For many marketers, Brandweek is the pinnacle, the ‘Super Bowl’ of the year and things are changing so rapidly around the world that now we need to think about things that weren’t even on our radar just 2, 3, or 4 years ago.
In this article, I will address the fragmentation of social media, brand safety (ie. the monster in the room), influencer marketing hitting a whole new level, the challenges of marketing attribution, and the huge untapped potential of your employees.
But first, let’s look at where it all started.
What Viral Nation believes in
Before I get to the crux of what the social media revolution means and why companies should start looking at social as an exponential revenue growth vehicle, I’d like to begin with what we believe in because that’s what drives us and it’s what Viral Nation was built upon.
Here are our core beliefs at Viral Nation:
- All humans are, or will soon become, influencers
- Social media has completely transformed the buyer journey across the board
- We believe that creators are this and the future generations’ media channels
- We believe that brands must transition from being traditional media-led to social media-led over the next 5 to 10 years in order to continue the success of large business
- Lastly, we believe that technology is critical in powering this effort because, unlike DSPs or traditional media, social media is hard!
1. Social-first organizations are ‘always on’
Social media is ‘always on’. But what does an always-on, social-first organization of the future even look like?
When we think about what a social-first company is, there are layers, with the nucleus being owned social. Then, there’s always-on influencer marketing, always-on employee social, then always-on social and content, then always-on paid and performance (unique to your social efforts), then always-on social experiential, and – most importantly – always-on brand safety.
I used the words ‘always on’ multiple times on purpose (it would’ve been easier not to put it there, and our CMO is like “Why are you always writing ‘always on’ – we gotta take those out!”), but I remember that not too long ago, I was sitting in meetings with M&M, planning their campaigns three years out. But then the social media revolution happened and today, that’s no longer possible, and actually, the inverse has happened.
We need to be the closest to ‘now’ as possible in order to be as successful as possible.
Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Viral Nation
Can you imagine planning your social media calendar five years in advance? That would be impossible, so when we started to think about how to approach these things as an organization – that’s where the fun really begins.
Social media is fragmented across the board
By ‘fun’, what I mean is currently, large organizations have fragmented social media across the board. Just seven years ago, I remember being laughed out of Starbucks‘ board room for even bringing up influencer at scale, and I remember being in PMG and them saying, “TV built this building.”
But social has emerged so quickly that during the transition, we ended up fragmenting it. Some companies have their communications teams running social. Other companies have an influencer marketing agency, a brand ambassador marketing agency, a social content agency, and a social community management agency – because as these things became more important, everybody started to piece them all together.
Like, ‘Oh, community management is really important, we should go after that! This other thing is super important, let’s do that, too!”
But what happened was we ended up with a broken system because when you really look at social and you understand it inherently, you’ll know that all of these things drive each other.
So if you’re a social media person who’s running a brand’s owned social media channels, you’ll know that influencers and your employees are such a huge catalyst for how you drive content into the pipeline.
So when we considered the challenge of an increasingly fragmented social media marketing landscape, Viral Nation started to think about ways we could build a social-first suite of technology solutions to empower future CMOs and the future state of business.
2. Addressing brand safety: The monster in the room
When it comes to social media, we have to address the big monster in the room – what it means to be brand-safe has completely shifted.
For those of you who’ve been around a long time, you’ll remember that cyber security was the last risk we tackled, so anyone who was buying DSPs in 2017 knows that it was all about ad fraud, phishing, data leaks, and privacy leaks. But, in my experience with clients, I saw that working with some of the most powerful brands in the world brings with it some of the most powerful problems.
And now, since COVID, we’ve seen first-hand how social media can damage large brands – from the crazy Bud Light situation to the hundreds of situations where social has created a negative impact on brands around the world.
But Viral Nation has built a solution to solve one piece of the brand safety problem through Viral Nation_Secure™.
Viral Nation_Secure™: The answer to brand safety in the social media era
In the influencer and social worlds, brand safety has become almost a sexy topic that people are using to generate new leads, but the reality is that this is a critical issue for scaling in social media.
If we believe so strongly that social is the future, we also have to believe that it’s equally important to protect it. We’ve worked for over three and a half years on Viral Nation_Secure™ – and it’s not something we did as a knee-jerk reaction to the industry. We were looking at the future.
But don’t take my word for it because this is being implemented at scale around the world.
For instance, one of the largest retailers in North America is now powering their entire backend infrastructure with Viral Nation_Secure™ in order to safeguard themselves across all of social.
Why? So that they can invest even more in it because they see it as the future of their business.
So when we think about brand safety, social media and the implications they have, this becomes a really important piece of the puzzle
So, for a CEO like me at a social media transformation company, I’m sitting there going, “How do we scale this thing? How do we get brands to take their TV budget and give it to us instead? But most importantly – how do we get brands to feel comfortable on social when every morning there’s a headline of another brand going down because of it?”
That’s why we created Viral Nation_Secure™.
3. Influencers are becoming the new taste-makers
The entire world has moved from traditional media to social media – and influencers control the narrative. I think we’re all starting to understand now that influencers don’t just dance in their basements or post products or pictures of themselves holding the product because influencers are becoming taste-makers of the industry.
To give you an example – if you’re in the automotive industry, influencer reviews of your cars could be the difference between you selling out and you not selling any at all.
Influencers are becoming our stewards – and as consumers, we trust them to go check things out for us so we don’t have to, and that is only amplifying exponentially.
YouTube just posted its highest number of users on TV that they have ever announced and why? Because now we’re flipping on creators at home when we’re on the couch.
The industry is changing and it’s important that we recognize it. But a big problem with influencer marketing is that it has such a low barrier to entry. Because any big media company, any kid in his basement – anybody – can say they do influencer marketing.
And that poses a challenge to those who have been in this business for years. And you also have to exercise a degree of caution because influencer marketing can go really bad, really quickly.
Influencers can be grossly underperforming – it could even be a devastation of performance. Influencers can also drag out time on your team that’s not worth the reward you’re getting. We’ve all experienced that.
But if I’m working with a modern company that’s thriving in the influencer space, what I’m thinking about is, “How do we turn this into a P&L item? How do we turn influencer marketing into a sustainable and predictable channel that can elevate and grow brands around the world?”
Considering those things, we at Viral Nation asked ourselves, ‘Do we need tech?’, and the answer was yes – because that’s how you avoid landmines.
‘Do we need buying power?’. Yes, because influencers are being paid too much on most occasions.
People forget that influencers are media and whatever we’re giving them, we need to get more back in return.
So understanding buying power and the dynamics of what you need to pay creators is critical in order to be successful in this space in the first place.
In measuring and predictability, we’ve come a long way. But when it comes to the ability to scale like we talked about earlier, influencer marketing is still hard.
4. Attribution is more about fighting for what’s yours
Viral Nation has a couple of clients who scale upwards of 10 to 15,000 influencers per year.
But how do you do that? Well, when we looked to the next generation of influencer marketing, we realized you can’t keep treating influencer marketing like it’s creative anymore. You can’t think about it like it’s communications anymore.
At Viral Nation, we’re thinking about influencer marketing like it’s media, and we built the solutions to professionally and predictably measure and scale.
If you think about influencer measurement, I remember days when I would do a post-campaign report and tell the CMO we got like 10 million views. They’d be like, “Good job! But you’re not getting any more money!”
But we started with social media analytics because it was all we could see, and then it quickly went from there to brand metrics – you get brand lift, how much media value did we get, etc. But we’re at a time now where we can really deliver business metrics and we can do it at scale.
So thinking about store traffic, thinking about e-commerce traffic, thinking about direct attribution – what I learned was that attribution is more about how you fight for what’s yours more than anything else, and we have been able to work with our brands and their first-party data to stake claim to how creators are moving the needle.
Anyone who’s run influencer campaigns knows that it’s very difficult to attribute – not because it sucks, but because our psychology as consumers makes it hard.
When I see a cool Instagram post, I pop right to Google because Viral Nation is now tracking Google traffic searches during our campaigns as a key metric because we know when the Instagram feed pops up, no one wants to buy within Instagram’s native browser.
So, we started to think about the psychology of the buyer, and as soon as we did that, every single one of Viral Nation’s campaigns was on the path to profitability – and that for us was huge.
5. The untapped potential of employees
The next thing to unpack is employees because we think they’re a critical part of the social revolution and it’s about to hit hard for a few reasons.
Our employees are awesome and we’ve never truly tapped into them for social media before. It’s funny when I’m sitting on a call getting briefs for social and you have someone on the client team telling our team what to go and make. For a long time, that kind of put our employees in the closet because we hired these professional agencies to make our content.
But the reality is that now, CMOs need more content than they could ever produce themselves or afford through agencies – and the next best option is our employees.
Employees are such a compelling piece, and it’s how the idea for Viral Nation_Empower™ came to be.
Viral Nation_Empower™: Rethink employee advocacy
I know employee advocacy has been around for a long time but there’s been a shift.
We’re never going to see a politician again who doesn’t have social media. We’re never going to see a famous singer, artist, or songwriter who doesn’t have a big social media presence. We’re not even going to see a successful real estate agent in the future without social media.
At some point over the last five years, we decided to blend our personal at-home social brand with our professional brand.
I remember a time when you would say ‘That’s my private Instagram, that’s where my family and friends are.’ And now, all of a sudden, every person in an organization that does sales is on LinkedIn 24/7, posting about anything they can think of!
This shift is interesting because the people in your existing organization see it and want it and the Gen Zs coming up – they’re all about it.
I use Viral Nation_Empower™ internally as part of our SLT team because it’s really important that we always eat our own dog food before we bring it out to the world. And I have to tell you, this product has been one of the most incredible things for our team that we’ve ever done, especially from the SLT level where we started.
It’s not just about sales. It’s about how people feel empowered, how people get recognized, and how people are heard.
Do you ever think about how many managers and senior leaders have team members who are working at home all day, every day? It’s very hard to be heard like that. It doesn’t matter what types of programs you put on Slack, or whatever it may be. Social gives people a way to express how they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, and share what they’re masterful at.
Benefits of Viral Nation_Empower™
So when we think about what the big benefits of Viral Nation_Empower™ are – it’s employee retention, learning and engagement. They’re learning something new and they’re being empowered to do something that’s outside of the norm.
We’ve seen such a sales lift with our sales and executive teams from using this program that it’s beyond measure, I almost feel like a bit of an idiot as a CEO for not doing this manually before we started the program.
Get results without stretching your resources
Our CMO is now utilizing this program to power his thought leadership and blog content, which is saving us thousands and thousands of dollars.
I’ll just ask you this – if your biggest competitor activated all their employees tomorrow, what would happen?
It would be a crisis alert and we’d all be trying to figure out how to get our employees to do the same thing
So the time is definitely upon us where the future generation coming up in your organization – they’re either going to be a problem for you or they’re going to be a solution.
And we’re voting on the side of a solution.
6. Social media is now being used to sell
Lastly, owned socials are becoming the nucleus of a brand. I know there are some who’d argue, but I think that most sales are happening through social.
We used to be at a time where we used to always say, “Hey how do I optimize the website? How do we do this? How do we do that?” and that’s not the case anymore. Social media is becoming the website, which is why we’re starting to see stats like marketing leaders have started their social channels to sell. People are now looking at social to sell.
I don’t know if anyone remembers when social started, but it’s purpose wasn’t to sell. Now, it’s becoming that.
Viral Nation_SM3: Own your socials
The last step is coming in October 2023. It’s only within Viral Nation today, but we went ahead and built a new social media management platform. We built it with everything baked in it to ensure the entire flow is optimized to sell. Our platform is about content creation and selling – it’s not simple use or convenience.
To that end, we implemented reporting dashboards, generative AI, and team goal-setting capabilities.
Think about the community managers at your businesses and their autonomy. We need to take a little bit of that autonomy back because we need to be moving social from the eyes of the brand to the consumer. That’s how you make social sell.
For the first time ever, we began to really think about how we move the future forward. About two years ago, Viral Nation did the largest raise of capital in our entire space and the most that the social space has ever seen – and the reason for that was we had a vision.
Our vision was to develop infrastructure for a modern CMO to be able to take control of social and run it like a machine.
I’m oversimplifying it but that’s the future of these businesses, whether that be Google, Meta, Walmart, Target – they’re all moving to social-first and they need some help. They need that solution.
So when we think back about what we covered – whether that be brand safety, influencer marketing, employee advocacy, and owned social – what we’re left with is Viral Nation’s solutions that we finally finished developing, and that is our own stack. And you’ll see that a CMO can measure their owned social and they can see posts across brands, influencers, and employees.
CMOs can see mentions across each one of their socials, quarterly or monthly. They can see the sentiment across the entire brand’s socials in one place. They can see their social calendars and they can give challenges to their social teams. They can see all their influencer marketing happening on a single dashboard and pull from it right into the other resources that live within.
And even more importantly, Viral Nation_Secure™ is built-in to keep the whole damn thing safe.
So when we think about Viral Nation and what the future holds, we’re so excited about this social media evolution – and not the one that we just saw, but the one where we see brands now doubling down, tripling down, and quadrupling down on being social-led into this future that we’re all now living in today.