Jim Coleman: Getting .SOCIAL with an idea-focused global agency

Jim Coleman, Managing Director of We Are Social (www.weare.social), discusses the importance of a solid social media marketing strategy, and especially of connecting that strategy to your company’s values in this week’s My Side of the Dot™.

Where are you based?

We Are Social in London is based in Finsbury Square, but we’re also global, with 10 offices across 5 continents.

When and how did We Are Social get its start? What was the inspiration?

We Are Social is now seven years old. We started out in 2008 when our two founders Robin Grant and Nathan McDonald spotted a gap for a global agency that was built from the ground up to understand and help brands capitalise on the increasingly important world of social media marketing. Initially they were based in some borrowed office space with just a couple of laptops; now we’re an international company of over 550 people with 10 offices around the world (155 here in London). And along the way, we’ve built a reputation for creating award-winning work for clients like Adidas, Beats by Dre, Netflix, and Heineken, and for having fun doing it.

What would you describe as your primary services?

Our business positioning sums this up nicely: “We’re a global agency, delivering world-class creative ideas with forward-thinking brands. We believe in people, not platforms and the power of social insight to drive business value. We call this social thinking.”

How does the fact that you’ve expanded to more than 500 employees across 10 countries impact your company’s identity?

Despite now being a much larger agency we work hard to keep a small agency culture, where everyone from every team has the opportunity to get to know each other. We organise an annual three-day Winter Conference / skiing trip in Europe for all our team in the UK to get to know their colleagues, as well as those from France, Germany, and Italy, who join us at the slopes.

As well as this, we hold quarterly themed parties and monthly company meetings for our teams to show off what they’ve been working on recently to their colleagues. We understand that work-life balance is really important and offer subsidised chair massages, yoga, football, and manicures as well as free clubs like running club, gardening club, and film club.

We have an award-winning bespoke internal communications platform; a global initiative that helps us integrate all our offices, connecting our team in the UK to the knowledge and expertise of We Are Social’s global network.

Do you primarily work with well-established or emerging brands? How would you approach those two tasks differently?

We work with well-established brands. The shift for us at the moment is seeing our work move from social media executions, as we were doing a couple of years ago, to helping brands put social thinking at the centre of their marketing–creating ideas that lead a broader marketing campaign, but with social insights at the heart. Small businesses have a number of challenges when using social media, perhaps the most significant being that many channels are increasingly becoming pay-to-play; without strategy paid media investment, it’s hard to get eyes on your content.

What advice do you have for companies looking to create a compelling, relevant, and modern brand?

Brands need to define their values and beliefs as an organisation. People connect with other people around a shared set of values and beliefs. This is the basis of “good chemistry.” These also make up the fundamental building blocks of how businesses can build connections with people. Many organisations have a dusty document somewhere defining what their values and beliefs are, but very few have made these meaningful and core to how they actually behave as an organisation. Until this happens, your values and beliefs will remain internal; consumers will have no basis on which to start creating a relationship with you.

What role does technology play in what you do?

Technology and social go hand-in-hand. Technological developments are changing the way we use social media; just look at the rise of wearable tech. We stay on top of this through our innovation team here, focused on future trends and what’s around the corner in terms of social and technology. We run a monthly hack day between our teams to try and solve an unbriefed client business problems–if it’s good enough we’ll take it to them and iterate the solution until it’s something they can use. We produce regular thought leadership pieces that cover our views on innovation and how this will influence the future of marketing and social.

When did you put together your website?

Our website was created in 2008. It revolves around our company blog, which provides readers with up-to-date opinion pieces, our creative campaign work, social media industry news, and insights for brands and advertisers. It’s been named as the UK’s number one digital and social media blog by Cision & CorpComms. We have 15,000 RSS and email subscribers and our website gets around 50,000 unique visitors a month, drawn in from both client-side marketers and agency types.

What are some of your favorite campaigns or projects that We Are Social has worked on, and why?

Stand-out work from the last 12 months include Gamedayplus, a 16-episode Champions League YouTube series for sponsor Adidas, helping shift the brand to a credible broadcaster. #DontPanicButton for YouTube helped creator Zoella raise awareness around anxiety and panic attacks, while showing the power of YouTube influencers. We also created #IsPossible for HSBC to help launch its “Supporting Human Ambition” proposition, featuring influencers like Jamal Edwards explaining how the lessons he learned could help others achieve their ambition.

Screenshot of We Are Social's work
A partial portfolio of agency We Are Social’s work

How did you find out about .SOCIAL? Why did you choose to have a .SOCIAL web address redirecting to your current website?

We found out about .SOCIAL from a notification from one of our domain registrars.

We just chose to redirect to our existing primary domain of www.wearesocial.net as it’s a common practice to use web forwarding and maintain one domain.

Send comments to blog@rightside.co.

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