Digital People: An Interview with Matt Owen, Econsultancy

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Continuing our series of interview with key figures in the digital community, we caught up with one of Econsultancy‘s social media stalwarts.  Matt Owen has been the Head of Social at Econsultancy since 2010, leading community engagement and growth whilst maintaining Econsultancy’s global social strategy and architecture.

Matt is in a constant state of connectivity, maintaining links with a community of 200,000+ digital marketers on a daily basis across a variety of social media channels.  If there is anyone in the industry who is guaranteed to have their finger on the pulse of social media, it is Matt Owen.


What do you think has been the most influential change in social media in the past five years?

Well, Social Media for business has really only been with us for about six years, so the rise of mega platforms like Facebook is still fairly new territory for many businesses. I think we’re actually seeing the start of a change in attitude towards social now, with companies finally realizing it’s a source of business information as much as a sales/pr/marketing channel. It’s slightly ahead of other marketing disciplines in that way, and it’s really interesting to me to see social media information being used to help companies define themselves, powering digital transformation. I’m hopeful that it’s made businesses realize that they can’t fake things anymore. There’s the old saying about advertising delivering a promise, social is very much where people come to see if that promise is true.


Can you think of a social media campaign that you believe can change business owners minds on social media?

That’s a tough one, as really you’d be looking for campaigns relevant to their business, but on a whim, here’s some amazing stuff that Wateraid have been doing:

It’s in a good cause, it was cheap and straightforward to produce, and it covers just about every metric going, from awareness to making money. Social media has the unique distinction of being a channel you can switch to meet different needs. It doesn’t need to be all sales, or all PR, it’s adaptable, and I think that is one of its greatest strengths.


In a recent interview with Dorset’s digital figurehead Matt Desmier he related his job role to that of ‘The Wolf’ in Pulp Fiction, due to his freelance nature and expertise. If you had a Hollywood character counterpart, who would accurately represent your role?

Haha, oh dear, not sure how to answer that without sounding like I’m a complete egomaniac.

Let’s go with Nada, Roddy Piper’s character from ‘They Live!’

I like to think I keep a close enough eye on things to know what’s really going on in the social media world, although until Google Glass goes mainstream I have to do it through a desktop rather than glasses.

Oh, and I’m all out of bubblegum.


You’re handed control of a social media account for a client that sells an unexciting product, do you have any tricks for how you would liven up their social presence?

Well, let’s be honest, some of our own products might not be considered the most pant-wettingly exciting things ever (I’m looking at you, Real-time bidding sytems buyer’s guide),the key is to develop personality and voice for your brand, and alter that across platforms. I never shy away from posting outside the box, or sharing office gossip and playlists along with all the marketing advice. It’s a good way to keep people engaged. There’s quite a few companies out there offering digital marketing advice, but I’ve yet to meet another one that lets the 15 year old intern post Shakira videos on its Twitter account on a Friday afternoon (part of a highly scientific social media experiment obviously;).

Also, nothing is boring to the right people. A great recent example would be Kern & Sohn’s ‘Travelling Gnome’ campaign. They produce scientific scales, so not super-sexy, but made a really fun campaign that got a lot of people interested: They entered The Digitals in 2013: Basically it’s all about connecting with the audience. Every product has its fans, but finding that human interest is usually the tricky bit.


Companies are always coming up with new and creative ways to use social media. If you could of been involved with any recent social media campaign, which would you choose?

It’s got to be Red Bull really hasn’t it? Throwing someone out of a space plane?! That’s taking things to an entirely new level (literally and figuratively). They are a business that really understands how content works on the web, they get the absolute most out of everything they produce and it all ties in well with the brand – not the sort of company you’ll see posting ‘Name a country beginning with the letter A’ on their Facebook page.


Do you believe the growing view that social media has to have a solid ROI model to make it a worthy activity? Or is connecting with people and generating conversation enough of a ROI in itself?

I think it always has ROI. If your social campaigns don’t then it’s because you’re measuring the wrong things, or haven’t set yourself decent goals to start with (‘we want 1 million fans’ is not a good goal). I think the interesting thing currently is how many marketers are moving towards attributing different channels, looking at things like brand perception as well as hard cash. I can tell you that while social isn’t Econsultancy’s biggest direct money maker, it impacts on more than two thirds of our online sales and provides the vast majority of our Direct traffic, which is almost always the traffic that converts most efficiently (for any online business, not just us). Unfortunately measurement is difficult, just because of the nature of sharing. Even email is more valuable when you start attributing it’s effect, but we all sort of expect email to convert, so it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. It’s just that the problem is amplified with social.


You’re out for lunch when you’re introduced to the CEO of a big multinational. He vehemently speaks about his complete disregard for social. Can you convince him he’s wrong in 145 characters.

“Social Media made me more than £300,000 last year”.

Or possibly just tweet this gif:



What are your thoughts on the enigma that is Google+? Is it a contender against the social super heavyweights?

I think a lot of the problem with Google+ is that people have obviously assumed it’s meant to be an alternative to Facebook. To be honest, Facebook itself is busy turning into an alternative to Facebook as it diversifies into apps. Google+ is really about Google tying all its services together.

Yes there may be a touch of SEO juice to be had there as well (not enough to worry too much about, although Authorrank is definitely worth your time), but mainly it’s about Google trying to provide better results, both for users through personalization using their profiles, and across the web by using extra human factors to optimize search results. It’s an interesting experiment and it’s very useful for niche communities, which I think is very forward looking.

I mentioned Facebook apps and we do seem to be moving back into a world of clearly delineated content, Reddit’s very good at that, so is Pinterest, and Google+ is currently better at it than Facebook, so it does have a lot of uses.


There has been a lot of discussion about social media providing a driving force behind the Egypt uprising. Do you believe that social media truly has this power? Does this mean that in the future it may be monitored tightly to try and restrict public influence?

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say ‘it’s because of social media’, because then you start saying it’s completely down to specific platforms, but it is happening because of the increased ability of people to communicate on a global scale.

I do think it has massive power and a great ability to get the message out, but currently there’s also a lot of opportunity for misinformation. We’ve all seen those awful Facebook rabble-rousing posts that do the rounds. As things progress I think that this will improve, but most people I know still feel the need to double check information they’ve seen on twitter first. I think the NSA situation is fascinating, especially when you read report about agents demanding the destruction of hard drives, as though this could limit the information in some way.

I think we’re on the cusp of something quite important, especially as mobile usage increases. Last year smartphones outshipped featurephones for the first time (about 958 million units IIRC), and 67% of them went to developing regions. Once connectivity reaches a certain point we’ll hopefully see more global opinion and communication. I think social is just the tip of that.


Last year we saw social media exploited for real time marketing (RTM) in a big way. The ‘Dunk in the Dark’ Campaign for Oreo, Adidas with Andy Murray + SPOTY and everyone jumping on the royal baby bandwagon. If you were a brand owner, how would you manage your RTM team? How much creative flexibility and independence would you allow them?

ALL the flexibility. I don’t think social media guidelines should need to be massive governance docs (in most cases – those in the Pharma and legal industries may well disagree), I think it’s down to training and trusting people. Currently there are still some problems as marketers who are not used to digital approach this capability, but I think if you’re hiring someone, then you should trust them. Community managers are usually the people best placed to do this kind of thing, as they understand the audience and they hopefully understand the brand as well, perhaps in a more fully rounded way than many other departments. You can’t do great social if you bind yourself up in too many rules. I always think the best guidelines would just be one sentence saying ‘Be cool, be honest… and don’t feed the trolls”.


Keep your eyes peeled for further insights and interviews from the leading figures in the digital industry in the UK and beyond.

To read our interview with the South’s ‘Mr Digital’ Matt Desmier, click here.