We Have to Do Something with Social Media #ButWhat?

We ought to do something with social media #ButWhat? Gerrit Heijkoop wrote a management novel about it for the event industry. According to Gerrit, we're doing it all wrong, and also the CEO himself should start Twittering. 

Kevin Van der Straeten
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We ought to do something with social media #ButWhat? Gerrit Heijkoop wrote a management novel about it for the event industry. According to Gerrit, we're doing it all wrong, and also the CEO himself should start Twittering.


Hi Gerrit, welcome back to our studio.  


Thank you Kevin, it's great to be back. 


Now you're here because you wrote a book Trending Topic, it's about guinea pigs. Explain. 


Well, in fact it's a book about social media and it's all about how to leverage the power of social media, how to be successful. It's my work. Finally, all my ideas, all the stuff I've been speaking about in the last few years, written down in one big management book. 


Okay, but it's not a traditional management book. I don't get a list with tips, to-dos and things like that, but it's actually a story.  


Yeah, luckily it is, because I observe that as I want to do my professional development, I see a lot of books I'd like to read, yet through the year I don't get to them, and most of them are very boring. You think: "ooh, I should read that one", and sometimes you start and you stop halfway. And that's because it reminds me a lot of school. So using the power of storytelling, using the power of the experiences, the business that we're in, I thought: let's create a novel. Let's create a story with main characters, that can also show the relationship of different players in the field that they have in social media. So we have an executive director, we have a communications professional, we have an event planner, and we have a social media intern. And in that dynamic; these all work at the National Society of Rodent Professionals, they have to organise their annual global conference, and that's where the story starts. 


But in the story a lot of things... You can learn from it, but there are also really big pitfalls. For example at a certain point the story is talking about advertising on social media. Should you do it or shouldn't you? 


It seems to be an easy gain, right? Social media advertising is rather cheap, it allows you to segment very narrow to anyone in the world, so why not? Right? And we all know the power of advertising, the power of repetition: Show them more and more and more... Now the interesting thing is... I am a lot on stage, and all my audiences I ask the same questions: what do you find the most irritating thing on social media? And somewhere in the top three it always comes up: Facebook advertising. In fact, I can ask anyone: "do you enjoy Facebook advertising?" "No, no, no, I hate Facebook advertising", or they ignore it at least. So then it's interesting that this Facebook advertising or social media advertising can create a lot of reach; that's what all the figures show, but you're actually reaching people with something that annoys them. 


But that's the same as TV advertising.  


Yeah, so I say: you shouldn't do that either. I know, the thing is: it probably works. But the question is: does it make the world a better place? Is it something that makes your brand cool? Well yes, we know some examples of TV adds that are super cool, that go viral on social media and that get millions of views. Why? 


But those are the exceptions.  


Exactly, because they're great story-telling. They're actually little movie clips. In general, advertising on any medium is super annoying and I challenge my audience and marketeers out there to actually be more creative, to have more attention for their customers and their crowd. Let's imagine Kevin... If all the money spent on advertising would actually be spent on customer service, and product innovation. What would that do for your brand? 


I'd make better products. I'd make a loved brand, I think. 


Exactly, and we live in a world, especially related to the topic of social media, where everybody is in this social media bar. Everybody is online all day. Social media is nothing else than a very powerful word-of-mouth-channel. So if you create better products and better customer experiences, your word-of-mouth is definitely going to work a lot better for you. It's the long run. I mean this is not the hunting method, it's the harvesting method. So yes, you have to invest. But I think in the end it's a more sustainable strategy. 


There is one particular case in which I think it might be interesting to do some advertising. And I hope you'll agree on that. And that's if you've just started out on Facebook or on Twitter. You have no followers, you try to start those conversations, but everybody sees you have no followers, so also no authority at all, and that's kind of a difficult situation to start in. Could advertising help in such a case?  


Well, let me first make my official point: I think in that situation you should kickstart your account by pulling in all the people that are close to you: all your employees, your friends and family, your suppliers, whatever. Everybody who is already involved with your event or with your organisation. That would already quickly get you up to a couple of hundred followers, so then you have already solved it as well. However, there is a fact that on some darker sites on the internet you can also buy followers. It's a very bad practice, let me state that very clearly, because they can corrupt your account and it's useless. However... First of all, in the book I want to show that it's possible. A lot of people don't even know that. 


That's why I'm mentioning it.  


Yeah, it does exist. And then the very, very little narrow road of nuance, where you could even get me to say that this could be useful. 


That was I was trying to do.  


You want to get me in a corner where I don't want to be, but let's be very nuanced. I have used this even myself in the past, where you for example want to kickstart a Twitter account really quickly because you're working towards an event and you want to create a lot of followers or a community, that you buy for 20 dollars like 2,000 followers. And then with that account with all the fake followers... Don't get your hopes up. You should never forget: this is fake, you start to follow the people in your community that you actually do want to target. And then they get a notification: "you're followed by this and this event", which is hopefully already in their interest. They check out the account and they see: oh, there is 2,100 people following that. Apparently it means something. Obviously, that could only be the start of the game. It doesn't take away that you have to create killer content, that you have to be nice, that you have to be engaging, but as a kickstart it definitely could work. 


Another thing in the book is: the CEO himself also needs to start Twittering. But doesn't he have something better to do than being on Twitter? 


It doesn't matter. It depends whether he has something better to do. If he is all about supporting his own brand. If he is all about creating great customer experiences. If those values are important to him, I think Twitter or social media... It can be any platform, right? It could be a perfect channel for even the executive director, to have the virtual door of their office open. It makes them approachable, it makes them human, it gives them a platform to explain the choices and the strategies and the stuff that happens within the organisation. So what they can do is: share some behind-the-scenes. Show us what you're working on, show us what happens, for as far as it is eligible, some secret stuff doesn't work for that. So tag us along in what the company is doing. Show us around... Show us your culture, right? I mean, you can put on your website that you have a very open and transparent culture, and that you're a very flat organisation... Well, show me! Proof is in the pudding. The second use can be that he can actually start to engage with potential people that have questions. Well, then you would say: "does he have time to be on there 24 hours?" No, you don't have to do that 24 hours. You can very well cap that. I say that I have a learn-and-lunch every Thursday between 12 and 1. And I take all your Twitter questions, and then you don't only do Twitter, you go live on Periscope or whatever. You really engage. And the rest of the week he's just back behind his desk working. I mean, there's time for this. 


For promoting the book you also used social media, of course. That's interesting. What did you learn from that? 


Well, I tried several things. First of all, all the people that you see in the book have a presence on LinkedIn, they are persons on LinkedIn. They are a member of the #ButWhat LinkedIn group. All the accounts mentioned of the National Society of Rodent Professionals exist. The YouTube page exists. So that's a way where I try to extend the fever. So you read the book, you've stepped into the world of the National Society of Rodent Professionals, and now this world continues online. 


And how is that experiment going? 


Well, that starts to convert. I see quite a lot of readers converting, to either connecting with the personas on LinkedIn or joining our readers LinkedIn group so that seems to work out. Another thing I did with the Dutch edition of the book, is that the book reads as a diary. Every chapter has a date. And on the date that the chapter actually took place, I published it on my blog. Kind of like a series. And then it said: next chapter appearing on this and this date. And I was hoping in the whole trend of Netflix and series and all that stuff: "probably a lot of people would like to follow that", and I was expecting this massive viral growth... It didn't happen. First of all, obviously what I did get, is an opportunity for 34 chapters to post on social media, create awareness about the book, about the content. The first few chapters got quite high interest, like 500-600 people on the first chapter, the second chapter was about 200-300, but the cliff... I mean, then it went really fast, and then by chapter 5-6 I think I kept about 30 to 40 loyal followers who followed the whole thing online. The rest of the people basically said: "tell me when the book is out. I'll buy the book". Like I said: in the end I think it was a very effective tactic. I created a lot of awareness and a lot of book sales. I mean, the first print is already almost sold out. 




Yeah thanks, but it didn't do what I expected, in creating this engaging, following anticipation. 


But even for an expert it's still trying to find the way. 


Exactly, and that's with loads of things, right? We try stuff, it gives us the opportunity to experiment, and social media changes rapidly. That thing doesn't work, the other thing does. Well, it's great to experiment with that.  


We're in 2016. What are the big trends for this year?  


I've done some desk research on all the different sources that make their trends list and put them on a big pile. There's a couple of things I see. The first trend everybody mentions is visual communication. Well, this is nothing new. 


We knew it, but now we have to do it. 


But what is new and visual is the power of video and namely live video. You see all the social platforms turning to native video: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, all of them want native video. We also see the upcoming of live video apps, like Meerkat, Periscope, really in the now. And I think that's because in the end we are all social animals. We interact a lot on social media, yet it's all in text and images and it's all delayed. The video allows us to give us back the face to face. And especially if it's live, I see how you respond to something, I can interact, so that's a very big tool that people should investigate and experiment with. Second trend: mobile. Also quite an old thing, but you see it over and over. And that's because by now we've crossed the threshold where people use the internet more on their mobile than on a desktop, which doesn't mean so much for your social media efforts, but it means a lot for all your digital infrastructure behind that. Your webpages, your sign up forms, whatever you have, need to be mobile optimised. Otherwise it's not going to convert. The third trend we see is: 'In the moment', and this is the fact that a lot of these tools go real-time; Meerkat, Periscope, but it's also being said that Facebook is experimenting with self-destructing messages. And this is because we're all suffering from content overload. And if you don't watch it now, if you don't watch it today, then why would you watch it in a week's time? I see this happening, but to be honest it kind of still... I find it difficult. It would mean that we produce content, like we do here, and throw it away after 24 hours. 


It doesn't feel good then. 


Maybe this is a generation gap. I'm getting old. Another trend we see is the integration of E-commerce. Last year we saw Pinterest coming with the 'Buy now'-button, we see a very clear call to action- button in the Facebook business pages, and it's predicted that more and more of these social platforms get a closer tie-in with E-commerce. Especially PayPal growing. I mean, people can really quickly buy stuff online. So you should be keen on that. What does your funnel look like? And how quickly can I get to the sale? And the last trend that you read about a lot is the crowd-sourced brand content, meaning so much as that more and more you want to think about you can facilitate people around your organisation and around your brand to actually start talking about you. This is a great opportunity for event planners and the events industry, because we create life experiences that people want to share by definition. They're out of the office, they're traveling, they're getting great emotions. Now as an event planner, please be really smart about what you do with all these mobile HD cameras in people's pockets and how you get them out and get them to share that stuff.  


Gerrit, thank you very much for coming over to our studio. 


It was a great pleasure. 


And you at home: thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.