Ep 02: Doing Social Media The Right Way – Interview with Joe Federer

Ep 02: Doing Social Media The Right Way – Interview with Joe Federer

Were you ever curious about how Reddit paid to advertise? How does organic reach work? You won’t get a better intro to how the algorithm works than listening to this interview with the previous head of brand, Joe Federer. Even more importantly, he pulls back the curtain around how different social networks.

When you really want to build an online community, what you need to do is facilitate shared experiences and shared conversations.

~Joe Federer

Internet dork and author, Joe Federer built social media creative and strategy teams at Reddit, Energy BBDO, and Ketchum PR. His new book, The Hidden Psychology of Social Networks, comes out this fall with McGraw-Hill.

Key Takeaways:

  • How the different social networks “bubble up” content based on the context that resonates on those networks.
  • How users manage their profiles and interact differently on the various social media platforms (Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, etc).
  • How you need a different content approach and brand voice to each platform to be successful.
  • Which network would work the best if you’re interested in changing the perceptions of your brand.

Connect with Joe

Check out his website
Follow him on Twitter 
Pre-order his new book

Thank you for listening! 

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Episode Transcript

Jim Keeney  [0:00]  
This is the point where we all get nervous. And we start figuring out what our radio voices are. So keep it natural. And I will add to what Katherine said, you know, go ahead and press through. Don’t you know if something happens where you hesitate? You’re not sure what your next thought is. Just go ahead and relax and press through. We can edit anything if we need to. But generally, you know, our feeling is that the, you know, the live natural presentation makes the most sense.

Joe Federer  [0:31]  
Yeah, that sounds great. I’m all in for keeping this feeling like a conversation.

Jim Keeney  [0:36]  
And Katherine, I’m gonna ask you one question. I apologize.

Katherine Watier-Ong [0:39] 
I know.

Jim Keeney  [0:41]  
It looks like my doc is not your doc because my doc is not colored. So you said you shared it there, just prompts. So, Joe, you’d appreciate it.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [0:54]  
All right, so today, we’ve got Joe Federer, which I’m very excited to introduce Joe. I used to borrow him for my team at Ketchum intermittently, ages and ages ago. Go ahead, Joe, Joe, give us all an intro about you.

Joe Federer  [1:08]  

I am afraid that I failed Katherine in being borrowed from that team because that’s certainly like it is a skill set that I very much admire. My area of expertise is more in the social strategy, brand strategy side of the kind of understanding of how we build brands in this social media dominated world. I’m also an author, I’ve just kind of left my role as Reddit’s head of brand strategy to write my first book, which comes out in September, and I’m very excited about it. It’s called the hidden psychology of social networks. And it’s my dorky musings on how the structure of Freud’s id, ego, and superego have re-emerged for us in the world of social media.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [1:53]  
Cool. Oh, and there’s my dog as if on queue. He’s usually in my office, and he’s very upset. He’s not in my office. But you’re probably gonna hear him anyway. Um, so Joe actually, did you get to start with digital marketing before you came to Ketchum? Or was that your first moment?

Joe Federer  [2:08]
Ketchum was my first moment, and it was a fun time because there was so little kind of structure around how brands do social media generally, let alone within the kind of Ketchum organization itself. So it you know, I started actually within like the new business team, but quickly kind of got funneled around to a few different spots and ended up on Ketchum kind of first Digital Strategy Team where we worked on social stuff for a lot of the Midwest clients that came in through the agency.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [2:44] 
Yeah, that’s not surprising. I’ve borrowed a lot of people that I thought had the gumption figured out training. So what led you to go from there to working at Reddit because this is the part of the story I don’t know. And I’m personally very interested.

Joe Federer  [2:56] 
Yeah. So you know, Ketchum was a really interesting kind of testing ground for me. I think a lot of social media strategy folks and kind of social media specialists start in the world of ad agencies. And starting in Ketchum and thinking about social media from the perspective of PR, which I think, you know, in general kind of prioritizes how do we earn reach, as opposed to how to do we kind of pay for a big platform and then try to maximize our engagement from there, looking at how social media was kind of bubbling up naturally, what types of content were getting popular across the social media ecosystem. I just found that Reddit, you know, even though it has a particular demographic, it generally kind of gets painted as a very like young male-dominated platform, which actually isn’t so much the case, regardless of the kind of particular demographic to the site, the structure of it and the ability for users to be anonymous. To be organized around interesting passions rather than around their kind of curated friends feed enabled this kind of really interesting content discovery that I found so powerful in informing how we created content as brands throughout all of the more popular kind of social media channels for marketers that Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, I found that when we looked at what was really successful on Reddit, that type of content tended to perform really well across the kind of social media ecosystem. So that was where I really kind of started to get interested in Reddit as a platform and saw this kind of potential to it. That was really to just totally, like uncapitalized on

Katherine Watier-Ong  [4:44]
Do you think this still is the case that Reddit stuff performs well on the other channels for popular Reddit threads?

Joe Federer  [4:51]
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think you see this, this effect happens all the time where something hits the front page of Reddit, and then it just kind of waterfalls throughout the social media Ecosystem. It’s not to say that it’s the only type of content or the only place that really popular content bubbles up. I think you see a lot of content kind of follow a similar trajectory in, you know, anonymous, Twitter, anonymous, Instagram. And then, on the other side, kind of influencer content, which also tends to kind of make its way through the social ecosystem. But when it comes to ground level, just user-created content, I don’t think that there’s a better hub to pay attention to you then Reddit communities.

Jim Keeney  [5:33]  
I think that Reddit really plays a unique role in that sense. It’s almost like, you know, a massive kind of ecosystem experiment in, you know, the survival of the fittest. Starting from the, you know, the channels, subchannel, and bubbling up. So, when you worked at Reddit, was there anything that you did to facilitate that, did you, you know, work with the Reddit crew to try and figure out how to analyze the content that was moving through the platform? And how did that kind of influence your understanding of social networks?

Joe Federer  [6:14] 
Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s a great observation, I think, you know, starting the brand strategy team at Reddit was a really interesting challenge, because it was not a platform that most brands were kind of familiar with. And you’re exactly right to say that it is an ecosystem of small individual communities, which kind of identify as subreddits, which then kind of bubble up content and trends to a broader kind of front page. And if you’re a user and you land on Reddit for the first time, it’s often kind of overwhelming because what you’re looking at is not content from one particular community, but rather, the top content from the I think now they say it’s like 130,000 plus monthly active communities on the platform. So there is a lot of education that happens in just kind of explaining the structure of Reddit to brands. But to your question. Yeah, absolutely. We found ways to emulate that flow of content from this kind of often small and niche communities which become these, this kind of bubbling kind of meme pools of people who are looking at the same content. They’re having conversations together with each other. They’re facilitating these shared experiences, which is, I think, I think, a really unique differentiator of the Reddit platform. You have people who are looking at content that is agnostic of them and is rather prioritized around the community. So when we were looking for, particularly when brands wanted to drive engagement on the platform, you know, often, you know, a brand looks at a Reddit community and they say, oh, here’s an example. You know, Hulu was coming out with Handmaid’s Tale. So they see Oh, there’s this great literary audience that loves The Handmaid’s Tale. How do we get them excited about this book or the show rather, in a way that will also ignite a broader set of communities to become interested and to kind of spark that organic conversation? So we kind of developed what’s what we call this layered approach to targeting which emulated the way that content reaches the front page. So with Hulu, we knew the literary audience loves The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s this great set of fiction writing communities on Reddit. So we took a prompt kind of from within the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, I think we asked something like, you know, you’ve escaped from this theocratic government in America and you’ve escaped to Canada’s little America. How do you rebuild your life? So we give redditors this in this kind of handful of relatively small, but really engaged communities, this ability to kind of insert themselves into the world to tell stories that are interesting for not just them to write but for other Redditors to read. And then after we’ve built up this great engaging thread that’s filled with user-generated stories, we brought in targeting out to the influence to the communities that we want to influence so in that way, we’re kind of taking an ad through the same process that a post does in terms of gaining momentum we started small and locally and then we kind of broaden it outward as a great comment thread or a great set of engagements are happening within that ad.

Jim Keeney  [9:44]  
That is really cool so thinking through that when you start taking that into the brand, you know, development world and you start thinking about companies and the way they engage and the constant kind of reminders that, hey, you have to be genuine, you have to be connected to your customers you have to under, it’s really interesting. So can you take the description of your experience at Reddit and move it to the commercial world and how that informs your understanding of the way companies develop their brands within the social networks?

Joe Federer  [10:20]  
Yeah, I mean, I think there is this tendency for us in social media. And I think we’ve been trained this way by interacting in these very personalized feeds, which again, like, you know, it’s super useful to me personally, to have a Facebook feed that is totally customized to me, that is, you know, is constantly looking for ways to optimize itself to create a bubble up content that’s going to be interesting for me as an individual. But I think when we look at how the internet forms opinions and how it decides on which brands are cool or Which memes are we going to use this month? Those don’t happen within these super personalized, customized feeds. They happen in places where people have shared experiences. So I use it to talk about memes a lot in my writing and in conferences. Not so much in the sense of like, hey, like brands should be making memes and make, you know, the Drake meme out of your brand CEO and blah, blah, blah, you know, like, there’s a way to step back from that and to say so, the word meme was actually coined in the world of evolutionary biology by a guy named Richard Dawkins. And it was initially meant to kind of parallel the word gene. So a gene being a basic unit of DNA. A gene is a replicator. So it makes copies of itself. Richard Dawkins kind of turns this question on himself in the book and kind of asks, you know what, what’s different about human evolution like what’s going on here? It’s so different about us. And he talks about the meme as a unit of ideas. And I think when you look at memes in that light, and you kind of say, Okay, if memes really are just ideas that are being shared back and forth between people, then as brands, everything that we post and everything we create is in a sense a meme. It’s just that as brands, most of the memes that we make are not successful propagators. They don’t tend to spread well. And I think when we can start to kind of look at these more tastemaker communities like Reddit, Reddit is a great example. Because it’s, you know, there’s such a great breadth of content that’s represented within the platform. But I think looking as brands to these places that are communal, where people are forming opinions, rather than kind of reinforcing and representing their opinions, which is I think what we do more often in like traditional social media space, like these, this kind of underlying sets of conversations that happen within the community, I think, have so much more to teach us as brands about how to build ourselves. And what we need to do to resonate with an audience that hopefully then spreads our message and evangelizes us, which was the initial kind of promise of Facebook.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [13:24]
Well, talking about Facebook, so do you recommend that your clients also look at Facebook or figure out a way to get into Facebook groups that are associated with their topic in a very transparent way, of course, but I just kind of wonder if that same kind of conversation is percolating in Facebook groups?

Joe Federer  [13:41]
I think Facebook is going after these kinds of interest-based conversations in a way that they recognize how powerful they are. I mean, I think you looked at, you know, Reddit 5-10 years ago, and it was such in terms of like monthly active users. The attitudes on Reddit were swaying the internet at such a disproportionate rate as compared to what was happening within Facebook. I’m a little bit skeptical of the group’s product because I think Facebook or Facebook has so kind of entrenched itself in this customized personalized to use social feed. I think when you when you really want to build an online community, what you need to do is facilitate shared experiences and shared conversations so that it’s not so much about what I as an individual am going to find interesting and compelling, but rather, here is what the group has decided to uplift as valuable and interesting. So, you know, maybe there’s away in the future that they kind of separate out your personal social feed from a true kind of community-level view. I just don’t see the product going there. I mean, that said, like, I think there are, you know, we used to go through this. It catches them all the time that the social listening exercises of hearing what people are saying across social media platforms are important. I think the context that we use to interpret those conversations and trying to understand if someone says something on Facebook, and someone says something on Reddit and someone says something on Instagram, that the context of that social network inherently informs what we ought to interpret what they’re saying.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [15:25] 
So Let’s peel that back just a little. And I know you’re hinting at the fact that one is anonymous, and one is the other ones are not. But I’m just kind of curious, like, what are the trends you’re seeing? Do you have a certain sort of psychology pegged to Instagram and you automatically have a filter that you view all Instagram conversations through? How do you guide your clients and looking at the different platforms with different views,

Joe Federer  [15:51]  
So, I kind of break social networks down in terms of not so much the network itself But rather the structure of the network. So when you look at a platform like Facebook, you have a mutual kind of relationship. Adding friends, right? So there’s, there’s a curation that’s happening, here’s my in-group, and the people outside of my group are not going to see my content. So there’s a little bit of kind of realism to the participation that I have in that space. When I say something on Facebook, I know that there’s a one to one correlation between me as an offline person and what people will kind of attribute this thing that I’ve said too, I think when you go to a platform like Instagram, so you know, if you call that kind of your manage self like this is these are the relationships that we build with the people that we know offline and who know us offline. And we are identified clearly as our offline selves. So that being a managed self, I think, when you go to a platform like Instagram, you know, you often have the same friend connections that you did on Facebook. But for most of us there is this default openness to our presence there. So not only are we reaching the people who, you know, we’ve followed, and I think that that verbiage is even kind of weird, I think it’s like that we follow each other in these spaces, we don’t add each other as friends. And that because we know that we’re discoverable by this broader world of people that we don’t know, through hashtags through our location through tagging, I think we put on a little bit more idealized version of ourselves in those spaces where we have this potential to reach far outside of just our own friend group. And then when you go down to a platform like Reddit, you have two totally different kinds of pieces of the structure there. So no longer are you identifiable as your offline self. You are anonymous, or pseudo-anonymous, whichever, whichever you want to call it. So you have this username that you make up that follows you around through your participation in the site, and secondly, you’re not organized around this kind of follows or these friend connections, you’re organized around communities that don’t care so much about you as an individual and are more interested in what do you democratically kind of offer as your feedback to this community’s content. And the community is going to try to take that into account for all of the users that participate there. So not only, you know, are you organized within a community, but the content that bubbles up there, it doesn’t matter if I’m in like California, or New York or Australia, if I go to a Reddit community on any given day, I see the same content as everybody else. And so it facilitates this kind of shared experience that allows people to be a little bit more expressive, to explore new ideas that they’re not really willing to wear as a badge within these other social networks. And you end up seeing a really broad kind of flourishing of the types of conversations and the types of interactions that people have in those spaces. So, in broad strokes, I think you’re, when you’re on a platform like Facebook, you know, what you’re doing is representing an idea or a part of yourself to your friend group. When you’re on Instagram, you’re kind of creating this; you’re manifesting an ideal version of yourself. And then when you go to a platform like Reddit, you’re in a little bit less filtered mode, you’re more expressive, you’re more candid, you’re able to explore these kinds of different places that you probably wouldn’t if you are in a platform like Instagram or Facebook.

Jim Keeney  [19:39] 
So the nature of engagement if you’re a brand, radically changes in those three scenarios, right?

Joe Federer  [19:47]
Absolutely, absolutely.

Jim Keeney  [19:48] 
Yeah. So it’s fascinating because you know, the nature of Facebook is that self-reinforcing of that interaction within your core small group And we’ve seen this play out on the national scale, you have, you know, you have, when people talk about being able to manipulate communities through Facebook, what they’re talking about is groups that are consciously accepting a limiting down of the world view. But what you’re saying is that if you pull back and you try to, you know, and you enter into a community like Reddit, because you’re constantly negotiating between your opinions and the consensus opinions of the entire group, you’re brought into a different space, whereas Instagram is really about much more about, you know, demonstrating the idealized version of yourself. So, you know, from a company’s perspective, right, it’s, you know, in one scenario, you’re trying to figure out how you can insert yourself into someone’s self-image. In the next scenario, you’re trying to insert yourself in the dialogue about what is the idealized version of life. And in the other one, you’re trying to engage a community at some level where you demonstrate genuineness and you demonstrate kind of, you know, social connection and things of that nature. Those are three very different forms of engagement.

Joe Federer  [21:20]

Yeah, I think that’s super well said and I, you know, as a, as a company, looking to places where people are forming opinions to me like that, that is, at the end of the day, what we are all doing as marketers is we’re trying to affect people’s opinions about us, you know, whether that’s like increasing our, like brand perception or brand affinity or growing our awareness or getting people to think about our product in a way that they hadn’t previously. And I think when you look at platforms like Instagram or like Facebook, more often than not, people are interested in representing their beliefs. And when you get down to a more candid anonymous experience like Reddit, these are the places where people are having the echo chamber breaking conversations. This is where they’re talking deeply about politics and religion and all of the things that you’re not allowed to talk about in other social networks. As brands, I see that and I think, Oh, this is where people are engaged at the level of their actual belief. They’re not just representing what they think, as a kind of social cue to their friends. I think that’s that space that it’s scary for us as brands because it’s a little bit less controlled than spaces like Facebook and Instagram. But, you know, if we want to change the perception about us, we have to go to a place where people are willing to change their perceptions.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [22:50]
So I’ve got a follow on a question about that. And it’s related to you know, this podcast is really focused on wins but also, the process and the tactics that you had to get you there. So I’m really interested in how you create a process around this. So you’ve got a brand, I’m assuming you help them develop a brand voice or they already have one. And then do you pivot that brand voice for each platform? Do you do organic and pay you do it together? Just sort of kind of curious from the theoretical into a little bit more practical? How do you advise people to implement the kind of what you’re talking about?

Joe Federer  [23:26] 
Yeah, it’s a tough conversation. And every brand has a different level of kind of comfort in flexing their brand voice a little bit, I think, you know, we’ve been so trained by traditional brand thinkers still like, want to be so consistent about how we talk about ourselves and what our brand voice is and what are our key messages for this campaign and what do we have to get across that we kind of we’ve lost sight a lot of times that human beings who are consistent individual human beings change their voice through these different social platforms, and in a way that is consistently them, but that changes depending on the context. So that was very much part of the recommendation and the process of working with, with brands, as they came on to the Reddit platform, to the question about paid and organic, you know, I think when you can find a small handful of brands who have found a way to instill themselves in Reddit communities in a way that, you know, they, they have just become fellow kind of community members. And I think that is something totally to aspire to. It’s probably not something that every brand is going to be willing to kind of invest the time and resources into doing. So. Most of the work that I did with brands within Reddit was trying to find a way to bring that authenticity and that depth of engagement through the ads platform and you know, like other Social Networks Reddit is looking for ways to kind of keep that product looking and feeling like organic posts, every kind of Reddit ad has the potential to function just like an organic post while being kind of recognizable as you know, this is advertiser-sponsored content. But when we were able to speak really, like relevantly to the communities that we were reaching, you know, people treated it as if it was an organic post. You know, the Hulu example is one that, you know that some of the stories that were generated from that campaign, like broke the Reddit comment link that had to be kind of pasted across multiple generations of a Reddit comment tree, which, you know, you just don’t see that level of kind of depth and creativity and expressiveness in engagement with kind of social campaigns on other platforms.

Jim Keeney  [25:55]  
How do you prepare a company for that? So you know, most companies and myself included, frankly, are constantly thinking about, oh, when this goes off the rail, how will I deal with it? And, and that sort of thing? How do you? I mean, do you do limit testing? Do you, you know, do you take it back to what is your voice? And what is your vision? Or what are your core values? Or? Or do you go the other direction and say, okay, you’re saying this out there? What if it went to this degree? How would you, you know, how would you react and what do you do?

Katherine Watier-Ong  [26:27]
I think step one, from my own personal experience, is to test your server. Because if it gets too popular you might have trouble keeping your website up, because one of my sites tanked because it became the first page Digg, back when Digg was Reddit. So step one, make sure your server is stable anyway.

Joe Federer  [26:45]  
That’s hilarious. That is, I mean, that’s the best problem you can have. Right?

Katherine Watier-Ong  [26:49]  
Right. It’s a high-quality problem.

Joe Federer [26:52]  
That’s really funny. Yeah, the process of kind of preparing a brand for that, you know, part of the reason that I actually started left out of Reddit was that I really wanted to kind of focus on working with brands in the organic space. It was a place that wasn’t a huge priority. Obviously, for Reddit, the company there, you know, it’s in terms of organic on social, I think there’s a lot of ways that every kind of social channel is kind of trying to funnel advertisers into that kind of tight, paid space. But I do think that it is a very healthy part of getting to know the Reddit communities is participating organically, insofar as you can add value to those communities. So you know, a big part of coaching brands on how do you participate in this space? How do you come correct to Reddit revolves around just the simple premise of adding value. So you know, if we can find a way to add value genuinely to these communities, and often the communities tell us pretty cleanly, you know, through their own conversations, what types of things will add value to them if we’re willing to listen. You know, when we do when we come as a brand, we have that lens of like, okay, here’s what people are doing in the space, here’s the value that they’re driving organically from their participation here, what’s something that we could do that would enhance that experience? You know, there wasn’t a whole lot of going wrong, we didn’t have to do a ton of, you know, brand voice policing, although that is something that we did a lot of was taking existing copy and kind of adapting it into a voice that, you know, might feel a little bit more relevant to the Reddit community that mentioned communities that you know, the brand ought to be aware of, of using the lingo that exists within these communities. You know, I think that one of the big differences in kind of mindset shift that has to happen when you go from traditional social advertising to community-level advertising is that you have to recognize that these are cultures you know, these are they function like culture does. They have their own norms, they often have their own language and their own verbiage for how they refer to different, like things that are relevant to them. And so, step one, you know, of really, I think any brand social strategy ought to be listening. And it’s just a different level of listening that has to happen for a brand to really find connection points with Reddit communities.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [29:30]
Okay, so I have a somewhat unrelated question because we haven’t talked about video on YouTube yet. And you have this post that talks about how brands should ignore video. I think it’s really interesting.

Joe Federer  [29:43]
Okay.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [29:47]  
I’ll tell you that it’s old. Just kind of want to get your most recent take on what you’re thinking about video on YouTube right now.

Unknown Speaker  [29:54]  
Yeah. So I first of all, Not say ignore video I like the point of that was not ignore video. The point is that you know, and this came more from working in bbdo where it’s like every campaign gets, you know first communicated through like a six-minute hero spot and it’s like guys that are gonna get 300 views on YouTube and fade into oblivion and nobody will watch it ever again like that six-minute video just doesn’t have a place in social unless you have a really really deeply compelling story to tell. I think as brands we just don’t have that self-critical lens often that’s going to that takes us to an alright person in the world who doesn’t care about our brand who doesn’t know our brand strategy. What are they going to pay attention to? We had chatted previously about some of the ziplock work that my team at bbdo had done and we ran a really interesting test with some of the kind of life hack and recipe oriented content that we made for those channels. So after we had some initial success of making a very simple image with text on it, that’s going to tell you how to use a Ziploc in a new and interesting way. Eventually, the brand wanted to start investing a little bit more in that content. And of course, the obvious route to take is, well, let’s make videos of it. And I think so, we ran a test, we found that the images with text on them drove significantly more organic reach and social actions. So like, comment share within Facebook space, yet, Facebook continued to tell us with a straight face that video is the most engaging format for this type of content. And so I had to like really dig into analytics here and try to figure out like, how can they possibly come and tell me that when I’m looking at the social actions that I don’t see, of course, they’re counting the two-second autoplay in the feed as a video view, which counts as an engagement. So not even a click on the post to somebody just like scrolling through the thing plays and now all of a sudden, that counts as an engagement the same way that someone sharing the post counts as an engagement. And I don’t know if I’m allowed to curse on this podcast, but that’s bullshit. Like that is such bullshit. So 

Jim Keeney  [32:34] 
we’ll give you a pass on that. since it’s true.

Joe Federer  [32:39]  
The point of that post you know, really it likes the point of the I did a talk about memes last year to a bunch of conferences that the point wasn’t so much don’t do video content. The point was, don’t just do video content. Don’t assume that video is always the best way to communicate an idea cause so you know if we say Step out to memes as units of ideas, then, really when we’re talking about internet memes in the colloquial sense, we’re not talking about like this, you know, if we look at the Drake meme, like the same idea isn’t present in every Drake meme, that idea changes constantly, really what we’re talking about is the format. So when you can kind of step back and say like, what is the core idea that I’m trying to share here, and if it adds value to people’s experiences in these feeds, then when it reaches them, and when they extract that idea, then we should see great kind of social, like, actions against that post. And if I house my content in exclusively video, then, in a competitive social feed, you know, someone’s scrolling through their stuff, they have to click play on that video or they have to click sound on that video. And if they’re in a public space, they have to put their headphones in, and then hopefully they maximize the screen. And so they actually pay attention to us. And then even when all that happens, it’s still a passive format. I’m still waiting, sitting, hoping that I keep attention for this, you know, the one and a half seconds that we get per Facebook post as advertisers. And I think so many brands would benefit from looking at meme culture, not in terms of, Oh, well, how could we take this idea and insert it into the Drake meme template, but rather, look at what organically gets popular. And often, it’s the most simple and efficient way to communicate an idea, which sometimes is a GIF. Sometimes it’s an image with text on it. Sometimes it’s just text like these are all formats that we should be experimenting with social. If part of our goal is earned reach, you know, if all we care about is paying for video views, then fair enough, but that’s a boring strategy to me.

Jim Keeney  [34:56]  
I think I think you’re also highlighting something important in meme generation which is the concept of it being writable, in that, you know, the difference between readable text and writable text where the author, the reader wants to insert themselves and the internet is all about that, right? It is all about instantaneous gratification, but it’s also about connecting to the things that we digest. And so one of the things I think you’re highlighting is, make sure that the medium that you use to generate your message allows others to follow on and generate their own kind of contributions to that message to expand, you know, to expand, you know, the core, the core shared concept.

Joe Federer  [35:39]  
Yeah, absolutely.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [35:40]  
I think there’s also a bit of figuring out whether or not the driving problem or question requires video, right, because we’re talking about one of your ziploc campaigns was the one that I totally saw on Pinterest because I use it for meal planning, and it was totally freezing hamburger and using chopsticks. Brilliant. Didn’t need much text, frankly. The chopsticks bag with a hamburger. It was that, and I shared it, I totally did anyway, but that didn’t require video. I don’t need a video to figure that out.

Joe Federer  [36:08]  
So that’s one of the ones that we tested with. We did three types of content. We did one that was like a link to a website spoiler that didn’t work super well. The image with text on it and then like it was a short-form video, you know, 15, 30-second video, something that at the time was way too short to be an ad. But the simple efficiency of an image with a little bit of text on it did the job better.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [36:40]  
Alright, so we’ve been spending a lot of time chit-chatting about other stuff, but I’m really curious about your book. So considering I can’t find much about it online quite yet, because it’s not quite published. Tell me a little bit more about what people would get by picking up your book and reading your book. What’s 

Joe Federer  [36:55]  
Oh boy, it’s plug time

Katherine Watier-Ong  [36:56] 
What’s the plug? I do want to hear the plug. I want to know if I need to get a copy

Jim Keeney  [36:59]  
Start with the title, please. Let’s get the simple things.

Joe Federer  [37:04]  
The title is the hidden psychology of social networks. And it’s a look from the lenses of evolutionary biology, psychology and anthropology into social networks, like why they’ve become so ubiquitous in our culture, why they’re so compelling to us what we’re doing in those spaces. And, you know, I’ve kind of let on that, as a marketer who’s kind of specializes in building brands in social. Like, my mantra is always how do we add value for people in these spaces? How do we take our advertising dollars and use it to create content that’s relevant to people that they’re going to care about that stands out in their feed? It’s one of those things that sounds really simple, but I think in order to genuinely add value in a way that meets people in the real world and doesn’t just sound good in a conference room, we have to understand why people are in those places in the first place. And if Someone’s there to manifest an ideal version of themselves. Or they’re there to spark conversations with the friends that they know offline, or they’re in anonymous space, and they’re exploring new interests, what adds value for them shifts significantly through those spaces. So this is an exploration of how we navigate this broad set of social networks that are available to us? There’s a huge problem for us in marketing right now. And that there are a million places that we can reach people with a message. Why should we reach them? Where? So this is a model that’s trying to put some rigor and some insight into a model that’s also scalable and allows people to allows marketers to kind of navigate that social space thoughtfully

Katherine Watier-Ong  [38:49]
scalable was on my mind as you were talking, so do you? It sounds like you spend quite a bit of time with your clients, and you recommend people do listening. I don’t know where that came from. Because I’m not pro-social media listening at all. But you listen to what your customers are saying and how they’re acting in the different communities. So then the next bit is, do you have some tools you recommend people use for this? Do you have a process you think people should do or their networks you tell people to just ignore? Because of how the network functions?

Joe Federer  [39:22] 
I mean, that’s, that’s a, that’s a big tough question.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [39:25]  
Sorry

Joe Federer  [39:25]  
I think. No, no, not at all. It’s hard to say that there’s like one process that’s going to fit every brand, I do think. I mean, I’m super curious to hear why you don’t like social listening cuz 

Jim Keeney  [39:36]  
I do too. I’m curious too

Katherine Watier-Ong  [39:39]  
no, I not that I don’t like social listening. I do like social listening. And when I was at Ketchum, I could afford something as big as a brand watch. It was amazing

Joe Federer  [39:47]  
right?

Katherine Watier-Ong  [39:47]  
That’s the challenge is that when you get outside of that kind of cost structure for the software, you’re I think your options become a bit more limited, and it seems like they’ve changed quite a bit with EU privacy Laws. And what they can actually pull. So that’s significantly different since I last looked at it. So that’s why I’m asking.

Joe Federer [40:07]  
Yeah, that’s super fair. And I the prohibitive nature of expensive tools is absolutely something that I wrestle with now in this kind of consulting capacity that I hadn’t in, in previous, like agency and Reddit roles. But, you know, I think it’s, even as just a user kind of going in and doing the kind of search for your brand term is something that I feel like it’s so worthwhile as long as the way that we relate to that discovery is not purely reactionary, which I think most social listening kind of processes have been this kind of, Okay, well, people are saying this. So we’ve got to overcorrect. On that. And I think, again, you know, to kind of return to this model of like finding why people are in these spaces in the first place. If we understand the lens that they’re viewing themselves and their posts and what they’re saying though, you know, the meaning may shift significantly, you know, I think when someone is asking a question on Reddit about, you know, how do I, which of these brands of whatever, camping tent, is the best for my need? They’re genuinely looking for information from people who are experts in that space. And that’s a really interesting place to look for. Okay, how are people talking about my product? How do the tastemakers and experts in the world kind of in this really candid space talk about me? I think it’s super different when somebody is on Twitter and they’re shouting a complaint at you, or they’re posting on Instagram, you know, a glamour shot of themselves in your tent. Like those are totally different ways of communicating very different messages to you. So, again, you know, it’s, it’s a to me that what’s missing from most of those social listening Tools is context, you know, you get those nice, like, kind of graph timelines of like, here are your mentions over time and then go ahead and like a drill into, like, what was the spike in mentions on this day? And sometimes that’s, that’s interesting and valuable. But I think, you know, there’s a set of qualitative insights that can be derived from just like doing that ground-level search, particularly within non-identity based social networks. So Reddit, obviously, being one of them, but I think there’s, you know, campers and outdoor enthusiasts have a million kinds of online forums that function almost as subreddits. Understanding what people are saying in those spaces, to me, is a much more valuable end because it doesn’t have this cloudiness of people trying to kind of represent themselves in social media to their friends, which I think clouds a lot of the insights that we can cleanly draw from social listening.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [42:57]  
I think that’s really smart. So when you are just pulling back a little bit more, because I know you help clients currently right now with social media campaigns, so what kind of stuff do you encourage them to do? I’m assuming because of your background, you might be working with bigger brands to scale. I’m kind of particularly interested in scaling. Is there like a set of tools? Do you work on processes? Do you help train the teams? Do you encourage them to hire certain people? Those sorts of things.

Joe Federer  [43:27] 
I mean, if you know, so far, it has really depended on the brand and the priority in the project, like what do we want to do? You know, I think the scale question I think, is probably the biggest and the toughest of that, because I think, again, we have so many options for how to reach people and what to make and where do we send that content first, and does it matter? You know, often, you know, I kind of coach brands to take almost a similar approach to the layered Targeting approach that I mentioned that we used, specifically within Reddit communities and think about, you know, how do we kind of create synergy between not just the things that we’re going to do within Facebook and Twitter, but, you know, take behaviors on, on Reddit and like across those social platforms, so that what we do in one area, you know, has an effect on the other, you know, there are so many times that we’ve that I’ve like watched UGC campaign like user-generated content campaigns come and go and generate a bunch of content that was never interesting to look at in the first place, which is such a waste of what is really an uphill battle and, you know, if you are a brand that’s able to accumulate great user-driven submissions of any kind, that’s a huge like, like, boon to your marketing, like platform. So what can you do with how you set up a campaign that speaks to the things that people are telling you. Like, if you create a user-generated content campaign, like one, make sure that you set up a structure so that the content that you’re generating is interesting and has somewhere to go after that initial gathering phase. And often, you know, I use kind of Reddit as the center of that, because people tend to be really expressive, very, like happy to create content in that space. So, you know, if you think of a platform like Reddit as your content generation engine, then what might be interesting to do with that content across your other social platforms, and to kind of then emulate the way that content naturally trickles through the internet, right? It’s like, you know, you see this with influencer campaigns where, you know, you do a great integration with an influencer. And then you promote that influencer content throughout the rest of your kind of social platforms that you’re interested in reaching I think the same effect works from the kind of a bottom-up strategy where we’re saying, let’s have people tell us interesting stories about this and then do something to, I don’t know, create a unique experience for those people who are telling us those stories or use those stories as interesting content for our broader amplification strategy. To me, it’s kind of, it’s what did uh Kevin Costner saying dancing with the wolves, it’s like, use all parts of the Buffalo.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [46:35]  
Now, it’s very interesting. Before I started consulting, I actually had a mentor who had been doing marketing consulting for many years. And that was her tip to me. Make sure when you create content that you can use it multiple times, either for multiple clients or in your own marketing, but if you’re going to put the effort into creating content pivoted as much as you can. So I agree,

Jim Keeney  [46:56] 
I think the other thing that you put your finger on is You know, we have a sea change in marketing period from the billboard, to dialogue. And the thing about dialogue is it’s an interaction and you have to be willing to change as well. And I think that that’s what a lot of brands are struggling with is, as they go out and engage the communities, for instance, generating user-generated content. And that comes back in, they don’t have any internal mechanism to incorporate that into their existence into their DNA so that they can then reflect it back out to the community. And so what happens is kind of the artificial, everybody gets excited because they can pile in and be part of that, but then nothing happens afterward. And that really is a violation of the social contract, and then they walk away with the exact opposite of what you wanted, which is they end up frustrated and turned off.

Joe Federer  [47:52]  
Yeah, yeah. No, I totally agree with you. I mean, I think part of the problem is that we, just As marketing organizations, we need to be braver about bubbling up the insights that we aren’t super positive. I found that in agency roles and within in house roles, there’s kind of a, you know, we want to show up to the right graphs, we want to show all the improvements and the wonderful things that we’ve done. And so we’re afraid to kind of have those, like tough conversations with the kind of broader business organization, but, you know, I also I, you know, I look at brands like, like, when Wendy’s was in its prime on Twitter, you know, they were a brand that they weren’t just willing to put out content that was relevant to people and that, you know, spoke to this like, deep meme culture in a way that was like, eventually kind of became embraced by that culture. When people criticize them. They didn’t just kind of respond with like; We’re so sorry to hear that. Please call us at one 800 blah, blah, blah, and we’ll get you to a customer service representative. It was like, No; they were willing to go out and kind of jab Back at people like they were willing to say like, Hey, this is our brand perspective. And if, if you’re going to be a jerk to us on Twitter, we’re gonna, we’re gonna do a funny joke on you like we’re gonna, we’re gonna poke back on you a little bit. And I think so many brands would benefit from that perspective, having a little bit more of that perspective of, you know, being able to separate out genuine negative feedback or a negative experience with the brand and dealing with that appropriately from you know, people just being jerks on Twitter and bullying you on social media, because that happens all the time like people bully brands on social media all the time. And so unless you’re willing to kind of stand up for your brand perspective and say like, No, no, we’ve thought about this, we believe this. It’s easy for you to kind of get into that mode of like, you know, everything that we say and do in social media is pure surface, and we are willing to like to scrap it at the faintest scent of negative reaction.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [50:00]  
Well, Joe, this has been awesome. I think we’re just about out of time. So I want to get in our last couple of standard questions. So the first one, which is the most important one, actually, well, they’re both really important. The first one is what’s the one win or resource or tactic tactical thing that you’d want everyone listening to walk away with?

Joe Federer  [50:21]  
Hmm, I think being willing to engage in genuine dialogue with people and I think, you know, Jim touched on this just now, but I think that is one of those art forms that is just so uncommon in brand social media, and it’s so craved by people being willing to like step outside of the response matrix and have a genuine conversation with people. And you know, hire a team that you’re confident can do that well. Like I think that is that would that goes so far for the organizations that do that and socially and build their brand through social right now. So, you know, in broad strokes, I think that’s probably the one thing that I think you know, just about every brand could benefit from massively

Katherine Watier-Ong  [51:09]  
cool. And the last part is how can people learn more about you?

Joe Federer  [51:14]  
Wow, you can follow me at Joe Federer on Twitter. You can visit my website, which is www dot an internet reference. com. That was funnier in writing than it is.

Jim Keeney  [51:26]  
Can you repeat that last one, though. What is this website? What is its address? It’s an internet reference. Okay. Internet reference.com got it

Joe Federer  [51:38]  
an internet reference. So I was going to make an internet reference. But then I was like, let’s take this a step more meta. An internet reference.

Jim Keeney  [51:49]  
And I have to admit that I’m old enough I didn’t get it right away. So my kids are constantly

Katherine Watier-Ong  [51:57]  
and make sure everybody remembers your book. What’s your book?

Joe Federer  [52:00]  
The hidden psychology of social networks and it should come out around September.

Katherine Watier-Ong  [52:05]  
Exciting.

Jim Keeney  [52:06]  
This was great. 

Katherine Watier-Ong  [52:08]  
This’s been awesome. Joe. Yeah. How much fun has this been?

Joe Federer  [52:11]  
Such a great conversation. I appreciate the grilling. Great question.

Jim Keeney  [52:16]  
Grilling?

Joe Federer  [52:18]  
Just a little, just a little grill.

Jim Keeney  [52:19]  
we’re just checking your brand resiliency and your ability to kind of go with the flow. You did a great job

Katherine Watier-Ong  [52:26]  
we’re just picking your brain because you’ve been working in cool places. What can I say?

Jim Keeney  [52:30]  
yeah. Well, you really genuinely have significant insight, that whole paradigm of thinking about the different social media platforms in terms of almost like personalities and how they engage the world. That spectrum is really something that I think is significant for brands and marketers to really take into consideration because we do, we do keep following falling into the Hey, it works. So let’s try it over there. And what you know clearly indicates that that’s a bad strategy.

Joe Federer  [53:08]  
I very much appreciate that. Yeah, I do think there is a big problem of us not fully understanding the context with which we’re engaging in brands and social media. And I think a lot of the big brand debacles are just you know, they happen with a lot of great strategies and smart thinking behind them but they just kind of lacked the self-awareness of what are people doing here? What are the types of conversations they’re having?

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