Stories were introduced by Instagram when they started realising users were making a second, private account to share less perfect images with their closest friends and family. Responding to this obvious need for a place to share what real life looks like, Stories was born and it’s also the perfect place for your brand to show what real life means to you. Whether its product development, team lunches, getting shipments ready or even the office dog, this is where you can show the heart, personality and soul that goes into what you’re selling. Do not underestimate the power of raw emotion to connect with your audience.
I had the pleasure of interviewingGracie Page.Innovation Lead for global advertising agency VMLY&R and adtech expert Gracie Page, who works with iconic British and global brands like McDonald’s, the BBC, Ford, the Premier League, Monopoly and many more to design brand-consumer interactions that make customers lives better. Gracie knows the world’s strongest brands are those connecting with their audience past simple transactional moments, and works to ensure technology is always used as a means not an end. When she isn’t supporting teams of strategists and creatives, or mentoring as a Mayor of London “Digital Pioneer”, she’s writing for the press.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s been a long and winding road! My first career started age 9 when I commited full time to an Olympic dream of figure skating. A spinal injury put an end to that, and I went to university as a “mature student” to study molecular biology. After a stint in genetic engineering, I realised I had to choose between going for my Ph.D in cancer research, or taking a left turn and studying for a Masters in tech entrepreneurship. I bit the bullet and turned my back on a life in academia, opting instead to found a skincare company in week two of my Masters course using research from my days in the lab as the basis for the product. When the company crashed and burned, I realised I didn’t have a clue how to discern or speak to audiences, so I took the very logical next step of applying for a job in advertising to learn as much as I could. I brought in ten years experience as a freelance web developer, my tech entrepreneurship battlescars, and scientific mindset and never looked back!
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?
I’ve been working with the social media medium for over ten years in a plethora of guises. Between running a top-10-on-the-internet niche subject matter blog, devising creative low-budget start-up strategies for social campaigns, heading up daily production of McDonald’s social media content in the United Kingdom, and working on every part of the social media marketing funnel from strategy, creative ideation through to technical feasibility, platform partnerships and delivery, there isn’t a corner of social media I haven’t explored. I led the team that saw Play-Doh launch their first ever UK-specific social media campaign, produced wildly popular social media stories for Monopoly, and work hand-in-hand with Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter every week to push the boundaries of what’s possible on their sites and apps for world-leading brands.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Every day in an interesting story in my line of work! No two days are alike, which makes it difficult to choose just one. As a Creative Technologist at Young & Rubicam the default expectation of me was to bring technology-heavy solutions to the business problems we were solving for our clients. Sometimes technology isn’t needed, but a scientific outlook can bring left-field answers to the table when they’re least expected. Once I was asked to solve the problem of driving guests to in-resort dining destinations, and the front-running idea at the time was to make an app to smooth the reservation process. Once we got in to it though, I realised the goal wasn’t to put butts on seats in the resort restaurants, but rather reduce the number of guests bringing in their own food from surrounding supermarkets. With this in mind, the team and I got on the phone and brokered a partnership with a leading cooking box subscription service to deliver recipes and all the necessary fresh ingredients to guests who weren’t into sitting in restaurants at the end of a long day with the kids. The answer wasn’t an incredible piece of technology, but rather to reconsider the job at hand and the customers’ needs. I always think back fondly on this anecdote because it proves that being innovative isn’t always synonymous with building apps.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was coding a website for McDonald’s and closed my text editor before saving the file. Right at the end of the day. I had lost about 2 hours of debugging work, and ended up in the office until 3am re-cleaning my code. The later it got, the less my brain worked, and what had taken 30 minutes before now took three times as long. I was horrified at my own stupidity, and rather fittingly just sat there alone in the office, with the motion-sensor lights switching off every 3 minutes. Darkness, a glowing screen, and me intermittently flailing my arms like a mad woman to turns them back on. My partner brought me those yoghurt snacks that come in a tube at about 11pm, and I’ll never forget writing CSS drinking strawberry yoghurt through the night. Thoroughly absurd. I learned that backups are king — a simple lesson but a lifelong one!
Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?
That depends entirely on the business goals and the people the business is trying to speak with. Notice I said “with”, not “to” — social media is a place for dialogue and brands that connect with consumers are those that do best out of social. When I was producing McDonald’s we spent 4 days a week coming up with new concepts, trying them out, shooting them and getting them fit for Facebook. But the best post we ever put out was shot on my iPhone at the local McD’s on London’s Tottenham Court Road, and simply showed a McFlurry ice cream with the tag line “tag a mate who should go on a McFlurry run now”. We hit over 30,000 comments in one day, and racked up millions of views. This is testament to the fact that social media marketing works when you bring the user in on the action.
Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the ultra-manicured visuals of the Instagram platform. Every image in a profile’s “grid” should sit harmoniously with those surrounding it — no mean feat to plan and execute, and it’s essential to convey your brand’s product, purpose and message. But what about personality? That’s where Instagram Stories comes it. Stories were introduced by Instagram when they started realising users were making a second, private account to share less perfect images with their closest friends and family. Responding to this obvious need for a place to share what real life looks like, Stories was born and it’s also the perfect place for your brand to show what real life means to you. Whether its product development, team lunches, getting shipments ready or even the office dog, this is where you can show the heart, personality and soul that goes into what you’re selling. Do not underestimate the power of raw emotion to connect with your audience.
2. Make your content interactive
We all know that consumers are saturated with online content, and we’ve all been a thumb-scrolling zombie at one time or another on Instagram. The content just flows in a never-ending stream, and our eyes glaze over as all the perfection blends into one. So how can you draw your customers and leads out of autopilot mode? Ask them for their opinion. Ask them for recommendations. Ask them to choose between things. Making your content interactive is an amazing way to connect with your customers on IG, because it not only shows you value their input, you might actually unearth incredible insights that can help inform business decisions. AirBnB did this brilliantly in a campaign where they posted a beautiful photo of a destination and asked the audience to choose between two options as to where they thought the photo was taken. Simple, but very engaging.
3. Engage at an individual level
It’s no secret we all just want to feel heard. When you’re a brand on Instagram and you’re doing well enough to be receiving comments, shares and answers to Stories, the least you can do is respond to that person. Although you may be dealing with 1,000 such interactions a day, those individual prospective fans only interacted once (most likely). This is not about you, it’s about your customers. So put yourself in their shoes: if you commented on a post of a brand you love, and they responded something genuinely warm/funny/helpful you’d experience a heightened affinity for that brand. So do to others as you’d have done to you as a consumer. And if you’re getting too many to feel like you can manage to engage individually, congratulations! That’s a lovely problem to have. The solution is to hire a community manager who can consistently deliver the tone of voice that represents your brand’s personality on the platform.
4. Lead a community
There’s a lot to be said for standing up for the things that are important to your brand. If you take the risk of raising your hand, you’ll find your tribe. So start something, and lead it. Starting a # on Instagram is hard work, but if it truly encapsulates what you and your followers are about it can reap rewards of spreading the word about your brand organically (that is, without having to spend money) and lend enormous credibility to you as a movement-leader. Editorial brand @theprettycities has amassed over 350k followers on its main and city-specific accounts by launching #prettycities as a call to action for users who are already sharing images of the cutest corners of their hometowns. This works because it taps into a pre-existing user behaviour (taking such photos), and gives those snappers a community to belong to.
5. Give the world tools to express themselves, then get out the way
Millennial knitting brand Wool And The Gang are all about knitwear. They sell all the implements to start crafting, and have an irreverent makers-are-ace attitude on their social media accounts. But on Instagram they went one step further, by creating a set of “Instagram Stickers” (technically there’s no such thing as brand Stickers, but brands can create GIFs on a transparent background and distribute them through Giphy, which has an Instagram Stories integration). Consumers posting stories about their daily lives love to embellish them with nuggets of visual content, and GIFs are one of the most popular ways of doing so. By creating these “Sticker” GIFs, Wool And The Gang gave millions knitters on Instagram a way to express themselves when they’re posting about their knitting. Just like that, the brand spreads organically, and users enjoying the stickers will remember WATG for longer as a brand that helps them live their best crafty life.
6. Understand the value exchange
We must always remember that when consumers engage with branded content, they are doing so on the basis that they’ll derive value in exchange for their attention. And as consumers become increasingly time-poor, what they get in return for their attention needs to be inordinately wonderful to justify that sacrifice. As a brand, remember that it’s your job to deliver so much value to users when they consume your Instagram content, that they can’t help but want to come back for more. This could be insanely useful tutorial content, insights from experts they could never normally gain access to, or even sheer entertainment that puts a smile on their face. Whatever they’re giving you, you need to give back 10x.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That movement is what I call: Slow Tech Living.
In Western society, it has become essential to be “connected”. To consume digital technology to go about our daily lives. We have digital products and services for every aspect of our rich, complex existence: from taking a pro-grade photo of your best friend, to calling home on the other side of the world, or finding the love of your life. Or, you know, just ordering pizza. Tech has afforded us convenience and connection, but many want to shame you for your use of it and purport the only way forward is to “log off”, “delete accounts” or perform “digital detox”. Whatever that is. These so-called champions of a less connected life use hyperbolic language to make us feel guilty about the services we know and love to use. “Put your phone away NOW!” shouts one headline, “You’re addicted to your phone!” reads another.
But there’s something else going on here.
Technology companies, governments, educational institutions, and many more society-shaping organisations have spent billions of dollars designing products and services that leverage fundamental human psychological hooks to keep us using their services. I reject the premise that our use of such services makes us somehow “weak”, and I reject the premise we should be ashamed of it. But of course, I’m no fool, and I can see that over-stimulation through constant connection is starting to hurt us. The reports on the links between dwindling mental health and screen usage are undeniable. But isn’t there a happy medium, that doesn’t require us all to promptly throw away our iPhones?
Yes, there is. It’s called Slow Tech Living.
“Humane tech”, or “slow tech” is a school of design thought that outlines a set of design principles championing the placement of the end user at the heart of the digital experience. By applying humane tech thinking to the design of digital products and services, people are able to use technology as an enabler of their own potential. And those are great guiding principles for the companies designing the future phones and sites we’ll love using. But what about the rest of us?
Slow Tech Living is the translation of slow tech principles into our daily lives. It’s a philosophy that champions mindful disconnect at the right time, helping you enjoy the moment fully. It doesn’t suggest you throw your phone away, and it doesn’t presume you’re fine with the idea of throwing away the conveniences modern tech affords us. Life is all about balance, with tech as with everything else.
You can find my full post on the topic, and my most important message (cut yourself some slack!) here:
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Angela Ahrendts, Senior VP Retail at Apple. She is an incredible role model for women in business and is spearheading a shift in the way Apple interacts with its customers and the wider communities in which they operate by refocusing the retail experience around deep connection that transcends transactions. She films a weekly selfie video for the Apple workforce that goes over whatever’s on her mind that week, making herself an approachable leader as a result. Angela’s simple approach to designing user-centric experiences is what I admire most however. Simply put, she says: “have empathy. Care. It’s not rocket science.” And she’s right, it really is as simple as that.
Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!