‘For some of us, being part of a social media evolution is essential for how we work and what we can guide clients on – for others, like every media that preceded it, it’s just entertainment or a waste of time,’ says Matt Bagwell, creative director at consultancy EMC Conchango.
Bagwell, who will be keynote speaker at the upcoming Cumulus Conference, London 2009, where he will call for designers to use social networks to find new ways to work, answer questions and socialise their ideas, is definitely in the former category.
And he is far from alone in the design world, with a range of consultancies using social media in a variety of ways to service their clients, launch effective campaigns and improve the internal running of their practices.
Pete Hamblin, design director at Digit, says consultancies can offer a more service-oriented solution to brands by using social media.
‘Our clients already have advertising services trying to make them feel like brands,’ Hamblin says. ‘We can help them move into spaces that are more service-oriented.
The creatives’ job is different now in that way.’
In a recent campaign for Directgov, Digit created an application, Moneyspeak, a glossary which defines financial jargon.
Aimed at 17- to 27-year-olds, it was launched on the Directgov website on 22 April, to coincide with the Budget, and was designed to be embedded into social networking sites.
‘It’s bloggable and selfpromoting,’ says Hamblin. ‘We see the Directgov site based around service and information – it’s giving you something.’ Hamblin concedes that social networks as a platform can bombard consumers. ‘You can’t just pump stuff out. Twitter can backfire,’ he says.
A recent example of this is a Skittles campaign created by Agency.com in March, which saw Skittles’ homepage redirected to a Twitter feed for the search term ‘Skittles’, resulting in a stream of profanity and jargon being left on the new site. The idea was pulled after two days. Brands, Bagwell says, must develop intelligent ways to become an integral part of a social media space. ‘It may not be as simplistic as merely to be there,’ he explains.
Smaller consultancies are making use of social media to launch effective campaigns for their clients. Digital music specialist Paris Panda, which set up in 2008, was appointed by record label Wall of Sound to create banner ads for Grace Jones’ last album, Hurricane. Wanting to produce something more engaging, Paris Panda creative director Liz Worsley also designed a downloadable Facebook application allowing users to send Jones’ ‘gestures’. ‘It’s based around how manic she is, uses her fanbase and creates some youth engagement to get new people interested in her,’ says Worsley.
The use of social media is ingrained in the daily working practices of some consultancies before they come to create a design solution for a client. Code Computer Love executive creative director Wes Hogg uses social media predominantly as a communication tool within the workplace and as a means of conducting research. The consultancy uses Ning, a site that allows users to set up their own closed social networks for a specific purpose. ‘We’ve used it on a few projects instead of e-mail – to vote on different designs,’ Hogg says.
‘You get alerted, so it becomes an alternative networking tool. It gives us the channels and the tools to share ideas and it removes barriers, but doesn’t yet get creatives working together in real time.’ Hogg talks about increased use of ‘digital pitching’ and ‘listening’ to brands to research usability. In a pitch to rebrand the Seat Cupra car, Code Computer Love registered on the forums of Cupra.net to open a dialogue with enthusiasts of the brand.
EMC Conchango has set up its own social network, The Fantastic Tavern, a creative community that meets virtually and physically, acquiring 100 members in 12 weeks, according to Bagwell. He claims, ‘It exploits the connectivity that social media provides and is one of our most successful channels for marketing, brand-building and recruitment.’
Social media is also taught and encouraged at some institutions. At Parsons New School for Design in New York, a course, Internet Famous, encourages students to spread their work to the widest possible audience online.
Marks are awarded algorithmically based on the number of hits they receive.
But Bagwell, who will raise the question of training in his speech, warns, ‘I don’t believe that courses are the right forums for developing the empathy or experience of these [social networking] channels.’
The Cumulus Conference, 27-30 May, will meet at The O2, London SE10, where a raft of speakers will address the subject of ‘how technology, globalisation and sustainability impact on the creative sector’.
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BE USED IN DESIGN
- It can help move brands into new spaces, such as with Digit’s Moneyspeak application for Directgov
- It can be used for market research
- It can improve communications within a consultancy, through the use of closed social networks such as Ning