In the 1970s German philosopher Jurgen Habermas concocted the notion of Offentlichkeit – better known as the public sphere, or “an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems”.
Some 40 years on, the advent of social media has realised his ideal tenfold, and the mass sharing of information in the public sphere is but a fragment of our daily lives. Whether it is possible to make sense of popular opinion, debate and discourse is another question. One that Spredfast is helping to answer.
At its core, Spredfast is an enterprise social media management platform, but that alone is a vast underestimation of its capabilities. For brands and marketers, it is a place to make sense of the swathes of data produced across social media with laser precision. So much so that Facebook and Twitter themselves use the platform for their own in-house analytics.
“We have very close relationships with them, they’re both our suppliers and our customers,” says Leo Ryan, vice-president of customer solutions for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Spredfast. “We listen to what happens across platforms – so that gives you a sense of what people are talking about. It answers questions for brands about their audience: ‘what content do they like? Who are my audience? People have liked my page – what else are they interested in?’”
Ryan has worked at Spredfast for approaching a year, poached from Ogilvy & Mather, where he was a head of social. We’re at a noisy restaurant in Bank, where he arrived by bicycle, low on phone battery by lunchtime, juggling a school placement for his son – but composed considering.
“I love the metaphor of conversation,” he tells me. “I’ve been doing this [social media] since 2005, and originally, it was called participatory media. Social media didn’t exist! But participatory media is more accurate: social media, as a term, is really dangerous – you put the word social next to the word media, and people think ‘oh I can reach millions of people.’ And you can, but that’s broadcast, it’s not a conversation.”
Spredfast is a tech unicorn, Texas-based, but on a path of aggressive global expansion, with London as its European head office. Social media marketing spend continues to swell as brands accept its efficacy as a medium for communicating with consumers.
Social media is a treasure trove of first party data, which brands can use to better understand their audience – but Spredfast goes further than just directing ads. The platform uses real time social media data to gauge sentiment around any given subject or place, and then converts it into simple charts and figures which marketers can use to best determine anything from where their money should be spent, to how customers feel about a certain product.
Ryan, fluent in anecdote with an Aussie drawl, gives the example of Land Rover’s Facebook page, which currently has excess of 14m likes. “When we dug into who their followers were, there were huge numbers of young men from Pakistan, India, and the other ‘stans. But once you sifted through the numbers, you realise that they’re not going to buy a Range Rover – ever! It’s a cool brand, so that means we have to treat that audience in a different way. When you look at the engagement, they love posts about the new Defender or new Vogue, but they’re not the sort of people who you want to be targeting advertising at – or anything for that matter. You give them two per cent of your effort, because they might share a bit of content.”
As a platform Spredfast is multifaceted, a place to launch and maintain your social media presence, while listening to your audience. But it can also help businesses to unlock and cross-analyse first party data within their organisations. One such feature is the ability to run competitions through its Promotions feature.
“The reason you run a competition is because you want to start gathering data,” says Ryan. “One of our customers is Euro Disney, for example. They wanted to understand which of their audience had children. So, it was Christmas, and they took their email list, cross referenced it with their Facebook audience, and targeted posts called ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’. Each day was a different post asking different questions about what they like, and one of the questions was: ‘do you have children?’ They then pegged all that data to their email list, and they could target more specifically – so they’re not sending people irrelevant messages. Instead it’s: ‘here’s an offer for you and the kids.’”
Ryan contends that many brands are “sleepwalking into social,” in that their focus is outmoded, a relic of the one-to-many broadcast age that doesn’t take advantage of the interactivity of social media.
With social media, he says “you have to think about it as a conversation. Traditionally as a brand, you didn’t have to care about people talking about you because you were able to just keep telling them about your product, over and over and over again.
“And this is one of the challenges, and why I think there’s an element of sleepwalking – it’s a muscle memory. The process of how brands communicate, especially large brands who spend a lot of money on their communications, is with a broadcast mindset. But if you don’t care about what the audience is interested in, by default, you only care about what your brief says you’ve got to get across. They need to listen.”