In Conversation with Matt Navarra

Matt Navarra is one of the UK’s best known and in demand social media consultants. His expert opinions and insights are frequently sought by top international TV, radio, and online news channels . Matt joined us at Social Media Savvy 2022 for an “in conversation” session where he shared his top tips, trends and advice.  Here is just some of that conversation …

Career Advice

Yeah, so my route into social media was completely different from most people’s, I think. My first role in social media was 2009, I think. I was doing a degree in Business and Marketing, and I hated it and I didn’t know where I was going to go with this career. And I spent seven years trying to figure out what job I was going to do and I did various jobs. I was a teacher for kids. I couldn’t believe I did that. That didn’t work out very well. And then I worked for a Bank. I did various different jobs and I upset all of the bosses that I worked for. They all hated me because I just didn’t want to do the work that I was doing, it was just boring. 

And then I quickly found out after many years that I had ADHD. I didn’t believe in this whole ADHD thing, I thought it was rubbish and you know, no one has ADHD. They just need to kind of get on with things and I went through a process to find out that I did. And one day they said try this medication for ADHD. I took this tablet and was thinking what’s going to happen. It’s a bit like that bit from Limitless when he takes the tablet then everything becomes brighter in the room and everything’s like clear and easier. It was a bit like but less Hollywood, it was certainly a bit like that, and it transformed then my career really because I was able to actually focus and get work done. 

And so, my first job in Social was working for the British Government and doing really under the table kind of basic stuff for social accounts for one of the big Departments. Then six months after learning about the ADHD and having a process of learning how to kind of work with it, I ended up working in 10 Downing Street. So, I was working for David Cameron when he was Prime Minister and doing social for various big departments, and then from there I went on to work for the Next Web as you said as Head of their Social Media. So, we’ve had an event that was every year with around 30,000 people. That was six months of planning. There’s about 750 million social media Impressions over a week from that then and then finally I kind of realized I’d got to the top of that job and thinking where was I going to go next. So, I ended up thinking I might as well go freelance and try and do this on my own without anybody’s help and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years. So now it’s doing what I was doing for other people but doing it for myself and doing it for different brands but doing their newsletter. The last project I worked on was with Google. Google Arts & Culture asked us to do a drain of all their social channels and figure out what could they do differently. What would be good to future-proof Google Arts & Culture’s presence on social and what are the things that are coming down the line in that area? I’ve worked on various projects where it’s for people like Twitter and meta testing some of their features and products and then giving them feedback about stuff.

People ask me how did you get to do the stuff that you do and how did you get to where you are and I think it’s hard to give anyone advice. In the sense that the way I got to where I got to is my path and my journey. It’s not something anyone can really replicate. What I can say is that I realized quite quickly that just starting something. Starting something and then just thinking about how it’s going to be successful later on. just get it started. With the newsletter I do now which goes out once a week. It has like 20,000 people now that subscribe to that newsletter and the idea of it was just like let’s pull things together in Social so everybody knows what’s going on in Social. It might be read by somebody, and I thought starting from zero is quite depressing. It’s going to take forever to be anything worthwhile. But once it got started it quite quickly snowballed. 

That newsletter now goes out once a week and it’s now a six-figure income from that one newsletter, which is insane. The fact that it was me just figuring out doing a newsletter and it might work. If I hadn’t got it started, just giving it a go then and started from zero then that would have never happened. So, the newsletter did well. And you know I do the podcast now as well. But now podcasting is actually really competitive and social audios is really competitive. So that’s quite a tricky area for me to kind of generate an income from versus what I used to do. But for me, the other stuff is the Consulting t. I do o a lot of different projects, I have worked for people like ITN and BBC and I work for Meta and Google and companies like that; larger companies. And now I’m trying to think of ways to expand the community around it because we’re in this age of the Creator economy now. So, people more than ever can turn whatever it is they’re passionate about and make money from it. The tools and the ability to do is so much easier. The infrastructure you needed before and the skills you needed before to turn something that you’re interested in into a business is just so much easier to achieve and quicker. So yeah, those are all sorts of pillars- consultancy, TV work and newsletter various things.


Social Media Strategy

Yeah. I hate documents and I hate writing documents. I don’t think anyone loves writing strategy documents. So, I always try and approach that sort of stuff in a way that’s kind of the most common sense, the simplest but also the most meaningful and most practical way of doing it. And so, rather than give you maybe one specific tip, I’ll just give you general principles of how I’ve always approached it. 


I think first off, the actual exercise of creating a social media strategy and thinking about it, articulating it in a document or speaking about it with a team of people is often more valuable than the document that you’re left with at the end of it and so the end result isn’t so important. It’s the action of having a clear idea in your head and with those that are going to be executing on it. What it is you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it, how you’re going to get there. And so, I think that’s the best part of sitting down and creating a social media strategy. 


I think that the other thing is not to overfill it and put so much in. The feeling that it needs to be this all-encompassing most comprehensive thing, covering every social platform that we’ve got to be on -we need to have something on Twitter, -we need to have something on Pinterest. Not every business needs to be on every platform and most businesses, you know, especially those who are small businesses have maybe one person or maybe two if you’re lucky that are running social media for their business. And so, you have to make sure that you pick the platforms that you actually are going to have the ability to resource and do something with.


I think the other thing is to think about is what your skill and experience and knowledge actually is and try and be as brutally honest with yourself as possible. You can have all these great ideas about going to create a TikTok account and on TikTok, we’re going to aim to get you know, 10,000 followers by this point and we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. But do you know how to make a TikTok and are you good at doing TikTok? And do you know what works and what doesn’t work? And have you got the time and the skill and the capacity to do it? And so, I think you have to have that level of honesty and then figure out okay, if we need to do these things, can we outsource it? Can we get someone in who can do it or can I learn these things and if you can’t do one of those three things. Then it might not be worth being in your document for a strategy. 


The other thing is to review it at least every six months rather than once a year because as anyone who reads my newsletter knows the amount of things that change in social media in terms of whether it’s algorithmically or platform features or new platforms that are bubbling up, it changes so rapidly. A document you made 10 or 11 months ago is probably out of date and you’ll need to revise or revisit to see it’s still relevant in what you’re trying to achieve. 


I think the other thing is also to kind of make sure you diversify what you do because if anyone who knows anything about Meta, they are bastards for changing things and they will change things all the time. Only this week for those that saw that they had podcast as a feature as part of the platform, they’ve now said -no I don’t do podcasting anymore, Meta doesn’t want to do that. We’re all about the Metaverse. So, we’re just about getting rid of that podcasting thing. So, all those people who like six months ago within Facebook and Meta said we’re going to go big on podcasting and social audio. Now Meta have binned that and anyone who had invested and all the plans they have sunk are now gone. So having some spread of platforms that you’re using and not putting too much in particularly in Meta’s basket is always a sensible idea as well. 


And then finally, I think the other thing is building in opportunities to experiment. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing and making mistakes and getting it wrong and learning and doing things where it feels a bit kind of like it could go wrong, but it’s worth doing. Building incapacity time to do that, you know in my job at the Next Web, we always used to have like 80% of the content we made and the ideas we had and the things that we spend our time doing was on the stuff that we knew would work and we had evidence or data to suggest it would work or we knew our audience would love and the other 20% was deliberately like this is stuff that is going to probably mostly go wrong, is mostly not going to work but there will be something in there that will work and it’ll be amazing and it will be added to the 80% or it’ll do so badly that we’ll learn a lot because it did so badly .That was one of the great reasons about my job at Next Web. I was told from day one -just don’t worry. If you fail that’s fine. Just ask me forgiveness, never ask for permission Ask the forgiveness and do what you want. I asked how I know when I’ve gone too far, and I’ve sent a tweet that might get the company into trouble. I used to work for like 10 Downing Street and working all these government departments and my tweet was passed through 7 Departments of people and it was checked by a million people before it went out. So, to go suddenly from that to a company that said ‘just do what you want’ and my boss at the time he said to me just keep pushing it and tweeting, doing things on Twitter to the point until we get told that we’re being sued in court then I know you pushed it to the limit. Until that point, just keep going, you do not need to ask me anymore. So yeah experimentation is really important. You learn more from that than anything else.

t’s the most exciting medium out there. You couldn’t imagine creating an advert on TV or on radio and it going a bit of track, of it going wrong, it’s the perfect polished product but social media

more than ever, it’s always been like this, but more than ever now, you know, you’re very much forgiven by your audience. And actually, it shows the fact that you are only human, and you are people at the other end of it. That’s something you’ll notice in the way that brands are interacting and engaging in the content that they’re creating on their accounts now. The stuff that tends to do well, I know you’ve had Innocent here before as well, is the playful stuff. It’s the silly stuff. It’s things where it’s kind of little moments kind of unexpected even if they’re planned, you know, strategically planned moments which are accidental. They are still often the most entertaining and the most viral moments. And so yeah, don’t be afraid of making a mistake.

Social Media Trends

First of all, do not spend any time doing stuff about the bloody Metaverse, you know Meta and the Metaverse they’re obsessed with it. It’s so unproven at this stage. It’s so forward-thinking and so far down the line. A couple of small businesses who are like just two people plus one social media guy have asked me do I need to be in the Metaverse? Like no- do not invest any of your time with this, you know, it’s not to say that it’s not an important topic and it’s something that may become important in the years to come but for the average small to medium sized business and for many bigger brands at the moment, it’s a bit of a watchful waiting game and looking at how it could develop, what’s going to happen with NFTs ( non-fungible tokens) , what’s going to happen with VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality)  and are we going to have glasses and specs that are to be substantial and immersive and that lots of people going to wear and not going to like morons walking around . All that stuff is undecided, so I think for Metaverse stuff look, be interested in it, be excited by it but don’t invest significant resource in at this time unless you’re Red Bull or a Coca Cola. You know, it’s not for you right now.


I would say. I think the things that you know, the platforms are clearly signalling are important in the next year,  and have been for the last couple of years is social commerce so things to do with shopping and buying and selling on the platforms and marketplaces. You’ll notice that many of the features that the platforms are putting out now are geared around social commerce and enabling creators and influences and Brands to make money from selling stuff or selling an experience through the platforms. So, you’ll see more and more of that. At the moment there’s a war going on really between most of the major platforms to see who can make sure that they are the destination, the home of just discovering the products and things that you love and so you’ll see a lot of that going on. 


I think the other thing that is interesting as well, and we were talking about this earlier, is about creators and the Creator economy. A lot of the things that people have done on social media in the past is all been geared around small businesses and large businesses using social media to make money and to sell products and services. In the next 10 15 years a large number of people are going to shift their careers and they’re not going to be employed by people by big brands or companies. They are going to be technically their own business, but they’re going to find their forever passion and they’re going to make money from it and there’ll be lots more independent people doing that. People in this room today many of you might be employed by companies of some description maybe not necessarily business owners yourself. I think 10 to 15 years down the line that a large majority of people will be doing that. I think we’ll see more features, more trends in social media which are enabling creators and influences to monetize things so like tipping and subscriptions and newsletters and paid for podcasts- all of that stuff. There’s much more of that going on as well.


I think the other thing that’s interesting is to do with the algorithm shifts that are changing. So, there was a piece that I put out yesterday and I tweeted about there was the earnings report from Meta last week about how Meta has done, you know, financially. Within there was buried, and not particularly well reported, was a note from Mark Zuckerberg where he talked about the algorithm . For most people’s understanding of a Facebook and Metaverse algorithm is that it’s very similar to many others, and is based on engagement, based on your follow graph-your social graph; who you follow, who you interact with, which pages you like, which things you can get and done things with and that sort of feeds into the algorithm and it serves you the content of what you’re going to see.


But increasingly and because TikTok have been very successful with it, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned in his note last week that actually the algorithm is going to be shifted much more to ai-powered recommendations rather than all to do with the engagement social graph, follow graph. So, what that means is for example on TikTok, it does not matter if you’ve got a million followers or you’ve got seven followers, TikTok doesn’t work like that. It’s all about how much people hover over a video, how much they watch of the video, which content they scroll past, which bits they stay on and those people whether they’ve been verified or unverified, have ten followers or a million followers can become viral successes because of the fact that it’s not about who you follow to see it. You don’t need to go into TikTok and follow 67 people to get decent content. You just need to use the App and Facebook and Meta are now moving in that direction as well and you’ll see that in Instagram and on Facebook more and more you’ll see ‘This is a post recommended to you’ ‘You might like or because you’ve liked this other thing, you might like this’ and so more and more of your content in your feed will be like that which is a significant change because people are used to using social media in the last 10 years and have tried to plan their content around what’s going to generate the most engagement. And you know, how do we get more people to follow us and how do we get more people to like our page. Some of these kinds of tactics are becoming less and less important. It’s going to be far more focused on the importance of content and timing of your content and building a community around it as well.


The other thing is community which is an interesting one to talk about because every platform seems to be now launching features which are Community related. So, we’ve seen Twitter launched Twitter

communities. I have a Twitter Community for the Geekout stuff and we’ve seen that the Facebook groups has been very successful, and Facebook is now subtly looking to change ‘groups’ to be called Facebook ‘communities’. So, you’ve probably seen that shift, that changing in naming as well.  They’re building lots of features around the fact that you can have circles like Twitter circles, which was launched yesterday. Now you can just tweet to a specific group of people. But this general chain that people now don’t want to broadcast to everybody, and people want to have a focused conversation around or be with like-minded people around specific topics, in a space where they feel they can talk and it’s not the whole world looking on it. So, I think we’ll see a lot more of the communities and groups things.

I think the other thing to talk about is short form video. So, like TikTok, you know YouTube shorts and then you’ve got Instagram reels. You cannot go within any product of Meta without them shoving reels down your throat. You are going to like reels whether you like it or not. We need reels to work and so that’s continuing to be done. What’s interesting now is of course is that you’ve got TikTok is increasing its time from, you know, one minute to three minutes to 10 minutes and in Asia where the App originated (Yin its equivalent in Asia) has over 15-minute videos. And so, you’ll see now TikTok going that way with the length of content and then YouTube is going the other direction. It’s coming downwards with shorts and then kind of eventually both platforms will have some parity that have long and short form content on there. So that’s an interesting shift and it’s also interesting the fact that TikTok now, it’s had so much success with its short form video that they’re now thinking what else do we need to build in this. We’ve got the shopping piece we have been working on and we’ve done the short form video, we kind of dominate that thing. Now what TikTok seems to be working on is messaging and again the communities and connection with people because Snapchat has been really successful because it has a really powerful private messaging functionality in ephemeral messaging and TikTok hasn’t got that, and it lacks that, and I think it’s a little bit of a problem for them. So, some people will notice in the App now that instead of the ‘Discover’ tab, which I’ve got on in the App, mines changed to a ‘friend’s’ tab. So, I don’t have ‘Discover’ now, it just shows me a feed, a direct shortcut to friends on the platform. And so, I think we’ll see a bulking out on TikTok of features to do with messaging and being able to kind of talk around some of the stuff and be able to share things between people that you’re passionate about or you care about on TikTok which will be a change for the platform.

I think every conference I go to the people say do you find that social media is a ‘pay to play thing’ now, you have to kind of pay for ads otherwise, you’re not going to get any reach and it’s just, you know, you can’t get that anymore and to some degree that’s true. You know for most of the larger platforms and the main platforms, these are platforms have been around for 10 plus years now and so you will inevitably be able to get the reach or to reach the specific people you want to reach. There is an element of expecting to invest a certain amount of money in target advertising.


The platforms where there is more scope for something more free, and everyone likes a freebie, or organic reach is the newer platform. So TikTok is for anyone that’s not doing something on TikTok which is very few companies or brands. I can imagine that it doesn’t make sense to be on TikTok, you know, but there’s people on there that are Accountants, Construction companies, Airlines you name it. There’s is a TikTok community there and because it’s still a growing platform that’s got huge growth potentially the opportunity to have less need to spend money on the platform to be successful is greater there and the fact also that as we were talking about that its algorithm is different. It doesn’t work in the old way of having to have loads of followers and build a following and be verified. It doesn’t need that. It gives you much more scope to have some free organic reach. But all of this comes back to that same principle that you know, you have to have meaningful, great content. Content that people want to share, that is actually stuff that if you found it in your feed you be interested in it, you would stop on it, you would share it. You need to create that kind of meaningful, great, engaging content and the thing that people tend to make a mistake in is that they create their content and then just sink shitloads of money on Facebook ads just like I’m going to try and make people like this piece of content if I force it into their feed, and I’ll spend it so they will have to like it. Well, no, you’ll just spend loads of money putting it into their feed and they’ll still scroll past it, or they’ll just not engage with it. And you know, it’s a bit like that analogy, or that story when you’ve got the sun, the rain and the wind and you’re trying to blow someone’s jacket off. If its bad content. it’s the equivalent of putting lots of money on ads behind and it’s like trying to get the wind or the rain to force people to kind of read the content, but if you come to have content that’s sunshine and light and interesting and engaging and meaningful and it’s the stuff your audience wants and are fascinated by, people will happily engage with it, will happily spend time and spend money on it. And that’s how you should approach it, good content is really at the centre of a lot of this stuff.

Ashleigh Watson in conversation with Matt Navarra Social Media Savvy Belfast 2022.
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