Andrew Davis cut his teeth during the social media explosion, he was a key player in some of the most prolific networking sites at the beginning of the millennium, such as Myspace and Friends Reunited. Having lived and worked through two decades of social media trends, Andrew Davis is an expert in online communities. We spoke to him to find out how best to convert online likes into tangible business, why Myspace rose and fell so quickly and why both nothing and everything has changed over the past two decades of social media.
You joined MySpace in its very early days and stayed with it to see the rise and fall of the platform. What was it that worked and didn't work about the site?
What worked in the early days was the general viral nature of the new website. Everybody was talking about this new website that had the capabilities for you to create your own website within it and connect with other people easily. It worked because it appealed to human psychology, it was a space where you could express yourself and the features the site had such as the ability to choose your top 8 friends struck a chord with people and encouraged them to connect.
Plus, celebrities were talking about it too, mainly musicians, but the word was still out there. As these celebrities began to join in with the MySpace conversation it opened up the possibility for users to talk to their favourite musicians. You could now have a conversation with the Artic Monkeys, which was incredible for the time.
Myspace was one of the first social media websites
As a website, we had no competition. There was only us and Bebo at the time which was both a good and bad thing. For a while, it helped that we had no competition as we as a company capitalised on that. We managed to create partnerships between big companies that had with big audiences such as MTV and Channel 4, we were creating great content that a lot of people wanted to be a part of it.
On the other hand, the platform was built on quicksand. It was old technology going into a new world. The system kept crashing and there was a lot of spam on the site. Eventually, this annoyed people and they migrated to Facebook, a similar networking page without the problems of Myspace, it provided a smoother experience.
When Facebook launched it allowed users the possibility to email their whole address book with an invite to this site, at the time this was incredibly new and exciting. Anyone who received that message now would consider it spam, but this was new territory.
Myspace was being endorsed by big companies
Speaking of new territory, how can companies who are doing business online to a new set of consumers best use their social media to not only sell to their immediate customers but to promote an overall message of what their brand stands for?
The key thing for social media is understanding the content that you are going to create. First, you need to find the content, then you need to know the platform and then know the story you are going to tell. The story should be a mixture of cool branding, lifestyle and only a small amount of selling. Companies need to build their personalities online for the right people need to find their content.
Once this great branded content is found by the right people, companies need to build and nurture the community. You can do this by talking about valuable content and getting involved in relevant conversations. These conversations will lead to users to like or subscribing to your site, if you can turn a conversation into some sort of action, that is how social media turns from a hobby to a business.
You have been involved with social media conversations for nearly two decades now, from your years working on different social media platforms, what trends and patterns have you spotted?
Nothing has changed over the last 16 I have been working in digital/everything has changed. When I say nothing has changed, I mean we still need something to sell, somewhere to sell it and someone to sell it to. But, what has changed is technology and behaviour – this changes all the time. No longer are we selling on chatrooms and basic websites, now it all goes on on different apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. As behaviour changes, consumerism reacts to this and this is a trend which will always exist.
Companies now sell products on Snapchat
So how do you stay ahead of the trend?
It is a case of mastering curation, you need to be able to accept that there are a million experts, but only follow a few and be happy to let go of the rest. To keep up with the trends I spend 80% looking for the right teacher, and 20% of my time knowing enough about my subject to make sure my teacher is making sense. Through listening to them, I learn what I can and take recommendations when I receive them. I also learn a lot from my training too, people tell me things and ask questions which I can go away and find the answer to, I find this whole process exciting.
What is your top tip for how companies can convert their content online into real customers?
To convert you need three things, a plan, skill set and discipline. The plan is your framework and strategy, how you are going to tackle your business. The plan can’t be to just gain more likes; companies need to have a 'so what' factor. By skill set, I mean ensuring the staff have the correct training. You need someone to execute the plan, otherwise it will flop.
Thirdly, discipline. By this, I mean companies need to have patience, consistence and remember that things don’t happen overnight. A personal trainer wouldn’t expect their client to lose 3 stone by next week, the same applies in digital. But, in a rare case, if you did go viral overnight, you would need a plan as to what happens next, and how to manage your new-found community.
Andrew's three tips are: plan, skill set, discipline
For four years you sat on the Ofcom Advisory Committee, what did you learn from this experience and what lessons will you be carrying forward with you?
I learnt how important infrastructure is in this country, technology is catching up with ideas, so we can now make things happen. The problem is implementing ideas, rules and regulations are holding us back.
It is both a good and a bad thing that we are being held back, as it means people can’t run wild, but also if the UK becomes even more limited by rules then the top talent could end up going elsewhere and this would stop tech being one of best assets.
Thank you, Andrew for some very interesting insights. For companies trying to improve their social media, key takeaways are planning, improving your skillset and discipline, we will certainly be endeavouring to implement these strategies!
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