Social Chain at ProcureCon Marketing (Part 1)

Probably the most fascinating session at ProcureCon Marketing the day I was there was given by  Oliver Yonchev, Business Director of Social Chain, a “global social media marketing agency”.

At 28 years old, he is positively ancient by the standards of the firm – it has grown very rapidly in the last 2 or 3 years to around 200 people, with an average age of 23!

It’s founding is a fascinating story in itself – do go and read that – two young entrepreneurs who have built a great Manchester-based (but now international) business. But let’s focus today on its relevance for buyers of marketing services, although really, this is a story that we should all understand because it reveals a lot about the world we live in today. You might not be happy with every aspect of that, but you should understand it at least.

The founders basically realised the power of “social influencers” – individuals who may or may not be “famous” in the conventional sense, but who were followed, admired or imitated by hundreds, thousands, even millions of other people. They started by setting up Facebook and Twitter “groups” around a particular topic, which might be anything from a particular football club to a love of cupcakes (1.6 million people follow a Facebook page on cupcakes, apparently) or Game of Thrones.

More and more brands are looking to this sort of marketing activity as part of their portfolio, and category managers in that area need to understand the key points. So Social Chain now act both as a media agency, helping brands work out where and how to spend their money, as well as managing a huge network of influencers themselves.

Yonchev gave us six key lessons in his session and number 1 was this - don’t fall into the dangerous trap of thinking that anyone else cares about you (or about your interests) as much as you care about you (and your interests)!

The point is that everyone likes different things and you have to get people’s attention in order to sell them anything. But attention spans are shorter than ever – yet you have to get people interested, to care about what you’re selling.

But with the right person leading an interest group, their influence can be considerable, and that can be used to influence other members of the group -- perhaps telling the football followers about a new online betting service or the cupcake lovers about a special offer at Starbucks this week. A young woman who had the world’s most followed Harry Potter Facebook page is now a senior manager in Social Chain!

And lesson 2 is this  - you have to be really passionate about your subject, but more importantly you must be authentic.

Ironically, he then told us a great story that wasn’t exactly demonstrating “authenticity”!  To prove what they could do, at the time a big conference called Soccerex was running, Social Chain ran a hoax about an Arsenal Football Club story. They started a rumour that the club was about to sign Rex Secco, a French / Brazilian wonderkid 16-year-old, for a world record fee of £34 million. Rex Secco never existed of course, his name being an anagram of SoccerEx !

Yet, within hours, they had millions of views, huge engagement, even articles in the physical press. Followers on Twitter and Facebook were claiming that “yeah, he’s great, I’ve been watching him for years, he’ll fit into the Arsenal style well”! That says something about the human need to belong and seem important too, and he made some interesting comments about psychology actually.

It was a great story, but as Yonchev said, the timing was important – Arsenal and Wenger’s future were in the news, and it was the transfer season, so lesson 3 is this. Everyone loves a great story – but it has to be told at the right time to the right people; context is important.

Yonchev then pointed out that “publishing” has been a marketing tactic forever – the Guinness Book of Records was an initiative from the brewer to give people something to talk about in pubs apparently! So  for lesson 4, he suggests that advertisers need to think like a publisher but work with people who represent your brands, and share your values.

There are risks of course, and influencers are now regulated (pretty lightly) and must declare when they are being paid for recommending a product. He recommends that advertisers should take responsibility for what is being published “in their name” – you can’t abdicate that and just say “oh, that’s nothing to do with us”. You are responsible for their content.

More tomorrow when we look at lessons 5 and 6, including some take-aways for procurement people.

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