Beth Carroll

"Not The Time to Discount X (Twitter)" says Head of Social Media Beth Carroll

Wunderman Thompson's head of social, Beth Carroll, looks at the ever-evolving social media landscape

By Dani Gibson

Beth Carroll, the head of social media at Wunderman Thompson (soon to be known as VML) joined the WPP-owned shop from Iris this summer. She reports to Pip Hulbert, Wunderman Thompson UK chief executive, and leads a 170-plus team of planners, creators, editors, technologists and influencers across the EMEA region. Her role, she says, marks Hulbert's ambition to drive “human-to-human conversations.”

Prior to Iris, Carroll had social roles at SevenC3, Threepipe and Ash Communications. Her work includes the Starbucks 'What's Your Name' initiative and the collaboration with Adidas for Arsenal's 'Noble Red'.

The 2020 campaign with Starbucks was a poignant collaboration in partnership with the Mermaids Charity, featuring a transgender man person being called the right name. Starbucks received the Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising Award for the campaign that year.

The Arsenal 'No More Red' campaign, done in collaboration with Adidas, tackled the serious issue of knife crime. The centrepiece of the campaign was an all-white kit. The one-off kit, which is drained of Arsenal red, symbolises a plea to reduce knife crime in London.

Now three months into her new role, Creative Salon caught up with Carroll about the top trends in social media such as AI, and how brands should respond when consumers are increasingly rejecting overly-branded content in favour of authenticity.

What attracted you to Wunderman Thompson?

Social is an interesting discipline because it touches almost every area of the business. You need to have a really deep understanding of the audience data, but also there's things like internal comms and really needing to understand the community building side of things but also how to deploy social through advertising.

Wunderman Thompson is one of the few agencies in London that has the true depth of specialism in every single area and discipline of marketing that I can then tap into to make sure social is activated in a really holistic way. But also with their recent acquisition of Village (Village Marketing has long advocated for women's representation and recognition of women in business), and also the big existing social team, we genuinely have a good setup to be able to operate in a nimble way that's required for social media engines to work. It's the best of both worlds, the depth of specialisms when needed, but also the ability to be nimble when needed.

What are you looking forward to sinking your teeth into?

Social media has never changed any more than it has before and that's really true at the moment. TikTok has led us to a very different way in which audiences want to engage with social.

We are trying to build a whole team that is able to be a little bit more nimble and adapt to the ever changing natures of social. There is a genuine need to activate external content creators as necessary, while also establishing an internal team of content creators capable of crafting socially native content that seamlessly integrates into audience feeds. This approach aligns better with how the audience typically creates content. We are positioning ourselves for success, transitioning from the uncertainty of brand communications on social media, where previous agencies insisted on displaying logos within the first three seconds. We are shifting towards a more audience-centric approach, emphasising a human-to-human model. Our discussions have revolved around this model, not just in rhetoric but in actual operationalisation. We are genuinely optimising our models to ensure success and deliver the desired content.

Are there any significant trends you anticipate will influence the next five years?

The two biggest talking points at the moment are at odds with each other. One is around how audiences are adopting these internalised ad blockers rejecting really branded content. We need to be much more authentic and need to feature real people. Something created with a content creator can be almost 80 per cent more effective.

And then on the other side of it, you have AI. There are pros and cons to that clash but also undeniably a trend that's here to continue. There are things like AI influences that are emerging that are the opposite of that kind of authentic view in social, but actually, people quite enjoy it, because it's very obvious that it's AI. You could engage them in quite a different way.

That trend of desire and the need for much more authentic conversations between brands and audiences. Brands really only win in social if they're authentic is definitely going to continue. But it will also be interesting to see how we'll be able to harness AI in the future. We have an AI squad here at WT who've been developing lots of tools, and then we already have a proprietary AI tool. It's something that's going to continue on the same trajectory over the next five years.

How can brands authentically engage audiences through content creation?

It's about embodying the role of a creator—crafting content that resonates deeply. The key is to employ native production techniques seamlessly, ensuring it doesn't come across as pushing an ad intended for another platform into their channels. This approach instantly fosters a greater willingness among audiences to interact with brands, as they sense an attempt to integrate into their community. While some brands express concerns about potential loss of distinctiveness, having a product readily in shop with the brand immediately present often alleviates such worries.

Being genuinely transparent about our creative process and immersing ourselves in the company of credible voices is crucial. Collaborating with third-party creators to co-create branded content can be a significant success. This approach not only brings in a credible voice but also taps into their understanding of current platform trends. Some creators may even possess nuanced editing techniques that are currently popular on these platforms. This collaborative effort not only makes brands appear more relatable but also increases the likelihood of being accepted into audience feeds.

Ensuring utmost relevance is pivotal in a shift toward a more human-to-human approach. Instead of merely proclaiming brand messages through unavoidable paid channels, we're now focused on identifying trends and topics that genuinely resonate with the audience. Our strategy involves becoming part of these conversations, almost like a Trojan horse, seamlessly delivering our intended message within an enjoyable exchange. The goal is for the audience to feel engaged and a natural part of the dialogue.

Expand your perspective beyond mere content creation. It's not just about disseminating information and hoping for consumption; look at how you can embody the role of influencers. They should extend beyond social feeds, positioning themselves in relevant places, spaces, and communities. Engaging with the right people at the right times can be achieved through elevated community management or strategic partnerships with influencers.

Consider that the scope doesn't end with content creation. Social platforms offer a diverse range of formats that allow the audience to interact more actively with the content. This interaction not only provides a chance for the audience to play with the content but also brings them closer to the brand in a meaningful way.

What do you believe are the contributing factors behind the renewed interest and investment in social media?

It goes in waves. Clients are always debating whether it should be something that they random purely in-house or give to agencies. The big shift that's happened at the moment, has made it harder for internal teams to operationalise social.

You should be adept at mobilising big networks of external creators, a challenge for in-house teams, particularly when not handling multiple accounts. Additionally, engaging in natural conversations with various individuals is crucial. Managing a considerable number of in-house content creators is also demanding for in-house teams.

During a phase when the prevailing notion was to internalise operations, the current trend is leaning towards seeking extensive agency support to navigate the evolving landscape of social media. The prevailing question is, 'What is the most effective way to operationalise this at the moment?' Collaborating with an agency that has invested time in building an external network of creators offers numerous advantages. This approach allows you to leverage in-house talent and draw from a diverse pool of individuals to activate the right type of creator based on the specific asset you aim to create. In contrast to the past, where an in-house team might have comprised only a designer and editor, agencies now possess the capability to tap into a network of around 100 people, offering increased flexibility and versatility.

Any underused social media hacks or strategies that could help marketers achieve better results?

To maximise your performance, it's crucial to delve into the nuances of audience behaviour. While this might seem like an obvious point, the diversity in how individual audiences engage with social media is vast. I always advocate for utilising tools like Global Web Index because even within a single demographic, there are numerous attitudes and groups that exhibit distinct behaviours on social platforms.

Understanding these nuances is key. For one brand, the audience might prefer a more passive engagement, simply consuming video content. In contrast, another brand's audience might be inclined to actively participate. This understanding informs the development of a content calendar that is likely to perform well, especially when aligned with the right formats.

It's essential to approach channel activation differently for various audiences. Taking Instagram as an example, younger audiences often use the platform inversely to how others might. They prioritise messages first, followed by stories and then the feed. Brands should consider activating Instagram's new paid formats that seamlessly integrate into Messenger when targeting such audiences. Alternatively, they might explore participation-driven activations through stories, rather than immediately focusing on feed content creation. These subtle nuances can significantly contribute to honing a strategy that is properly optimised for success.

What platforms do you like right now?

I'm very much into Instagram. I have my account for days out in London with the kids that I enjoy updating at the weekends. I really enjoy creating that content and being part of that community of mums in London. Also, I really love Tik Tok, for entertainment and escapism in the evening.

Of course, a recent significant shift occurred on Twitter, a platform I've been part of since its early days. The transition to X has been quite a journey. Unfortunately, it feels like it's become a slightly more negative space and has lost some of its original magic. Despite this, I'm intrigued to see if it evolves into something new. It's important not to discount it just yet, as there seems to be a plan in the works. I'm also keeping an eye on Threads and how it develops. Although there was a surge of sign-ups initially, engagement hasn't been substantial. The dynamic nature of social media means things can change rapidly, so it's essential to stay informed about where different audiences are active.

Snapchat often goes underrated, but it remains a powerful platform to reach younger audiences. Currently, they're exploring exciting possibilities with augmented reality (AR), which could be quite promising in the future. Social media is ever-evolving, and staying on top of these changes is crucial.


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