Piper CollingsPiper Collings

It used to be you could just “do Facebook.” Set up a page and — Alacazam! — your local business would get some traction and maybe even some visitors. For big brands, it meant you could extend your reach into every nook and cranny of your consumers’ online life.

The reality today is that this myopic “silver bullet” mentality still exists, even after all the platform and algorithm advancements over the past decade. So, how do we adjust our view and leverage a paradigm shift that uses social media in a holistic way to our advantage and leaves the hocus pocus out of it?

It starts with focusing on not just the tool set, but an understanding of social media’s role in the consumer journey. First, we need to look at what social media can do:

• Extend brand positioning to multiple platforms
• Cater to various audiences with unique creative, targeting, and campaigns
• Open a two-way dialogue with consumers
• Enable content and ad testing to better hone brand messaging
• Manage customer service issues and escalations
• Provide an incubator for experimental ideas to reach new audiences
• Drive traffic to your website, blog, and e-commerce platforms

And what it can’t do:

• Fix your business, your supply chain, or your distribution
• Right the sales ship all on its own
• Get you that next round of investment
• Repair your brand reputation all alone

What it boils down to is social media is not the magic wand that fixes the myriad issues your brand or business may be facing. So, how can we use it to its highest potential?

From a communications standpoint, social media is a vehicle and a publishing platform. It must be treated as such: nurtured, curated and constantly fed some form of creative input. Without a steady stream of content and a solid creative strategy, communications via social media can be perceived as too tactical, stagnate or even worse, called out as a fail. Each platform represents a different cross-section of the desired consumer who’s looking for a unique experience with a brand and its content. That can manifest through a mix of original content, curated content, social and traditional influencer programs, social listening and experiential builds.

From a creative standpoint, social media is at its best when it’s used as the glue to stick together the various marketing initiatives. That doesn’t mean every message, every campaign and all creative is best suited for social. It does mean you have a nimble tool you can use to weave together a narrative and a brand facade that will resonate most with your intended audiences.

From a business standpoint, social media’s role can be focused on consideration — and even conversion — depending on the campaign and the platform. But it can’t lose sight of the creative element, as that’s the hook that makes advertising so effective.

Gone are the days of agency and client complaints that the ad platforms are flimsy, and the data and targeting aren’t robust enough. With those fundamental issues mostly resolved and the increase in social-savvy agency and brand partners, the future is looking increasingly creative. Looking ahead, social media will become increasingly blurred with customer relationship management and even media buying. The advances we see today with brands using Facebook Messenger bots and AI mean we’ll have to shift our thinking yet again.

It is truly about “Social Relations”; there’s no longer a distinction between communication vehicles; whether that’s social media, public relations, experiential activations or traditional and online advertising. To think of them as tools operating in a vacuum will set you up for failure; one truly informs the other. This type of cross-pollination and integrated marketing mindset yields greater cost efficiencies and better brand recall across all platforms.

To win at social media, you must first start elsewhere: examine the problem to solve, understand your full marketing matrix, and detail a plan of action that delivers your narrative in the most effective way possible. Social media certainly will be in that mix somewhere, but it won’t be the fairy godmother that turns your rags into riches.


Piper Collings, associate vice president of Havas Formula’s Social Media division, is an integrated marketing advocate with six years’ experience helping big CPG and QSR brands such as Panda Express, Bertolli, Maui Jim, and mike’s hard lemonade drive meaningful word of mouth while tying into larger marketing and brand initiatives.