“Would you share the last thing you created, In all honesty?”
That was the question posed by Neal Mann, digital strategist for News Corp Australia, at an event hosted by social tech provider, Livefyre in Sydney.
Mann, who made his digital mark as the multimedia innovations editor at the Wall Street Journal, says few people are willing.
“Most people don’t say yes. They don’t. Because they’ve not actually created [content] to engage an audience, they’ve created it to get it out the door.”
Mann gave a frank assessment of the state of digital in Australia based on his experience in the States. “We’re about three years behind the US,” he said.
“There are conversations going on with brands now that were had in 2011 in the US.”
However he says mobile consumption is far more advanced in Australia than America.
“It’s a huge opportunity, obviously, with mobile usage particularly on social, to actually leapfrog ahead in terms of how the US operates.”
The key to reaching the same level on all platforms as our US counterparts lies in the attitude Australian brands, publishers and companies have towards content creation. Mann argued that Australians are not deliberately making engaging content.
“It’s worth highlighting engagement on Facebook and marketing. There’s a big difference between paying for engagement which is kind of the initial stages of what happened with social. Now, if you look at the US brands in particular that are notoriously in news, they’re creating content that’s cool.”
Mann made reference to The First Kiss short film, a campaign created by lesser-known fashion brand WREN.
“It was an amazing advert, everybody shared it. It had 35 million views in two days.” The video became one of the most talked about marketing campaigns and just a month after its release, WREN increased sales by 13,600%, and website traffic by by 14,000%.
“Nobody paid a dime to share that,” said Mann.
Another example Mann referenced was Pepsi.
“Again, an amazing advert that was shared, nobody paid a dime for that. It gives you an example of where brands are in the US market and where we will get to in Australia,” he said.
Mann said Australia is currently in the headspace of paying for engagement rather than producing work that is engaging.
Fellow panelist, Robb Miller, VP for global sales at Livefyre added: “Brands can’t force the virality of content, but they can ask: is it interesting enough to share? In my experience, people open up to timeliness, authenticity, and humour in content.”
Miller said there is a difference between ‘socialising’ and ‘viralising’. He said: “Socialise is about aggregating social media content and using it on your owned properties. Viralise is just a cheeky way of saying distribution to a third party social media channel, hoping it becomes popular.”
“Something brands and organisations do here is try to engage people in the conversation, but do nothing with it,” said Mann.
In the US, Mann pointed to sports shows that stream live tweets during broadcast.
“Soon in Australia we’ll see a real step towards that fully integrated social model. The other thing is, research is showing people want to get involved across-platform. People don’t just want to be involved on TV. It’s about how that clip is then transferred to YouTube. How to get viewers involved on that? How do you bring that back to a social feed? And if you’re only offering one solution, they probably won’t even engage to begin with.”
Mann is adamant that a shift in thinking is essential in order to engage the audience from the start and keep them there. While at News Corp, Mann contributed to cross-platform success as The Australian celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“They republished front pages from history, which was great for the newspaper audience, but that’s not really that interesting to the social audience. We got them to access PDFs from a media archive and turn it into a mobile-first timeline where you put your age in and it delivers the front page from the day you were born – that’s all that anyone really cares about,” said Mann.
Mann and the panel agreed that one of the reasons Australia lags in digital is because brands and companies are risk averse, they’re waiting for a solution with proven return on investment.
Although ultimately, Mann said, it’s not just about making content go viral. It’s producing work that people actually want to share.
“In a newsroom setting I hear people ask: can you socialise this? What they mean is: make it go viral. I look at them and go: you wouldn’t even share it,” said Mann.