Observation, curiosity, authenticity: how to do social media right

Inside the Moskito Design office, team members work at rows of computers.

Observation, curiosity, authenticity: how to do social media right

I love that first moment when someone new joins the team, that first moment when you try to understand who you’ve got in front of you. Who are they, really? You size them up. You observe. How do they move? How do they talk? How do they act?
It’s the same at the park on a Saturday or Sunday. You observe people from a distance. You’re trying to catch them being themselves, being authentic, and revealing who they are. And it takes curiosity and observation help you see what they’re really about.

How Moskito got social

Not so long ago if you asked me to run a social campaign I wouldn’t have known what to do. Anybody can design one hit post. We’re all graphic designers, so we can put an image together and write a bit of text and that’s it. And we were doing that.

But run a campaign? Create a story that links one post to the next? Understand the right social media marketing tools to use? Study the results, adjust, tweak, improve and test again? That’s something else.

How did we learn?

Curiosity. And observation.

You watch. You study. You try things ― technically, creatively ― and observe the results. What gets noticed. What gets clicks. What gets likes. What works best.

At the beginning it’s a lot of guesswork. But that’s how you start to learn.

And, when you’re working with a client, you talk to the guys with the data and get the numbers.

Meanwhile you start watching other brands. What are they doing? You investigate. You pay attention.

You’ve just got to keep observing. Trying. Don’t do it by the book. By-the-book doesn’t exist with social media. There is no book. It’s something new and in constant evolution. If you wrote a book on it it would be already old by the time it got published.

Learning to do social well

Here we also got some help from an expert in the field. We examined a lot of case studies and got help making sense of them.

We also learned how to measure and what it means to invest a marketing budget in social. It’s not as straightforward as with a traditional advertising campaign.

What’s so revolutionary about social is that you can invest in truly made-to-order target. The ability to hyper-target campaigns opens up a world of possibilities ― ironically it can be the starting point, rather than the end, for a new creative concept.

In Italy there aren’t a lot of agencies doing social well. Of course some, like We Are Social, were born for just that. And they do a fantastic job of it.

But we’re not trying to be like them. We take pride in offering our clients a whole range of services that complement each other. Social is one of these. And making social media management work as one integral part of an effective communication strategy is what we want to do.

And who knows. In digital marketing and communications it’s hard to make any plans. We can’t say what we will or won’t do in the future. The only thing you can trust in is your own curiosity and openness to new things. It’s the only way you’ll know which road to take.

To paraphrase Italo Calvino and Carl Rogers, we are the result of a series of phases in which knowing the direction to go in is much more important than knowing your actual destination.

Before we were afraid. Now, 8 months after the first brief, we’re confident. You face a new challenge, you learn, you grow. And then a new challenge comes along. A new technology. A new strategy.

Curiosity, and the ability to observe, study, and improve ― these are what will get you through.

Finding your authentic voice

To actually have a winning voice on social media, authenticity is key.

It’s not the background image with the woman just so happy to be eating a salad. That screams stock photo. You take one look at that and you know it’s fake. Authentic is the guy eating the burger with the big mess on his face.

Authentic is things that surprise you. Things that make you laugh. Things that involve you and pull you in.

Those everyday moments of reality. The look on the faces of the people who are late for work and just manage to squeeze into the metro as the doors close. Whoever they are, whether they’re corporate managers, high school teenagers, or fashion bloggers, it’s that look on their face ― the moment before they slip back into their role ― that says, “Holy shit, I can’t believe I made it!” That’s authentic. And everybody recognizes it.

Being authentic is about being caught without your mask on. Or choosing to pull it off, whether you’re a brand or a person who works for one. You stop talking like some robot in marketing or accounting and you start talking like a person. About your real life.

Breaking news

Barack Obama was a great example of this. He was one of the first leaders I remember to use Twitter to talk with an authentic voice. Before the premiere of season two of House of Cards he tweeted to the world: No spoilers, please. And suddenly you imagine him there in front of the TV like you or me.

If the President of the United States can speak with a real, authentic voice, why not Audi? Why not Nike?

Of course, authentic can be a double-edged sword. Being authentic means some people may really love you, and other people won’t like you at all.

But for too long in the world of communication there’s been a really limited idea of what tone of voice can be. The idea was to have a tone of voice that offended no one. But now social media is forcing everything to be more concrete, more real.

Some brands are doing it really right. Take this one great Ford campaign for Valentine’s Day. Nobody buys a car for Valentine’s Day, but they still made the most of it. On Twitter, Ford actually invited other brands ― its competitors ― to an imagined Valentine’s dinner.

What’s radical is that they actually mentioned their competitors in their own publicity. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to compete with them. Pretend they don’t exist. But like them? Talk with them? Invite them to dinner? That’s not just not by-the-book, that’s throwing the book out the window.

The crowd knows

If you ever want to restore your trust in humanity, read The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.

In the book it explains that if you ask somebody to look at a picture of a table and estimate its size, they’ll never get it right. Nobody will, except maybe the one who designed it. But if you ask a lot of people, and take the average, the result will be pretty close to the authentic size.

And this is true on social. The crowd can figure out what’s authentic. Sure, you can say there are a lot of idiots out there using social media, but there are also a lot of really clever people too. When you’re working in social, if a post works, if it doesn’t work, if there’s something authentic there, people notice. If it’s forced, or fake, you don’t get much in return.

So if you’ve got to choose between the woman with the salad and the guy with the burger, choose the burger, every time.

Life of P

I got here 4 February, 2013. Aside from Giulia and Evelina, I was the sixth person here. The fifth arrived the day before me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were the nucleus of Moskito.

In the interview Giulia and Evelina were really clear. There was a big client about to arrive. They had a big chunk of work, and they needed somebody ready to do it. Right away. I really appreciated how direct they were. It was a big moment. They were really motivated and determined to find the right person to hit the ground running.

Looking back, it was the moment that Moskito Design began to transform into something much different, and even though we didn’t know it for sure then, it was clearly in the air.

I believe that interviews are really interviews for both people, the candidate and the hirer. When the interview ended I said, “Whatever happens, congratulations”. That might sound like a sort of ass-kissing, suck-up comment but it was true. I was really impressed. I had done a lot of interviews, mostly in Milan, and everyone at those companies was absolutely miserable. Agencies that were losing clients, clients that were starting to pay less, budgets were shrinking.

But Moskito Design was clearly a universe in expansion and on the verge of something big. Happily, in the end, we both said yes.

What I know, and what I learned

We’ve talked a lot about professional growth and starting out young on this blog. It’s true that a lot of the designers come here fresh out of design school, and they have to learn everything.

But when I came I had already spent some time at a big agency, one that worked on brand identity and signs. It was as far as you could imagine from digital commerce ― from brief to execution was a very long process ― but we were always under deadline, and I’d learned to be fast and efficient.

In terms of talking to clients, I was ready, too. Almost too much so! At the previous agency I was practically alone in the Milan office. There was my project manager, and occasionally someone to help with the graphics. I was used to operating fairly independently. But I realized that at Moskito I was maybe taking too free a hand with the clients. I learned then that I had to carry on work, and in a certain direction, that Moskito had established.

Because what I really learned here at Moskito was what it meant to have colleagues and be part of team. And it was wonderful.

I immediately discovered that these are people that become part of you. And there are other people that maybe at first you don’t share much, but little by little, a project that brings you together. The challenge of meeting the deadline. Getting the feedback. It’s a spark that grows into something bigger.

That’s something that I learned here. And it’s something I couldn’t live without now.

Growing into management

I had to grow fast. Because the company started to grow.

Thank god there’s a lot of us now. I remember when Giulia came to me and announced, “We’re going to have to hire someone else” ― the first one after me ― and it was such a relief!

Step by step you learn to manage, and guide, people under you ― but at the beginning you don’t know where to start.

You know you’ve got to give the brief. You know you’ve got to give feedback.

But you don’t know how to give feedback. You don’t want to be too severe. You don’t want to be too nice.

Finding the right balance is difficult. Even if they’re your colleagues, and you’ve got that great relationship I mentioned earlier.

But you learn, and eventually you get to the point where you sit back and realize that “Yes, I can do this”. It starts coming naturally.

Now when I give feedback I don’t second-guess myself. I don’t waste that extra moment thinking should I say this, or should I say that. I say it. Authentically.

I know that the people I work with understand me.

Now I’m relaxed, even when someone new arrives.

You observe. You find out how they work. How they think. How they respond.

And you learn how best to help them manage their work and deliver the campaign.

But of course, you still have doubts. And in those moments it’s great to have my colleagues and friends ― the first ones ― there to help.

Last things

Two last things. For me doing this job means finding an idea in a world that doesn’t yet exist and creating the conditions for it be carried into the world of reality. To understand the first step, I recommend reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Imagination and intuitive vision. For the second step, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Control and determination.


At Moskito Design, we’re always learning. 

Paola is a graphic designer and Agency Director at Moskito Design. She's always running at top speed, but loves what calms her down: Lego, cooking, the Lord of the Rings, Art, lateral thinking, Star Wars, architecture, jasmine, sarcasm and the sky at night.