands are doing it properly. From a technology point of view, the conversation has pivoted away from AR and VR and into voice, and we’re now talking to devices rather than typing. That’s one I’m looking at.

And that’s where we wrapped it up. Thanks again to all our panelists who contributed to a great event.

If you’d like to see how data can impact your business and content strategy, take a tour of NewsWhip Spike.

Benedict Nicholson

Benedict Nicholson is the Head of Research and Editorial at NewsWhip. An Englishman in New York, he is interested in the intersection of PR, brands, and journalism, and the trends and innovation around that.

Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.