An agile ‘war room’ approach can set any brand up for success, and it no longer has to cost a bomb.

Another day, another example of social agility...

Drake Tweet

The latest clever @Tesco tweet about Drake’s so-called ghost-written raps saw tens of thousands of organic retweets, major positive sentiment and tons of valuable coverage by everyone from The Independent to Buzzfeed.

But how did Tesco do it? A dedicated war room packed with data analysts, writers and brand strategists staring at banks of wall-mounted displays paid for by a ton of budget?

Nah, rather a community manager with a keen eye for a trend, an active listening tool and a login to the brand’s Twitter feed. Agility: activated.

Social newsrooms are about thinking big, not spending big. And far from over-complicating the process and coming with a major price tag, technology is now the enabler.

Any brand, from large FMCG to SMEs, can adopt an agile, newsroom approach without massive investment. With the right understanding of audience and what they’re into, all it takes is one person and a smartphone.

So, with budget no longer a barrier, what are the basic requirements for a successful social newsroom set-up?

Always-on audience experts

Finding the right hook in a haystack of conversations and trending topics requires people who know what they’re looking for and what’s genuinely going to appeal to your target audience.

A 9-5 clock-watcher isn’t going to cut it because news waits for nobody. The right social newsroom content creators need to have a good grounding in the more traditional journalistic principles i.e. ‘always-on’ with the ability to distil potentially complicated commentary on a breaking news item down to a snappy headline.

After all, that’s where the newsroom concept hails from.

Cancer Research UK’s oft-quoted No Make-Up Selfie success was in fact the result of some smart active listening. It wasn’t its idea, the team just reacted swiftly to a rising internet trend and thus captured the zeitgeist.

Baked-in distribution

With around 6,000 tweets every second, it’s tough to gain cut-through. Just chucking out some content and hoping for the best will only take you so far, so in addition to having the right hook, you need to have the right channel, posting and even influencer strategy if you want to hit a collective nerve and see your content fly. 

A timely, relevant post from Arby’s about Pharrell’s hat during the Grammys is fun. But when it’s posted on Twitter, where @Pharrell is prolific, using his handle at a time when we know he’s actively tweeting (through active listening), this leads to a retweet, driving distribution, engagement and eventually becomes trending.

This is when you see real ROI for your social effort.

Arby Tweet to Pharrell 

Brand bravery

Today’s "on fleek" is tomorrow’s #justsayin (correct at time of writing, insert current post-millennial buzzword as appropriate). So a brand team (and, if required, legal team) need to have the confidence, and structure, to sign this social content off in real-time.

Clear guidelines, frameworks and any compliance rules need to be agreed upfront. Well thought-through plans and a set morning call or ‘scrum’ to sift through the ideas can serve to free up the creative process, empowering your content creators to deliver award-winning agility. 

A back-up plan

Where the news goes, nobody knows, and the internet is littered with awful examples of forced reactive social posts offering zero value to the audience, clearly irrelevant to the brand’s objectives or erroneously based on last year’s audience behaviour data. So, it’s crucial that a newsroom set-up plans for slow news days.

A steady stream of everyday content should ideally still form part of your branded content offering.

Planned agility, the process whereby your content creators schedule some ‘we know it’s going to happen we just don’t know when’ content, is another way to bulk out your monthly content calendar with some of the topics you’re looking to capitalise on, such as the birth of a royal or the Pluto fly-by.


The right tools and tech

Platforms are increasingly developing components that are of obvious value to the nimble newsroom approach for brands.

Any number of active listening tools can help you keep your finger on the pulse, while Twitter has unveiled a new set of tools designed to enable brands to better prepare for real-time campaigns.

Video too is becoming far easier to implement in real-time.

The merits of Periscope over Meerkat (and vice versa) will continue to be debated, but the game of one-upmanship in terms of adding new functionality (for example, you can now live-stream from a Go Pro via Meerkat) can only be of help to brands looking at taking a newsroom approach to event marketing

Today’s newsrooms can truly be nimble, and with a little bravery, every brand can reap the rewards.

Gina Roughan

Published 6 August, 2015 by Gina Roughan

Gina Roughan is editorial director at digital agency Zone. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

almost 3 years ago


Augie Ray, Director of Social Media Strategy at Prudential

This article seems to elevate the clever over the meaningful. Yes, Arby's Pharrell tweet got shared a lot--but did it change consumer attitudes or alter buying behaviors? Who knows, because bloggers, journalists and others focus not on marketing ROI or impact but on reach (which is easy to see but doesn't always mean success.)

I'm all for brands acting cool and hip--provided it fits their brand and those tactics are proven to drive brand value. But haven't we seen too many things like Kmart's "Ship My Pants," which accumulated tens of millions of views and was labeled a viral success while doing nothing to prevent the retailer's continued slide?

I'd love to see econsultacy focus not on things that are clever, funny or even viral but on the strategies that demonstrably drive value for the brand--sales, visits, consideration, etc. It takes more than dropping the latest hot teen phrase into a tweet to make a brand relevant and to drive unaided awareness, consideration and trial; in fact, many brands using "fleek" have been roundly ridiculed by the very people they are trying to reach. (I'm not sure it's really "brand bravery" that drives brands' adoption of terms like "fleek" but instead desperation to appear relevant.)

All I'm suggesting is that we stop being so impressed with lots of likes and retweets and more focused on marketing metrics and value. We're now seven or so years now into the social media era, and as someone who has been a social media analyst and led social media teams, I can tell you that brands have spent billions in social media but most still don't know if and how it is producing any value. This is the role econsultancy should be playing, in my opinion.

almost 3 years ago

Gina Roughan

Gina Roughan, Content director at Zone

Hi Augie

Couldn’t agree more on your point about demonstrable value for brands. Where we differ is on your point that newsroom is only about the clever, and pays little attention to marketing ROI.

Let’s face it: every brand has a different challenge, and thus a different take on what success looks like. This varies by a brand’s size, reputation and the sector it operates in. One commonality should, however, be (as you say) that brands need to be marketing in a social world, not doing social for social’s sake.

In my experience, brands using a newsroom approach, or acting in an agile fashion, do so for different reasons. There will always be those who do it to jump on the bandwagon – as in every aspect of digital. But those who are seeing genuine marketing success are doing so with a clear goal: be that share-of-voice, corporate reputation or lead generation.

When you’re Cancer Research UK and tap into a #NoMakeupSelfie moment, it can result in £8 million in donations in just six days. When you’re Tesco and you’re looking to drive positive sentiment around your brand, your social ROI is less monetary, more positive share of conversation. That’s about a lot more than shares and likes; it’s about using social data to measure sentiment versus your competitor set. And delivering a timely piece of content that hits the nail on the head, tonally and topically, drives the exact sort of positive sentiment that will inevitably help the brand.

With regards to Arby’s, they achieved money-can’t-buy free PR from a celebrity with 7.8 million followers. We all know what a simple tweet from an influencer can cost – couple that with the fact that Pharrell did it in an authentic, organic way, and drove acres of coverage in publications from Mashable and Buzzfeed to USA Today, and you’re looking at a pretty sweet ROI. In fact, Arby’s further capitalised on the publicity by buying Pharrell’s actual hat for charity ( – giving them another bite at the PR cherry. Not a bad return for a single agile/newsroom post.

You’re completely on the money with your main argument – brands and agencies need to be delivering genuine marketing value with their approach. It’s just in some cases, the newsroom is the perfect approach. (And, as mentioned in the article, very cheap to deploy!).


almost 3 years ago


Augie Ray, Director of Social Media Strategy at Prudential

Thanks for the response, Gina. You share some valid thoughts, but I tend to think with shrinking organic reach, demonstrably poor conversions and a great deal of distrust on the part of consumers, many brands are pursuing weak social strategies. Every brand wants to be Oreo, Arby's or KMart, but there's little evidence even those brands generated much success (other than a lot of PR).

While you say Arby's achieved "money-can't-buy free PR," the time has come to stop assuming this value and instead measure it. Samsung claimed the most viral thing of last year with the Oscar "selfie heard round the world," but despite claiming a billion dollars of value, the brand sunk terribly in terms of financial results and market share. It isn't enough to act like a lot of people retweeting something clever drives value--we need to measure business outcomes. Yes, people though the Pharrell hat joke was funy and shared it, but did they visit Arby's or change their opinions of the brand?

I think we're entering a new period where leaders will begin to questions the value of social media of the organic kind (including social newsrooms). Even Forrester, in its latest report, states "Organic social marketing stopped working" and has advised shifting budgets to advertising (and to leave that to media experts, not social experts.)

I just think the time has come for those of who write and analyze results to focus not on the scale of engagement but the impact to the business. We need to stop being impressed that a clever tweet from Arby's got a lot of play and begin to focus on what matters. People who care deeply (like you and me) can do a disserve promoting tactics as a success when we really don't know if or how that success was measured. If newsrooms and organic social/content strategies are to survive the next two or three years, it will only be because we tie social strategies not to RTs and likes but to sales, traffic, conversions and brand lift.

I've enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for the dialog and the article that sparked it.

almost 3 years ago


Richard Wilson, Senior Digital Officer at London Fire Brigade

Augie, I think you are getting far too hung up on social media being transactional.

If a press release turning into a news article or a PR stunt can be justified by gaining coverage, a social newsroom - and social media use in itself - can be justified by the coverage gained as a direct result of its use.

Instead the goals have to be set from the expectation of each activity.

For instance, you mention what change did Arby's experience as a result of the tweet? I don't think anyone would expect a reactive, light-hearted tweet to result in the brand getting an increase in sales nor even an increase in visits to their webpage (they didn't include a link). They were after 'viral' uptake and they got it.

For measurables I'd expect an increase in impressions, engagement and followers. Yes, check GA and see if there was a spike but I wouldn't expect that (due to that lack of a link). This stunt by Arby's was purely traditional PR in a digital world. You still measure it but you have to pick your measurement.

If you're measuring sales and conversions, then outline these before you undertake your activity and, of course, be realistic. If you're flogging sheep and David Beckham gives you a RT, you probably won't get an increase in sales. Does that mean a RT from Beckham is irrelevant? Well if your only objective is to increase sales from 0 to 5, I guess so, however you can't discounting PR on the grounds of transactional measurables.

almost 3 years ago

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