Episode 13: Katy Howell in the Downtown Den with Simon Danczuk

Episode 13: Katy Howell in the Downtown Den with Simon Danczuk


Episode 13: Katy Howell in the Downtown Den with Simon Danczuks

How can social media play a part in growing your business, especially in times of crisis? Katy joined Simon from Downtown, to discuss everything from reach to personality.

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Welcome to the Serious Social podcast, created by the straight-talking social media experts at immediate future.

How can social media play a part in growing your business, especially in times of crisis? Katy joined Simon from Downtown, to discuss everything from reach to personality.


Simon – well I’m very pleased to be joined in the Downtown Den by Katy Howell, CEO at immediate future

Katy – well actually, last week, would you believe it, immediate future which is an independent social media agency was 16 years old! When I say that to people they go “really?” – yep, we launched the same year as Facebook, kind of, made it out onto campus, so, we have been only focused – we only focus on social media although, you know, technically it sits under the digital thing. We are really only social media, working with what I would consider challenger brands, brands who want to change the status quo, so, they’re not necessarily the largest brands, they’re more tier one, tier 2 to 3 or those start-ups and small businesses who really want, you know, to make a difference either through growth or a difference in society or their communities.

Simon – Yeah excellent. And I suspect that a lot of Downtown members use social media in a fairly random way, as many of us do and will really, I think from having work with you previously, will really appreciate the sorts of issues that we’re going to cover and talk about, how social media can play a part in growing a business, particularly these strange times.

Katy – yeah hopefully!

Simon – so, let’s start off just tell us some of the practicalities about social media and the need to have a strategy in terms of using it, instead of having a random approach

Katy – it’s interesting because I talk about being 16 years on when we started, of course, it was predominantly blogs and MySpace, but then you could experiment, could do a bit this and dip in and out. Well you know 88% of us in the UK are on social media, and during the current lockdown, nearly every social media profile has gone up 25 to 30 percent, engagement is up 61 percent because, guess what we’re doing, bored as hell we’re all on social media, so you can’t dip in and out now. The prime purpose of social media is to be closer to your customers and potential customers. It’s an interface that allows you to do that way closer than email you’re actually technically could be in conversation with them, not everybody is but you’ll have that close and you’re, you’re in the palm of the hand of your customer, and that interface is much closer, much more intelligent in a way, and the beauty of that is, is right now we need to talk to our customers, and it’s quite a challenge. So, consistency and a strategy for how you’re going to do that rather than ‘oh let’s just put a tweet out we need to put a tweet out every day’, I mean well you know in business we need things to have purpose you know if you’re going to invest even if it is in only a tweet a day you need it to give you a return [yeah] won’t give you a return if all you’re doing is just putting garbage out – not right now.

Simon – and in some instances customers, other customers other potential customers are observing a customer having an engagement with you as a business, aren’t they, on Twitter for example if you start having a conversation with something everybody’s observing that.

Katy – yeah, yeah absolutely not even just the conversations, so if you are putting out crass statements if you’re saying by now and when people know that 90% of your staff are furloughed and, and you’re being aggressive or salesy or tone-deaf then actually they will pay a lot of attention to that right now well people are doing that and spending time, they’re very affected by how brands are behaving and that isn’t just you know in store online, or on TV, it’s very much how they behave in social media

Simon – yeah that’s interesting, so what should people go about they should people in business go about starting to think about it, you know, can you have for growth, what should they be considerate of, what are the platforms, paid, what should they be doing?

Katy – so let’s, let’s start with where they should how you start thinking about your strategy and plan and that kind of dovetails into where you should be you know which whether it’s TikTok is your thing, or whether or not you should be on Facebook, or how your video social strategy works the first thing to know is where is your audience , where are they, because that’s the bit that matters and often what we’ll find is that it’s not a demographic audience, it’s not you know just the UK men over 50 or 30-something, part of families you know family size business people, it’s much more refined than that. So, you used to segment audiences in a slightly different way, so if you were targeting youngsters you may well still use Facebook or Instagram more likely and actually, TikTok is probably too young for some/most brands. Yet, if you understand what’s going on on TikTok you can bring that into Instagram because that’s what your customers doing.

So you’re first starting put it on somewhere your consumer and customer, or in the case of b2b where they’re playing. For instance, in b2b people might be on LinkedIn, but they only tend to visit once every 60 days, it might shorten a bit during the current climate, but actually they don’t go there every day, where they go every day is Facebook, the best place to do b2b business right now is on Facebook. So, it’s really important that you understand where your audience is and don’t make assumptions. Once you’ve got that in place then you need to look at what matters to your audience where are their paying pain points, where are their passions, what’s their tone of voice, what are they emotionally engaged in, are they looking for entertainment, are they looking for information. And people can get it very wrong- there’s a broadband supplier at the moment that is trying to be entertainment led, when actually its customers are complaining on every single one of their adverts at the moment because what they want is functionality, and they’re asking ‘how do I get my broadband connection working’ – they don’t, they’re not interested in how funny they are, they’re interested in functionality, so it’s that really matters, so you have to really think about that. And then there are lots of things in between that, but, in a short summary the biggest failure I see with social media activity is there’s no end game, there’s no goal, you know a goal to get more followers is not a goal, you know, it’s like saying I want my salespeople to go out there and I want them to shake hands with as many people as possible – and it’s just like yeah, if it doesn’t result in something, what’s the point of it? So as we, you know, double down on our budgets you know, the question you should be asking yourself is – how will I measure the performance of social media now social media is a poor direct sales tool, I’ll tell you that right now what it is top what we call ‘top of funnel’, so it will help you get reach, and inevitable answers, you know if you’re a big-ticket item like a holiday for instance or a car, nobody’s going to buy that from social media more they will just go away and discuss it with friends do some research and then they’ll probably return via search. So reality is what you’re trying to do is get your reach up there the impressions out there to get people to understand and engage with you and put you first, and you can see brands doing this really well. So company after company is going out there and positioning itself so that when people are able to spend. if they can’t spend now. they will be the brand that will come first to mind and that’s what you should be focused on now is memorability.

Simon – so what you’re saying -social media is crucially important no matter what size your business is, because it’s this message, these messages that you’re putting out there with about video, just chat or conversation on Twitter, if it’s in the name of your business your brand, then it’s crucially important.

Katy – oh absolutely and it needs to represent your voice, you need a bit of personality, I mean let’s face it, Simon, you and I had a conversation about whether b2b or b2c it doesn’t make any difference, the reality is who wants to have a conversation with a brand – so, so you need some personality, I mean take a look, I mean that’s often quoted but, innocent drinks, they have personality. They sell fruit drinks, that’s what they do, okay nobody wants a conversation with a carton, you know, but they will have a conversation with innocent drinks because innocent drinks is fun, it’s got a personality, and your personality doesn’t always have to be funny or humorous, your personality could be, it could be serious, authoritative, it could be thought leader, it could be leading the way, it could be innovative, you know, you’re, you want a develop a personality, understand why they’re connecting to you – if you are a faceless organization in today’s world, you remain faceless and with very few customers because nobody wants to talk to you. So you want to build that kind of relationship that is closer, more one-to-one.

Simon – yeah and you’ve got to be responsive, I guess, it’s not a one-way engagement is it, it’s not just put in a message area,  it’s not like put in a billboard you know?

Katy – well it can be actually, it can be, and it can work very well like that. As I said, you know for some brands comments and conversations – so if you target the c-suite for instance, we work with a client the targets the c-suite, rarely comment on anything, but they do watch, they do click through links so we know that they are there. So interesting enough, we know that what their behaviours are because we can see them but they unlikely to actually have a conversation with you. And if you sell something very utilitarian (is that the right word?) utilitarian – you know you know, like car tires or something, we don’t have to get emotional about, then actually people may not have a conversation with you. In fact, the biggest driver of social media is creativity – in this noisy, noisy world we’re in now, it’s got even noisier on social media – you have to grab attention, and what matters more now is the kind of creativity that starts the story-tell, that is beginning to engage the user and understanding your brand, your purpose the things that matter to them more. And that is a long-term play, it’s creativity not just in visual, but in thinking, and that matters more.

Simon – yeah that’s real interesting -and what about paid or non-paid, I’m not very good on Facebook at all, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, probably too much time, but I see promotional adverts on there, presumably they work because people/companies are paying for them – you need both do you, as a business?

Katy – yeah in fact -so unpaid is called organic. Right and there are very few channels now that works very well predominantly on Facebook and Instagram it is strangled because they want you to use paid, but they also don’t want to keep serving stuff from brands you know, you go onto Facebook to hear from your friends not to receive three thousand posts from companies so, they’ve sort of strangled that and the only way to reach them is through paid. When we look at LinkedIn paid is pricier and more expensive, but it can get you direct in front of the right people. When we look at something like TikTok, you need to use paid because it amplifies your creativity – there’s a lot of creativity on TikTok, so you know your investment in the quality of your content matters so much that it’s costing you. It is no longer free to play on social media, it hasn’t been for the last five years, to be honest with you, and Twitter moves so fast if you want to be seen by the right people -your potential customers you have to use paid. So anybody who is doing social that is unpaid is not really very serious about social, you know, from our perspective, they’re ticking a box and that’s fine! If social is not your channel, but your customers are there right now, you have to be serious and that means investment.

Simon – yeah and it’s all going in one direction isn’t it the social media is just growing, there’s a growth in people’s use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – I saw some statistics before we started the conversation and worldwide, I mean Facebook is number one isn’t it, Twitter is not that commonly used compared to – I was surprised by that across the world Instagram pretty big, WhatsApp’s big isn’t it?

Katy – yeah, absolutely our Facebook group now reaches three billion people around the globe and yeah I know there’s lots of discussion about Facebook but when there was a lot of anti-Facebook discussions actually very few people left, and those that left the gap was filled and the gap has been filled now because one of the interesting things that’s come out of Facebook, which has kind of rescued it a little bit, which is that sense of community. So, we are connecting to our friends and family much more and we were also connecting to our neighbourhood, and our local communities through Facebook, so there are a lot of Facebook groups. Instagram has been growing rapidly, but it’s also what we call dark socials so that’s Messenger, WhatsApp the places where people will actually share quite a lot of information and what we see, although we can’t right now run ads in those places, or track once information gets there, so if I WhatsApp to you Simon and say ‘oh my god you need to find this pair of jeans from Levi’s’, Levi’s wouldn’t know we’d had that conversation. But what we’re seeing is that if you create the right kind of content in the other social channels, people will share that through their WhatsApp, so I wouldn’t actually say ‘you should see these’, what I’d probably do is take the ad share it on my WhatsApp and send it to you, and at that point, I know where it’s gone, I might know who it’s gone to or why it’s gone, I just know it’s been flipped out and sent somewhere else, so there’s a bit of tracking in there. And social is not overly complicated but it does require consistency, and you need to marry paid and optimize it, and you need to think about your organic, and you need to think about what you’re really saying to your customers and how you’re building those relationships, and how you’re building that profile, and how you’re capturing attention, on a screen that is about “that big”, yeah and I often see, in fact, I was on a call the other day where somebody said ‘this is our creative’ – it was for an event – words everywhere and I went ‘yeah on a screen that big nobody’s gonna see it, nobody’s gonna look at it, nobody can read it, so don’t bother, you know, so put that somewhere else, this is how you do it – so it’s not overly complicated but to give it to someone without marketing experience is wasting your time, and is better that you just don’t bother than it is to fiddle around the edges. I know this is my industry, but I feel very strongly that social offers a great opportunity but it can waste, you can waste a lot of time in it, a lot of time and effort producing content, getting it out every day somebody has to schedule it, watching your profiles to make sure nobody’s asking you a question all of that, and if you’re not doing it properly, you’re kind of wasting time – might be cheaper to spend the money going out and sending leaflets to people through the front doors, you know!

Simon – many members are Merseyside based, greater Manchester-based, west midlands based and don’t go beyond that, but you can’t be very targeted can’t you, in terms using social media?

Katy – you can, you can be very targeted and you can become much more local, you need to watch being overtly targeted, none of the platforms will thank you very much if you’re niche because you’ll pay over the odds. So there are some techniques that used to optimize that so you wouldn’t just go, I want to be, you know in, I’m only targeting Hulme (that’s the only area I remember in Manchester, Fallow Field around – so my daughter’s at Manchester uni) so you wouldn’t get too drilled down, because as you get penalized, it’s like boosting a post for fifty quid, you pay three times more than those that go through the ads manager and pay a couple of hundred quid. Zero in because they actually pay more per post, so they, you know, they get you each way – so you actually want to target the whole of Manchester, do you know what I mean, you want to get that volume up. Reach is about volume, not about frequency and so you to get the volume up so that you’re in front of all the right people, but not overtly, there’s nothing worse than seeing an ad every time – the same ad every time you sort of open your profile, it’s just it’s like on TV when the same ad keeps coming up, it’s just irritating after a while. That’s frequency, and you just don’t want too much frequency, you want to build that kind of place where you’re just going ‘hi, I’m here, look at this, I’m entertaining you, I’m telling you something useful and being informative’ at a time when you’re looking for snackable, you know, information.

Simon – yeah. Let’s talk about some examples of, some good examples of social media. I always think of Gregg’s bakers being particularly good. I notice on social media, which they are good on, but its marketing generally, I mean they’re really sort of generating interest in the brand

Katy – absolutely, when you think about things like even, you know in the past the vegan sausage roll which yes was very PR-y, very clever, but actually it’s more than that, it’s creative and attention-grabbing and they kept – they did a very smart thing in social media which is they created a 3D visual and made it very much like looking at the Space Shuttle, you know, when it as it turns and then there’s an arrow coming down ‘this is it’ kind of like that, in a very sort of i-phone-y way – the best way to describe it – really class and that is an audience that understands the tone, and that they understand their tongue-in-cheek audience. People who hear Gregg’s quite often, they quite, they’re quite happy to take the piss out those things. They understood their audience and you can see that again and again. Aldi the same, that they’ve, in recent weeks, they’ve carried their carrot character through their covert advertising, building that warmth and togetherness back in instead of just spouting about it, and they’ve done exactly the same on social. So you see a number of brands have understood the temperature of their audiences, and come out and won, as a consequence, a lot of value and loyalty as well. The most important thing is they’re memorable, so when people are ready to buy they know who they’re buying from.

Simon – yeah, that’s interesting and what about – I saw you sort of engage or discuss on Twitter on one particular brand issue, I think Indian restaurant – did, I think, somebody had sort of pirated their recipe book?

Katy – I just love it when you see good, basically good crisis management. So yes, somebody had pirated their book, and obviously, can you imagine all restaurants are shut down and they’ve launched their book on how to create their bloomin’ amazing recipes with lots of backstories and an interesting insight into the Indian cuisine. They launched this book, of course, it’s an income of which part of the proceeds also going to the hospitality charities that are helping the industry, and then somebody pirates it by PDF-ing the whole thing and making it freely available. So the temptation would be to send out a cease and desist, wouldn’t it, but of course this thing is in the wild, and so one person sends it out free, that person then sends it out free, so who do you send the cease and desist to, because it’s just escalating? So really, really smart, I’m just gonna read you the first tweet they sent out was called a Twitter thread, which is a tweet that is like link to another tweet and another tweet in between, and it says “Dear good people of Twitter,  I guess some cheeky so-and-so has pinched our cookery book and is sending it in illegal PDFs to everyone and their auntie over WhatsApp, Twitter and the like” and it’s a really soft, if you like ‘good people of Twitter’, you know, most people on Twitter, everybody wants to be a good person, then they make kind of say “this might have been an act of piracy’, blah blah, “if you’ve received it, you’ve got some options – the option is to buy the book, or give some money to charity, or donate some money here, and help us, you know come back stronger when things are over”. It’s not a long thread, it’s about seven or eight lines, and I can share that if you want, to put it in in the summary, I’m more than happy to share the link too, but they are absolutely fantastic, I mean just a brilliant response, and if you then look at the responses beyond that from customers and non-customers and people who’ve never heard of – what you see is just an outpouring of love, an outpouring of love because they handled it beautifully and that’s what I mean, you cannot put a junior person who’s not worked in marketing or communications onto your social media, because it is your voice, it’s the voice of your company and there are so many better ways in which you can use the tools in front of you than just spouting out about what sale you have on, that people could ‘buy this cheaper here’. I think that most of it, I’ll tell you what, I rather than give you an example one of the things I’ve been really proud to say is how many small businesses which have really suffered, and particularly those in the retail industry and these will be sort of smaller franchises and local businesses have – as I hate to use the word pivot, but they have pivoted their business the way they work, but they have because often the CEO or the owner or the manager is working in social media, it becomes wholly the voice of the brand, and, because they’ve got their time on my hands and they’re desperate to make their businesses continue to succeed, that’s exactly what they’re doing and they are so – so I could mention our local greengrocers or shop around the corner who does fantastic, none of you would know who they are, but for us in our community, they’re doing a cracking job of being supportive and really understanding their local community. So there’s you know rather it’s easy to call out the big guys with the big budgets and the deep pockets, but you know the smaller companies that I see really understanding how social works beginning to build that out. I’ve seen some really fantastic work.

Simon – that’s a really good example isn’t it and the pandemic then, one of the, perhaps, one of the plus sides of the pandemic is that it’s dragged some local businesses who were disengaged from social media onto one or two platforms so that they engage with their local community and sell goods and services, you know, during the pandemic.

Katy – yeah, absolutely and there are you know it’s very hard to go ‘and there’s positives’ out of such a dire situation. I was on a call this morning talking about, you know, we’ve already had in our business two bereavements with our colleagues, you know, sort of hard to go ‘and here’s the positive’ you know, in such a horrible situation, but it’s also terrible to sit here and beat our chests. You know, we’re in business, and most people that I have met who run small and medium-sized businesses who are really at the coalface of things, I am extraordinarily proud to know so many of them that are amazing problem solvers, that are going ‘well I can’t do this on the shift here, I’m going to change gear’ and there I’m seeing some extraordinary positives where businesses that are completely shut down are still volunteering, or still providing PPE where they can, or still doing something really. Oh, it’s just very heart-warming, and I think we have to cling to those positives that are coming out of it. From my perspective, of course, social has never been busier, but there’s also been a dragging in of audiences we wouldn’t normally see, so the boomers have joined because it’s a way of talking to their grandkids, the people who, you know, the later Gen X’s who are struggling a little bit sometimes with their social, have suddenly started doing TokToks and dancing with their daughters, and it’s fantastic to see this upsurge in community. Simply just saying hello to one’s neighbours – you should know, but you don’t know, because we all lead such frantic lives. I think there have been some enormous positive things, some great things have come out of it, of course, you know, in a time of crisis and change there often is a sudden switch up of entrepreneurship, and I’m seeing that across the board.

Simon – yeah and let’s just before we finish the conversation, Katy, what would have been the highs and lows for you of the pandemic? Is there anything you enjoy particularly enjoyed, what will you do differently – it’s certainly changed things, doesn’t it, it’s changed the way we work I think?

Katy – yes, as a digital business we have, moving to working from home is not a problem. We miss each other, we’re a creative business and we like to work together, so we will be going back to work. We’ve always had flexibility in our work, some of that staff work quite far away in the Home Counties, and so travelling for office locations Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then work from home, sort of, the bunker sides of the weekend, so that bit is not changing for us. What has, I think on a very personal note, is I’ve got closer to my team because, you know, you tend to have a little hierarchy in your business, and you tend to find that, you know, you talk to your leadership team because that’s what you’ve got time to do, the leadership team talk to the rest of the teams. But because we’ve all, we’re in a level playing field, because we’re meeting every morning to discuss what we’ve got going on in the day, that has been that’s been lovely. I’ve really got to know, you know and I’m in my mid-50s, and I employ staff who are in their early 20s, and it has been a real pleasure to get to know them and to see how they think, and what they’re interested in, and share Netflix reviews and recommendations, share recipes, we’ve had so much fun. I’ve really enjoyed that interpersonal bit, really, really enjoyed that bit. There has been some frustration, most, although most of our clients are still active, in terms of talking to new businesses, there’s been a shying away of talking to customers, so brands are not talking to customers, they’re closing down their marketing, and I get the fear factor in this, but your customers tend not to forget that you went silent. Or we’re seeing an acceleration of some of the issues that were already sort of flying out there, in particular, ‘is this company a company for social good?’ – so your behaviour matters. ‘Do I trust this company?’ Trust was always you know is getting a bigger and bigger issue, it’s now a substantially big issue, it’s accelerated through this process, so brands that go silent or turn the lights off completely are actually making a really big mistake. And there’s some Kantar researcher that’s just come out said that 38% of consumers already saying if they haven’t heard from them, I’m not seeing them, they’re not buying from them, so that doesn’t sound like a lot yet, but give it a couple more weeks here, it’ll keep growing. So I think to turn off your marketing, and I don’t just mean social media, any form of marketing, is kind of a very dark move. I know it’s tough when it’s staff or premises and marketing, but if you want to keep the lights on in the future you need to turn them on now.

Simon – Yeah, really interesting real lessons being learned during this pandemic – it’s been an absolute delight to chat again Katy, really appreciated, I’d say to people watching this, immediate future is the business, check it out and learn more about – you learn a lot about social media from you guys. Really pleased to have the conversation in the Downtown Den, thank you very much!

Katy- ah, it’s been a pleasure, thank you for having me

Simon – thank you

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