“Great social is great social power” says Tessa Barrera, opening her talk for Social Media Week at the HQ of the Lexis Agency: “What a man jumping from space can teach us about socially powered live events”.
But how, as the title of the lecture asked, what can sending a man to space teach us about harnessing the power of social?
What becomes immediate from Barrera’s wealth of social marketing wisdom, is big budget does not equate to big success. Raw Go Pro footage of a man barrelling down a mountain out performs intimately edited episodes about mountain bikers. Oreo’s entire Superbowl budget (incorporating two mega agencies, multiple influencers and one picture of an Oreo) cost far more than the price of launching a man from the fringes of space back to earth.
The accompanying picture seen by over 8 million people around the world was a snapshot of a laptop screen.
Taking the first example of the Atherton mountain biking family of Wales, Barrera explains, the finished 10 minute episodes caused her a moment of concern before uploading them to the Red Bull social channels.
“I watched them and thought they were terrific, and the whole company was pushing me to post these up. We’d spent a lot of money on these episodes, and I knew we should probably post them. But I knew they wouldn’t work. How many of you would watch a 10 minute video on Facebook? You get bored, you skip through.”
Barrera’s alternative plan was to edit 1 minute of downhill mayhem captured by the cyclist’s helmet camera. The footage was rough, she made no reference to the full-length episodes which had been so meticulously pieced together, she simply uploaded it with the tagline:
50,000 likes and 17,000 shares later, that’s a lot of PR for a company at the cost of a piece of Go Pro footage.
“We trusted that people would want to share the content, and we got the results we wanted just by being authentic members of our community,” she explains.
The power of social, therefore, comes not from the brand message being forced down the throats of followers, but from those followers leading the discussion about your brand. Social power comes from appealing to the oft-overlooked emotional side of the human psyche, and embracing a new way of approaching marketing. One where the consumer takes control and leads the brand message.
If people don’t care, they won’t share.
Recognising the Red Bull events as a potential source, Barrera sought to investigate why they were not being talked about on social. Taking a step back from her marketing role, she approached one of Red Bull’s most popular events, Flugtag, simply as a spectator.
“I was hanging out with my friends, drinking. It was difficult to capture the craft in time on my phone. There’s 100,000 people there so it’s hard to get a great photo. We were in Austria, so my data plan wasn’t free. There were all these barriers to entry which stop people from sharing. You have to understand what the user experience is at the event.”
Enter posters reminding viewers to share their experiences on social, carrying the Red Bull @handles and #hashtags. Enter free wifi for ticket holders. Enter social info on wristbands.
“You start to build things into the downtime of events, so they can vote on their favourite craft and tweet their reaction. You’re not forcing it, you’re just giving them the tools,” she says.
But Red Bull soon had their sights set on higher things. 148,000 feet above the earth, to be precise.
Even for a project of this magnitude, which broke world social and medical records, commanded a full 1% of Twitter conversation and took 8.4 million concurrent views, Barrera is quick to bring everyone right back down to earth:
“You have to realise you’re just a speck in the ocean of what’s going on digitally; there are thousands of other events which are happening that very same day. There are thousands of other products launching and millions of other pieces of content being created. People are having life crises, people are at joyous events. There’s a ton of chatter. And as a brand you’re not that important. The way you get that important is to get other little specks in the ocean to start talking about you.”
Power is the currency of the social media realm, a point which Barrera emphasises when explaining about the importance of ‘the journey’ in bringing people to your brand. A 5 minute ‘highlights’ video looks like a marketing gimmick; the careful release of secret URL’s plants power. It’s the same principle, she explains, as finding a really fun YouTube video which is still in viral infancy (around 20,000 hits or less) and being the first of your friends to share it. The very act of sharing novel content equates to an acquisition of digital power.
Why was everyone at Red Bull, from core team to student brand managers, on board with this project? Because it projected them into the heights of social power, just as Baumgartner was projected onto the edges of space.
Distribution, says Barrera, was the other key feature of Stratos’ success.
“You didn’t have to go to RedBullStratos.com” she explains. “Wherever you wanted to go it would be there. It was a big ask for websites as we couldn’t give a specific date or time, or even the format the video would be in. We just had to ask them to reserve spot for us.”
This included, naturally, big social media networks. Twitter would be utilised as the platform where conversations would happen in real time, with comments embedded in the live stream.
“We talked to Facebook,” says Barrera, “but they wanted a whole lot of money to build a page for us where they could embed the live stream. It was the same problem – driving people towards a location is bad user experience. Then we hit upon YouTube. It has the stability, every website is comfortable embedding a YouTube video and we partnered with them as it seemed like a no brainer”.
But the distribution idea was taken further, and all thoughts of being “content precious” were removed. All videos, images and other content would be made easily and publicly available, for free.
“We gave people more opportunities to talk about it in their own way, and authentically to them. You don’t want to have to be forced to share another brand,” says Barrera, “you want that moment of discovery. That moment of cool.”
The new age of marketing isn’t, then, about an antiquated “brand message”, but allowing followers to express interesting content in ways which are personal to them. It’s not only the content that matters, but the way it is discovered and shared too – and in some cases not forcing the brand in where it isn’t needed. Marketing authenticity has replaced marketing aggression.
Barrera also took the decision to directly violate one of Red Bull’s key social characteristics by replying to everyone who contacted the brand to talk about Stratos, whether positive or negative. Previously, one of Red Bull’s defining features had been an air of mystery, but in the evolving social sphere it was a rule which needed to be broken.
As the team watched the number of people tuning in to the Facebook event page, moving from 30,000 to 40,000 to 400,000 to 4,000,000 with no signs of slowing, the digital conversations went through the roof. Video, celebrity tweets, viewing parties; the campaign had more success than the team was even prepared for.
“That was the moment we realised ‘Crap. We don’t know what we’re doing when he lands!’” laughs Barrera.
The original post-land photo shoot would have delayed uploading fresh content by around 4 hours, which isn’t an option when you have 8.4 million individuals looking at your brand’s social channels. Reactivity is another part of social success, video and press photos (including the hastily taken iPhone snap of a laptop screen) were hastily shot and uploaded.
“We understood what people needed,” reminisces Barrera. “They needed something at that time, so we gave them it. It’s not rocket science, it’s just understanding and being there on the platforms. We kept releasing content in an authentic way which wasn’t promotional.”
And the results speak for themselves: 150 million views, a 15% global increase in sales, and a 7% increase in the volume of positive conversation around Red Bull – even 6 months after the event.
But for Barrera, it’s all just a day in the office, where the abnormal becomes the normal.
“It’s not really costing you money. It’s costing you the idea and the strategy behind it,” she explains. “You shouldn’t think of social as just a Facebook post. Think of it as strategy. Think about the user experience as to how people interact with social, whether with content or at an event. From there you can get luckier, you can build more opportunities in for people to share. Social was built for people, it wasn’t built for brands. Brands just came on because they saw a whole lot of people there.”
And don’t be fooled by epic superbowl-style one-offs when it comes to socialising your small business.
“You don’t win with one post on social. You win because people are starting to lead the message for you.”