How do you solve a problem like building gaming communities on Twitter? (aka ‘X’)

Ten years ago I was part of the research team that uncovered the slow death of organic reach for brand pages on Facebook.

Led by Marshall Manson and using data from over 100 agency managed brand pages, totalling more than 48 million fans, the Social@Ogilvy team were able to ascertain that organic reach for Facebook was facing a precipitous decline.

From October 2013 – February 2014, we could demonstrably prove that organic reach had dropped from 12% to 6%. That means for fan pages with 100 fans, any post with no paid media behind it would only reach six people.

In short: the free ride for brand fan pages was over. And the age of paid social had begun. Other social platforms soon followed. And in the years that followed, algorithmic content serving became king.

Since then, it became my standard to advise clients as often as possible to steer clear of an organic only approach to social media. To instead diversify your platform investment. To find new ways of not only building community, but doing so on a platform where you have ownership of – or at least reasonable access to the data. Valuable data that you can use for analysis, segmentation, retargeting and beyond.

Above all else, we eschewed the outdated KPIs of follower counts and fan chasing and instead focused on sharp paid media targeting and kick-ass creative.

In short: vanity metrics ain’t it.

If the lesson to stop building a fan following on one social platform wasn’t clear enough by now, you only need to look at the trash-fire that is the far-right, transphobic, sex-trafficker-supporting social platform formerly known as Twitter, X.

Earlier this year you could still see games publishers putting paid media spend behind asking X/Twitter users to ‘Follow this account for the latest updates’ about a new game.

This is nuts.

According to the most recent research, the average half-life of a tweet is 24 minutes. Combine that with X/Twitter now purposefully obfuscating the organic reach metric (instead going with the non-unique nebulous number of ‘impressions’ – all views count, not just uniques), chasing vanity metrics is, at best, a dated KPI from the late noughties and at worst – a complete waste of time. Putting paid media behind that chase, even more so.

This alone should be cause for concern. When put against the recent shift of X/Twitter’s ownership, politics, and frankly, complete rejection of any and all brand safety – putting any spend into X/Twitter at all is… ill-advised.

OK so what’s the solution?

You might be reading this and thinking ‘Well, that’s not my experience’ – and you might be right. You might be experiencing a fantastic community on the platform and everything is amazing.

I doubt it, but you might.

You might also be reading this and screaming ‘James, Discord solves this!’- well, that is and isn’t the answer – the answer is and should always be ‘it depends’.

It depends what it is you’re trying to do. It depends on where you are in your game lifecycle. It depends on how much time/money you’re able to invest.

Learning how to diversify, test, learn and then commit. That’s the real trick.

But let’s get into it.

From AAA publisher to bedroom indie, the first question should always be: What is your objective? What is the one thing you’re actually trying to do?

‘I want brand awareness, community engagement, and sales’ – is not a single-minded objective. It’s three. The serious marketer chooses one.

‘I want to get 5000 followers on Instagram’ is not an objective. It’s a measurement. A measurement of what objective is the question.

‘I want an engaged community that I can reach with news and updates about my game’ – then the answer might be building Discord (for the core) or in fact, email (for mass).

Discord does of course have its pros. And many if not all of you reading this will be familiar with the platform. It is undeniable how useful it can be for developing that early/golden cohort of interest. However, you need to use it properly to drive engagement and interest. Talk to your fans, post regular / exclusive content. Engage in conversation. In Discord you have a captive audience, an audience that you can guarantee reach – so use it wisely. Don’t just auto-post your X/Twitter content. It’s lazy, disrespectful to the community and ultimately won’t deliver against your objective. You know who you are.

What about email?

We are without doubt in the age of the newsletter, whether you use Substack, Mailchimp or Ghost, newsletters are a great way to speak directly to people that actually want to hear from you. You get to own the first party database (hello, email!) and you get to sidestep the algorithmic content serving lords and masters of the social platforms. If email isn’t in your marketing channel plan, why not?

What else can we look at?

Well once again it comes down to your objective. If you’re building awareness, then for a small amount of investment you can do a surprising amount. From reaching new fans, building memory structures for existing, or even just giving announce trailers a paid media bump can be relatively simple and surprisingly cost effective.

If you need to drive interest on pre-orders, then ‘buy now’ carousels or stories/reels might do the job – and with the right creative execution then this too can deliver the results you’re after. All it takes is a clear brief and a commitment to a single objective.

There’s a lot here that should not come as a surprise.
It’s not rocket science.

The point is: when it comes to games marketing, the platform landscape is in flux. Single platform organic engagement can no longer be relied upon for reach and follower/fan vanity metrics are as out of date as the opinions you can find on the platforms you’re squandering effort in.

Endlessly chasing the same core set of gamers to like or follow the same accounts for single digit amounts of organic reach or worse – impressions – is a colossal waste of time and money. Blending a cross-platform organic approach with paid media, underpinned with an owned data driven platform (hello email), all in service to a clear single-minded objective is the route to genuine growth.

How do you solve a problem like building communities on X/Twitter? It was solved years ago, I’m just wondering when everyone else will catch on.

12 things I learnt taking 12 months off the gram.

Reproduced from an original article published on Medium, Dec 30th, 2020.

12 months ago I posted my last in-feed photo on Instagram.

It was, like so many others around that time, a ‘Top Nine’; the nine MOST-LIKED photos from my feed throughout that year.

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Instagram, #TopNine2019 – @whatleydude

8/9 family. 1/9 work. That’s a good balance, I’d say.

A few days after that I posted – and pinned – an ‘end of year review’ to my stories and then after that promptly uninstalled the app.

One month or so prior my other half, (pictured top left, 319 likes), shared with me a quote from Matt Haig’s Notes from a Nervous Planet:

An online profile of your best friend is not your best friend. A status update about a day in the park is not a day in the park. And the desire to tell the world about how happy you are, is not how happy you are”

It stuck with me.

And so at the end of 2019, I thought I’d take the damn thing off my phone and just see. Could I do a year without Instagram?

Spoiler: I did. And you can too.

So here, as promised, are:



I didn’t miss it that much.

This is interesting to me. I thought I would. Like I really would. I thought removing the app from my phone would be one of those things that I’d try for a bit and then eventually crumble again for, I don’t know, work reasons or something. Truth be told, I did have to visit the platform a couple of times to preview some builds for work but nothing further than that – and virtually all of that through the web interface.

Point being: it was easy.

Much easier than I thought it’d be.


Seriously, I didn’t miss it at all.

I remember when I first signed up for Instagram (August 2011, a photo of a Green Goblin action figure, 5 likes), I think I was convincing myself that it was a great place for photographic creative expression.

And I guess for a while I think it was. But then you find yourself in the early hours, trapped in the endless scrolling of the never-ending feed, either looking at what other people are doing, or seeing if that latest exquisite framing of a great sandwich has got-just-one-more-Like than the last one, or just checking your activity page to see if you have any new followers.

This is not healthy.

And for why?

In Cal Newport’s excellent book, Deep Work, he asks the question (admittedly of a journalist’s Twitter usage):

‘Why are [they] urged to regularly interrupt their deep work to provide, for free, shallow content to a service run by an unrelated media company based out of silicon valley?’

It’s an adjacent point but one I am drawn to from time to time. You see what I mean? Why are you doing this? Why is anyone doing this?

I enjoy the creative expression. But if I’m pouring it into Instagram then where isn’t it going instead?


You don’t actually MISS much.

For transparency, I re-downloaded the app earlier today (I’d forgotten the password – of course) to see exactly what I had missed.

Turns out I had nine unread notifications. Of those notifications, three were posts that people had shared with me directly, one actual Direct Message (we’ll come back to this) and five “X has mentioned you in their story” an entirely useless notification anything later than 24hrs after it happened.

Why? Because I click on them and I literally see this:

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Useful Content™

Like. What?

So while I may have missed the occasional engagement announcement from that person I once met at an after-meeting drinks thing, or a Stories Mention (what even do those two words together mean) from someone that I’m hanging out with telling me that they’re hanging out with me – I think I’ve done alright here? Yes my life doesn’t revolve around Instagram and it turns out when you remove it from your life, life goes on!

Both on Instagram and off.

And if people want you – you specifically – to know stuff, they’ll tell you.


The platform kinda sucks now?

I installed the app this afternoon to take a proper look at what I had missed. The new dark mode looks L U S H on my phone’s OLED screen, that’s nice. But the muscle memory instantly went click on the ‘Activity’ on the bottom nav and, oh look, Facebook has switched it with ‘Shop’.

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Hmm. Crispy blacks.

I understand that this is a dark pattern of some kind and I also understand I am VERY LATE to this party. But still. It sucks! And no matter how Facebook paints the decision, it is clear to everyone why it was done and what the ambition was. It’s all just so transparent.

Speaking of things that suck.


My God the ads get worse.

You saw that one above right? So far today in feed-ads I’ve seen: crap for extendable desks, crap for bikes, crap for… WhatsApp? And just more crap. It’s (was) a photography platform. Create ads that look like gorgeous photography maybe? Can it be that hard? Apparently: yes.

Actually, no. It’s not about making things hard it’s about what Facebook makes easy. Facebook makes it easy to run the same ad across all of Facebook’s platforms with just one click. So why bother making something platform-specific when platform-agnostic (and screw the user experience!) is so much quicker?

And don’t even get me started on Stories.

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I used to run a Tumblr aaaaages ago, called ‘Instagram ads are awful‘. I don’t think much has changed. I’m sure there are some great ones but ay carumba they are drowned out by the dross.

Dross that appears after every fourth post.

I know this is veering into old man shouts at cloud territory but I work in this stuff and man alive I wish people would just. stop. with. the. bad.


None of it matters.

This too shall pass. And people will remember you for the things you did, not the photos you posted or that amazing Stories compilation you nailed.


It changes the way you look at social apps.

For background, I think I took Facebook off my phone shortly after the ‘Sorry, didn’t we mention we use your 2FA for targeting advertising?‘ debacle (but then again it might’ve been sooner. Given how much I’ve written about how they simply cannot be trusted, like, with anything). So when’s that? 2018?

Possibly even earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, I still use the platform; exclusively on web and almost exclusively for groups (work, gaming, and smart people – w_w). Those conversations are valuable, yes, but the app actually being on my phone is too high a cost for that, thanks.

For Twitter, I have an on/off love affair with how I have it installed or not. And that changes from time to time. I’m relatively self-aware of how much time I spend on these things so if I catch myself spending too much time on it, I’ll take it off.

If idiocy levels get too high, if strat-gash gets too much, or if a firetruck load of muppetry gets delivered to my feed… then Twitter gets uninstalled.

Twitter is not currently installed on my phone.

TikTok was on for a short while but OH MY GOD WHAT A TIME SUCK so I had to that off as well. My children (combined TopNine score: 435 likes) need my time, not TikTok. I get it, I understand it, I read about it… I just don’t need it in my life right now.

So my point is, until earlier today when I installed Instagram back on my phone, I didn’t have any social apps installed at all.

And I didn’t realise how good that felt until I did.

By moving all social apps to web-only experiences, you’re removing some data-siphons, some terrible features (looking at you, Fleets), huge memory sponges on your device, and… perhaps most importantly of all, no notifications whatsoever. You decide when to look (or not).

No one else. Just you.

Freeing. Utterly freeing. I simply cannot recommend it enough.

And I think that’s what I might aim to do for 2021: try and spend the year with no social apps installed at all (almost impossible, given my job… but still, a healthy ambition nonetheless).


Life is better without it.

Tim Urban, the amazing author of the Wait But Why website has written about this at length. This image (one of many) encapsulates a lot about why people feel the way they feel. Look.

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You can read the whole article right here.

And you should.

Theodore Roosevelt said ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. My own version of that is simply ‘Never measure yourself with someone else’s yardstick’. Either way, by removing the platform from your life, you stop being Lucy and you can start being you again.


Practical one this: If you’re going to leave a platform, and really mean it – then you should definitely tell people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand those people that flounce off platforms at the drop of a hat (only to return <12hrs later). And there’s that tired old trope of ‘If you leave a platform and tell anybody about it, have you even left?’ BUT BUT BUT… hear me out!

I had to send a handful of messages this afternoon each saying ‘Hey, I’ve only just seen this! Sorry!’ and actually mean it  which is as hilarious as it is ridiculous:

‘Hi friend, this DM you sent me in July, what was the context? Can I help at all now… six months later?’ (this is a real thing that happened).

I guess if my last post on Instagram had said ‘Hi, I’m taking 2020 OFF this platform – if you need me, send me a WhatsApp, thanks!’ then maybe that would’ve been helpful? Shame you can’t set an auto-responder or an out of office for these things.

I think I’m going to add one more post to my gram, in the short term… saying just that. Yes, that might be useful.

Point is: if you’re leaving, tell people.

Even if it is subject to tiresome mocking.


2020 was a stellar year to not be doing the gram.

In these uNpReCeDeNtEd TiMeS, going on Insta and talking about how great your life is and how well you’re doing is… kinda gross?

Amanda Hess wrote in March about how ‘Celebrity Culture is Burning‘, highlighting just how brilliant/disgusting it was to see/read/hear about what the slebs were doing to help people STAY SAFE.

‘Staying home is my superpower’, Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot reported from her walk-in closet. Ryan Reynolds urged his fans to ‘work together to flatten the curve’ – from within his rustic loftâ.

Ellen DeGeneres is going ‘stir-crazy’- from having to stay inside her enormous home; Katy Perry has lost track of the days she’s spent inside her enormous home.

Madonna, performing for the public and holding fans in her thrall is yet another luxury gone, for now, – she says in one video. In its place is the disturbing sensation of normalcy. ‘The audience in my house is not amused by me,’ she says. Later, from the bath, she concludes that Covid-19 is ‘the great equalizer’

Sublime. Incredible. And distasteful AF.

The lack of self-awareness is sublime.


You should probably print more photos.

When I were a lad, you’d take photos on your camera and then take the film to Boots to get developed and then a few days later (or an hour if you paid extra) you’d get your pack of photos back, pick out the best ones for your wall/album, then chuck the rest (either in the bin or in the drawer with all the others).

Not being on Instagram didn’t stop me from taking photos (or sharing them, tbh I’m still quite active on Twitter) but what it did do was make me start cherry-picking what photos I have on our digital displays at home. And also think about how we might start bringing real-world photos back into the house somehow. We’ve already started: calendars have been made and there’s a corkboard in the kitchen.. but by not being on t’gram, I think I’ve come to appreciate photoGRAPHS more.

These things are important.


Your mileage may vary.

I don’t know what I’ve truly missed out on because… well… I’ve missed it. But given the year we have had (yes, I said it again) I’ve probably spent more time figuring out what’s most important to me over and above ‘things I might be missing on social media’. Yes, I am painfully aware that that point of view comes from an enormous position of privilege: I am a white man. I have a young family. We have our health. We have our jobs. We have each other.

And while we have struggled with mental health this year (all of us have).

We are not struggling with the disease.

We are not struggling to make ends meet.

We are not struggling with loneliness.

For some, Instagram might be a window into the lives of friends that they’ve been missing all year round. For others, Stories might be the replacement for the person-to-person connection that they’ve each craved during isolation. My point is: the platform is what YOU make it.

And that is both its core benefit and ultimately, for me at least, the source of its downfall.

Scientifically proven to be bad for your mental health, Instagram is not something I want or need in my life. I thought I’d try removing it for a year and it worked out OK.

More than OK, in fact. I didn’t miss it.

And I doubt very much that it missed me.

One more post this year and then I’m out for good.

Your mileage may vary.

Thoughts on ‘Digital’ job titles

Aka: ‘Creating noise where there was no signal in the first place’

Back in January, associate professor of marketing, brand expert, and Marketing Week columnist, Mark Ritson, published a piece on the ‘death of digital’ job titles.

It went a little something like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 21.26.31

If you’re familiar with Ritson’s column, you can pretty much imagine the rest. I’m not one to bite when bait is so blatantly waggled in one’s direction but this is something that I’ve been niggling on for a while and, the other day, said niggle floated to the surface…

Via what some of you might refer to as ‘a mini Tweetstorm’:

Oh wait, a bit of background first. In case you missed it, Ritson’s piece came in response to another huge piece of industry news (January’s a slow news month) and that was [ad agency] Adam & Eve DDB’s move to ‘axe’ said D word from all job titles.

Ritson said:

The news that adam&eveDDB has dropped the digital designation from all its job titles came as no surprise last week. Despite the prevalence of the D word and the omnipresence of digital planners, digital strategists and digital marketers under every lamp post, nobody in the know ever doubted that the prefix would eventually become an anachronism.

And, unsurprisingly, the article (and the ‘news’ it referenced) became the talk of the town (which, when you think about it, is a&eDDB’s raison d’être).

And now everybody’s talking about it.

What I actually meant was #PredictionsBreakfast (hey, I was grumpy – I got it wrong). You know the event I’m talking about, right? It’s the one where I said this:

Someone in the audience (I think – it might’ve been Andy Oakes challenging us) asked the question ‘Are digital job titles dead?’ – I think my response was something along the lines of a big sigh, laughter, and then ‘no’.

Which is kinda how I got to the next bit –  

And I’d say that’s a fair enough comment. The term ‘digital’ means so many different things to so many different brands, agencies, publishers, partners, vendors – the list goes on – to simply ‘do away with it’ because it seems on trend is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

That said, I mean what I say: it could become redundant one day, maybe a generation from now – when the entire marketing job suite fully understands and gets what it means (and to whom). But that’s not going to happen this year and I very much doubt it’ll happen in the next.


Which means that for the brands, campaigns, and projects that we work on, digital is a core component to nearly all of them. Do our partners need a experts? Undoubtedly. Do they feel more comfortable knowing they have a specialist on the case? Definitely. Would they give two hoots if we dropped it completely? Probably not.

But in the same way that products are designed to meet a consumer need, so are jobs created to meet client demand.

A small correction on this point. If you only read the headlines, you’d be forgiven* for thinking that a&eDDB had killed ‘digital’ only to replace it with the word ‘interactive’. The truth, as always, is slightly different. What a&eDDB have actually done is recategorised media into three areas: film, display, and interactive (more on that later).

So yes, replacing digital with interactive is a mistake – but let’s be clear: that is not what has happened here.

What has happened is that someone’s kick-started an intelligent debate about how we move the industry forward – and that a great thing (and should be commended).

Mark Ritson loves a rant (and I love him – sincerely, if you ever get a chance to see him lecture, GO), but on this there is a simple response: the industry just isn’t there yet.

…which means we’ll continue to have digital strategists, creatives, directors, etc… whatever’s required to get the job done.

Because ultimately, isn’t that the most important thing?

Thanks for reading.




– aka, related Tweets that I could find commentary for but are still worth your time.


And my personal favourite…


*By ‘forgiven’, I mean ‘not forgiven at all’ – you should work harder at knowing more.

A series of provocative statements (and all the dragons that await therein)

Full script and slides from our talk at Social Media Week London, 2015.

On September 16th, 2015 an ex-client of mine (as well as a super smart digital strategist and all round good pal), Rebecca Williams, and I presented the above titled 30min talk at Social Media Week London.


‘Come see us talk about the brand-wagon!’ – we exclaimed, not knowing what comedy illustration was about to come our way…

Giving a talk as part of a duo means that you have to work a little bit harder on getting your presentation right. Rebecca and I, I think it’s fair to say, are both accomplished and experienced speakers but when thrown together, weren’t able to rely on our usual tricks and patterns to get us out of the occasional wandering monologue. Which meant in turn, and out of respect for each other and for our audience, we decided to script the whole darn thing.

Which was pretty handy really as the majority of the points we wanted to make were borne out of our continuing conversations on the subject matter (to this day, in fact). A meandering chat is OK for us but not quite as enjoyable as a few hundred people who had got out of bed early to see us that day.

Purposeful and deliberate, we had to be.

So, through a combination of Google Docs and face-to-face IM conversations (not kidding: it’s actually really useful), we co-wrote our presentation.

It is published in full below, both with our script, its notes, and the corresponding slides for each section.

Hopefully you’ll find it useful and/or enjoying. Feel free to rip whatever you need for making your own arguments throughout 2016. Attribution is always welcome but making our industry better is the overall goal.

Comments as ever are welcome.

Dive. On. In.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.00.25



Hi Beckie,
Hello James,

[James talks a little about who he is]

[Beckie talks a little about who she is]

[James explains their unlikely but heart-warming friendship with the aid of contemporary dance]

[he does]

Today, we’re going to be challenging each other with some “provocative” statements about the social media industry – unpick some of the assumptions we make about the work we do and examine the uncomfortable stuff that comes out of this. Just to define terms before we being –

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.07.35

These statements have been borne from our conversations and are (sometimes harsh, sometimes melodramatic) alternative and thereabouts statements about social media today.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.08.34

Dragons are the dark and scary implications that spring from them.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.11.24

James would like to apologise in advance for for the next 45 minutes.

Would you like to take it away?

Our first provocative statement is simple:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.11.29

What do we mean by that? Well first, let me tell you what we don’t mean.
We’re not saying that social content is the new thing that everybody hates when a client asks for one (although [for some of you in the room] it’s not far off).

When you and I were talking about this stuff a while ago, you said quite specifically: ‘can everybody just stop calling it social content, you just make content – your audience decides if it’s social or not’.

And you kinda have a point.


Hence my riposte ‘Social content is the new viral video’ – videos GO viral. This
content goes social.

‘Well done you two, aren’t you both really clever’ – you might think. But there’s a dragon here. A tiny one. But there is one anyway. Look, there it is:


‘What about when a client asks for social content?’

Well, that’s where you come in. You see there’s a meaningful output here and that is this: we’d like a promise, from you all, to – in the same way that we have collectively very nearly stamped out the existence of ‘viral videos’ (NEARLY) – say back to a room when social content is discussed, ‘Guys, it’s just content. Let our audience decide if it’s social’.

Three things will happen:

1. You’ll sound like a quite smug know it all (thanks)
2. People will think about it, realise you’re correct, and then – crucially – maybe reconsider the work they’re about to create and think on how a consumer might respond to it. Which leads to…
3. You’ll make the industry a better place.

So that’s one, done. Four to go! Easy right? This is just the beginning. It gets a bit tougher from here on in…

Just to say, before we go on if you DO want to share anything from this presentation, the hashtag is there – #OgilvySMW. So…

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 17.03.29

…second provocative statement.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 17.03.30

The hashtag has become a bit of a scourge. What used to be – and sometimes still can be – a handy way to connect to spontaneous conversations about a particular event you’re at *JAMES POINTS AT HASHTAG AGAIN* – AHEM, or discover relevant content to your interests has in the vast majority of cases become another inevitable, ignorable waste of ad space.

They don’t just plague social networks, they’re everywhere – on busses, underground escalators, taxis (weirdly, places either you or it is moving quickly and can never really have time to read them and look them up). From random, unanswered calls to actions to simple campaign labels when I think about it I am exposed to hundreds of the damn things every day. But I almost never notice them, and even more seldom use them.
What’s the point of all this incessant labelling? More to the point, is anyone tracking all of this and thinking it’s enough of a success to do it over and over again?

OK, I buy that. But if hashtags aren’t working per se, then why ARE they plastered on everything from bus ads to TV commercials to actual conference slides? Surely they MUST be working for brands/agencies to continually use them and put them everywhere?

You say that, but that definitely is not a measure of effectiveness. We all lived through QR codes.

Some of us still are. But #DancePonyDance from THREE MOBILE is a great example of how a hashtag became the conversation anchor for an entire campaign. If you’re confident that your content can create conversation (and if you’ll excuse the over alliteration), then surely you can construct a compelling case for contextual campaign hashtag?

But #DancePonyDance is essentially the antithesis of the kind of sloppy hashtagging that represents so much for the medium. 1: yes, the content was really good and as you say a pretty much gift-wrapped talking point 2: it was an integrated part of a vastly distributed and well co-ordinated campaign and – crucially – 3: The brand was really nowhere to be seen in the tag itself- we are in an ad blocking world technologically and subconsciously speaking: explicitly commercial messaging is actually an obstacle to sharing the content in the first place.

So I’d say in reality a successful brand hashtag is about as common as a dancing pony.

*James stares uncomfortably at #OgilvySMW*

Tbh it’s not just hashtags – if we had time we could talk about how specific social media campaigns in general (though often hashtag driven) are often expensive with small returns in terms of engagement.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 17.03.31

For example, when examining the recent CYOA LandRover Instagram campaign, data nut Mat Morrison (@MediaCzar), found that just 460 people liked at least one photo in the network… a network of 150 photos – when their regular instagram account can expect over 7,000 likes. Likes aren’t anything, but when you consider what an agency would cost for that production it’s a horrendous cost per engagement.

What it comes down to is – bar the occasionally dancing pony – is that a lot of the social campaign work being pumped out is utterly pointless.

Cue dragon?

This to me is a pretty existential dragon at the heart of our industry.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 17.03.34

The dragon is: ‘if social media campaigns are barely delivering any ROI, what am I being paid for?’

That’s scary. There are social media folk, both client and agency, in the audience. What should they say when they are asked for a campaign hashtag?

And the foetal position is still frowned upon in a corporate context?

Somewhat (outside of the creative dept at least) I feel like you’re going to say something like ‘they should think about the WHY’

Well yes. This isn’t new thinking, all strategists know this. Get to the bottom of what it is that they want to achieve – it’s almost never “get 500 people, many of whom may be bots selling followers, to write this combination of characters on Twitter” – and whether it comes a hashtag or social campaign or not, find the solution that works with realistic audience behaviour rather than this weird shouty, overtly optimistic interruptive advertising.

Again, this is all really easy in theory. In practice, the dragon is harder to slay. It’s easy for US to stand up here and sound all smug and like we know everything but trust us, we’ve HAD these arguments. Some we’ve won, many we have lost.

So many. But it has to be a fight worth having. Because just look at what’s happening to Instagram now the ad floodgates have opened. This clutter ruins the real fun for the rest of us. Dragon slayed?




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OK, REDUX: NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR [campaign/corporate branded] HASHTAG*

*unless the content attached to it is awesome and you really have given people something to talk about. REALLY.

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So obviously the logical opposite of over-estimating how much people want to talk about your brand on your terms on their own feed is to join the conversations they want to have.

Real time marketing, Twitter jacking – all that stuff.


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This is that awkward moment where I point out that you, James Whatley, work at an agency and you help clients own all the moments with their timely and relevant content calendars.

It’s true, I confess, I have told my team to use the Twitter #OwnTheMoment calendar. I have also extolled the virtues of the myriad points made in these various articles.

In short: #BLAMEOREO

You’re essentially a masochist.

Owning the moment has come to pass thanks to the wonders that is/was the DUNK IN THE DARK Tweet.

People in the audience, here are some links to all of the reasons why that is NOT a reason to rewrite your entire content calendars to solely focus on OWNING THE MOMENT.

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Feel free to snap this but only if you a) add a hashtag and b) actually use it as a reference point later in your life.

 – – – – – – – – – EDIT – – – – – – – – - 

The links to the above content I asked the audience to Google are as follows:

1. ‘Mark Ritson lecture‘ – aka ‘Mark Ritson vs Social Media’
2. ‘James Whatley Vizier‘ – aka ‘If Content is King, Facebook is its Grand Vizier’
3. ‘James Whatley, Good Bad Ugly‘ – aka ‘Brands on social in 2014’ covering the good, bad, and ugly of social
4. ‘‘ – aka ‘Why Owning the Moment is bad for real-time marketing’

 – – – – – – – – – BACK TO THE TALK – – – – – – – – - 

Then there’s this:

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The Twitter Own the Moment calendar.

Which is so frustrating. ‘Hi everyone, please use these moments and try and own them the best you can. Forget that everyone else will be doing the same thing.’

Ok… So we’ve vetoed the hashtag. We’ve veto’d their Star Wars Day post…. I have to ask:

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Ah, the Dragon.

I’m going to put my hand up and say that while in the Drum article I mentioned earlier I lay into brands who took part in Star Wars day, I was AT THE SAME TIME, approving Star Wars day content for a brand that I work on.


(ignoring your dragon for a minute)
(actually, addressing it somewhat tangentially)

We had, hitherto constructed a well thought out and well structured content strategy which incorporated such elements as participation in the conversation of our audience; communicating at the speed of culture, if you will. By setting these parameters, we were able to successfully put the case forward for creating something fun for May 4th. The only real rule was that it had to be not shit. And it wasn’t.

Did you own the moment?

Owning the moment is BUNKEM.
Communicating at the speed of culture, within the themes and topics of your carefully constructed and well-researched consumer model, isn’t. Owning the moment is a purple cow.

The Twitter Own the Moment calendar has come under much derision, and rightfully so. Becaaaaaause…?

[this is the bit where you say ‘because if we all try and own the same moments then no moments will be owned etc]

…however, if used CORRECTLY it can be used as INSPIRATION for what topics of conversation that you/your brand/client COULD get involved with. Key word here is: relevance. Thinking on it further, I think it’s just the name of the thing.

If it was called:

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‘The Twitter calendar of really useful dates that might be relevant to the brand that you work on [but please consider each one carefully and really think about whether or not you should actually get involved]’ – then it might be easier to swallow.

But owning the moment? No. If Kim Kardashian has to bare her gleaming a-hole to truly own a moment. Your bottle of mineral water suddenly remembering it’s mothering Sunday isn’t really going to cut it.

Oh god.

Don’t ever say I don’t take you to nice places.

Dragon slain?

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Well perhaps. I’m torn on this one. What you’re saying is logical. I just hate them all and want them to stop.

OK, in response to that, maybe we need some kind of self-policing mechanism? What if, there was a formula that governed OWNING THE MOMENT (or communicating at the speed of culture).


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Strategy x Relevance / Effort = GOOD REACTIVE PLANNING (not OWN THE MOMENT) / SELF POLICING or something…

If in doubt, kick it out[side and put a bullet in it].
Something something, understand your audience… something.

And these three things will deal with a lot of the worst of it.

Exactly *smug face*.

Alright then. So understanding your audience is essential to this equation.


But (and leads quite nicely into our next provocative statement):

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Your audience is made up of lying strangers.


OK, how’s this?

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Keep going.

As brands try to become “more human” and connect “more authentically” with their audiences, their audiences are – under the Gen Y/Gen Z banner of authenticity – inauthentically curating and fragmenting and presenting aspects of their personalities (real and aspirational) across social networks to suit their own audiences just like a brand would.

So tl:dr brands are pretending to be human, humans are pretending to be brands, and your audience will willfully misrepresents itself while the effectiveness of your work relies on you effectively understanding them…


And when I think about this a lot – it just makes me think… if everyone is using social media inauthentically to pretend to be connecting authentically well…



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That sounds really depressing and, well, it kind of is I guess.

But on the plus side, selective self-presentation is a tremendously human trait. It is precisely because we are human that we do this. We are nuanced, complex, contextualised, contradictory creatures. This isn’t always possible to organise on a single social network. In many respects it would be way more depressing if everyone was IRL exactly how they are in Twitter. So that’s good.

But it does mean that it is hugely hard to understand who your audience is and how they really behave from the limited and out-of-context cues they give you from any particular social channel. So for example, on Facebook they might like posts from friends about a subject they’re not interested in to support the friend, but a bot might think it’s interested in the subject.

Or on Instagram they might present or engage with almost entirely fictitiousness lifestyle that doesn’t reflect anything like they would really buy or do in real life.

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It’s really hard to understand who your audience really is from social data alone, especially not-joined-up data across loads of channels. How do you have impact for your business?

My response is thus: behavioural targeting.

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“Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say” – y’know who said that?


David Ogilvy.

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Sure. That enables you to maximise your chances of them engaging with you on that platform. But if it’s not who they really are, how do you know it’s going to have a tangible real world impact on their behaviour beyond that channel? Can you know?

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I know you think I’m being overtly depressing but actually I’m really pumped about my existential crisis and how we slay this dragon – what is the point? This point is way better.

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Hashtags and the like are relatively frivolous uses of the social strategists’ time compared to this. It’s not just about understanding what makes people engage on each channel, but their motivations behind doing so and how these all joins up as part of the wider system of engagement with the brand.

That way, not only are we making sure that our social media efforts actually reach people, but that they reach the right people in the right way that actually contributes to our overall business goals rather than some arbitrary social metrics.

And and and by focussing on the audience in this way extracts all sorts of insights and intelligence that feeds into other systems – marketing and non-marketing – to make social media invaluable and integral to a business rather than the bit of glitter you rub on at the end.

Anyway, the point. The point is that businesses need social strategists to help fathom all this out before spending tonnes on a pointless campaign. Social strategists just need to fight for the people behind the facades.

Well I think we can agree on that.

All of this leads up to one major thing about our industry.

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And conveniently, provocative statement number five.

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Ready? [Both] OK!

And this is huge…

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Existential crises, hashtag death, brandwagons… all of it! AWFUL!

And for a huge provocative statement you need an equally huge dragon.

I got this.

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That is a big dragon / Pokemon.

It is. He’s there to represent this huge ‘BUT’ and that but is:

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There are, as the great Ian Dury once said, Reasons to be Cheerful. We have a job on the BLEEDING EDGE OF MARKETING but what people forget about THE BLEEDING EDGE is that it’s BLEEDING; people are CUTTING THEMSELVES and getting hurt.

Whether it’s by accident or by intent from another or even if it’s just brand-driven self-harm (put that in your report to HR next time you’re doing a 360 review), it’s painful up here for us.

We’re still relatively at the beginning of understanding social media and what it can mean for businesses so, bleeding aside, there’s a lot to be inspired by. Who cares if you don’t have a hashtag if the advocacy of your customers is leading the conversation about your brand? Or if you fail to land your perfect fathers’ day post when your understanding of social behaviour is helping to redefine how your business manages customer relations?

Social may come with existential problems, dragons, and more often a not a seat at the kids’ table in meetings – but everyone in this room can be a part of changing that and redefining the industry for the the future.

It’s hugely exciting – for all of us.

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And the key part of what Rebecca just said is ‘us’ – we’re in this together. And, for many of us, we’re creating and subsequently laying the foundation for future years of marketing and advertising wonders to come.


[CLOSING STATEMENT. DISCUSS. Straight up mic drop? Oh yeah and is this a bit data light? Um… Maybe we should just end with an image of Judd Nelson punching the air like he does at the end of The Breakfast club? Sold.]

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[Both] Thank you! Thank you!



And that, was that.

Big love to Rebecca for being awesome and huge thanks to the support teams at Ogilvy Group UK, Brandwatch, Social Media Week London, and The National Gallery that made it all possible.

Full slides available for viewing/stealing over on Slideshare.
Full video of the presentation available for viewing on YouTube.

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Social Media Trends for 2015

2015 trends, innit.

Republished [with edits] from Social@Ogilvy.

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Back in December 2013, Managing Director of Social@Ogilvy EAME, Marshall Manson asked me to co-write some kind of trend prediction document for 2014. I think his words at the time were something like ‘Look, everyone does them, and everyone slags them off but Ogilvy should have one and I think we could put something decent together’.

We laughed. We agreed. And then we got to work.Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 22.05.11

A few emails back and forth and a couple of working meetings inbetween and Marshall and I came up with a fairly decent document covering off our shared trend predictions for the year ahead.

Such was the feedback of said presentation, we decided to it again for 2015.


So, at the bottom of this post you’ll find our latest work. It contains a brief overview of our predictions from last year as well as a more in-depth look at the thoughts, trends and predictions for the year ahead. However, if you’re a big cheat and don’t want to read the presentation (seriously, what kind of monster are you?) here are the cliff notes:


Marshall and I scored four for four with, ‘Disposable Content’,Brand Banter’, ‘Facebook as a Paid Media Channel’, and a little thing called ‘Sub-dividing Communities’. Each and every one of them came true and, well, we’re pretty chuffed about that (and the evidence is in the deck below – you didn’t think I was going to give it away that easily, did you?)

Without further ado, let’s move on to our:


Trend 1. Twitter Zero
Algorithmic content serving is coming very soon and, when it hits, and very much like Facebook before it, brands will need to understand not only what paid products are available but also how to use them.

Trend 2. The Video Battle Royale
‘Video’ was one of my ‘things that are not trends for 2015‘ however the BIG BATTLE FOR VIDEO AD DOMINANCE is 100% going to be a thing next year. With Facebook and Twitter both going all in on video-based ad products, we’re also predicting that Instagram’s existing ad products will also soon include video. Did you know Facebook outdid YouTube, on the video front, in 2014? We don’t think Google will let that lie… do you?

Trend 3. Teens & Anonymous Platforms
Less of a trend prediction more a piece of social / anthropological commentary, this section is about there now being a generation of teens who have grown up not knowing a world without an Internet. So what does ‘youth Internet’ look like? And why?

Check it out, you’ll see.

And hey, tell us what you think on Twitter (@whatleydude or @marshallmanson) – we’d love to get your feedback!


2015 Digital Trends (not)

You keep using that word but I do not think it means what you think it means.

Or – ‘Lessons on how to avoid being crap’


At the end of last year I was tasked with putting together some ideas for the Ogilvy 2015 social media / digital trend document. To prevent said document falling into the same trap as every other prediction paper out there, I decided to publish a top 20 list of things that are NOT trends for 2015.

When people asked why, I half-jokingly reply ‘To f*** myself’.

Seriously though, what better way to push yourself out of mediocrity than by publicly declaring what you think the non-trends are? Well, I did – and it helped.

Said list should be embedded below and the trends we put to paper thereafter will be in the post straight after this one.

The reason why I use Google+

Auto-awesome. That’s it.


A few things:

  1. Thanks Alfie, for getting me into the habit.
  2. I’ve done quite a few already now (the tube is a hobby, clearly).
  3. The Auto-Awesome community on Google+ is worth a look.

As features go, this is fantastic. Download Google+ (on iOS or Android), turn on Google+ Auto-Backup of photos (I have mine switched to ‘Wi-fi only’), line up a decent sequence shot, and then Google+ will do the rest.

Great stuff.