Matthew Ray joins me on the 10th episode of Site Unseen to talk about marketing and storytelling on social media.
Matthew co-founded the digital media agency Chatterblast 10 years ago and currently serves as Creative Director. We talk about how digital marketing has evolved over the past decade, as well as recent trends in social media and how brands can use this tool to their advantage.
Listen to the podcast to hear 10 years of wisdom from Matthew Ray.
David Hitt: 00:22 Hello, and welcome to another episode of Site Unseen. Site Unseen is the digital marketing podcast, which covers issues related to the digital marketing agency of today. On our podcast, we like to look at trending topics which lie at the intersection of digital design, development and marketing.
David Hitt: 00:39 Today, I’m happy to have as my guest, Matthew Ray from the social media marketing agency ChatterBlast. Matt and I have known each other for a couple years now. We work sort of in slightly different regions within the digital ecosystem. But we sort of overlap and complement each other in many ways. And Matt’s here to talk to us about his agency ChatterBlast Media, which he co-founded with Evan Urbania in… When was that Matt?
Matthew Ray: 01:12 10 years ago.
David Hitt: 01:13 10 years ago. So that would be 2009. And we’re going to be talking about changes that have taken place, both in social media and the way brands deploy social media, in the last 10 years, how things have evolved. We’re going to talk about promises fulfilled, and maybe a bit about disappointments that social media has had for brands seeking to leverage it in their marketing activities.
David Hitt: 01:49 So without further ado, Matt, welcome to our show.
Matthew Ray: 01:53 Thank you for having me.
David Hitt: 01:55 It’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure. So, I’m curious. It was 2009 when you guys started. The landscape for digital was very different then. Just in a nutshell, what circumstances gave you the idea to start a social agency? And how did that begin initially?
Matthew Ray: 02:19 We, both me and my business partner, Evan, had come from different backgrounds that intercepted with social media. And 10 years ago, social was still I think, underappreciated or not valued in the same way, or monetized in the same way that it is now. And so we were under employed, to be honest, and looking for some challenges, and looking looking for some work. And we realized… We read a newspaper article, where basically some politicians were very confused about how social media worked.
David Hitt: 03:10 Can you share that story, not naming names, but like, how did they think it worked?
Matthew Ray: 03:17 Well, there had been… Every 70 years in any city, but specifically, here in Philadelphia, where we live, maybe every five or six years, there’s some violence, or tension that kind of lives in the real world, but also lives on social. And at the time, a group of people were organizing on social media, and organizing kind of hit and run flash mobs.
David Hitt: 03:49 Okay, I remember those.
Matthew Ray: 03:51 Yeah, this was not like a scourge 10 years ago, but it happened occasionally Sure, and it became big in media, became very big news. And so this one flash mob had organized on Facebook; everybody meet here, and then we’re going to cause some trouble, we’re going to run through Philly and cause some trouble, as kids are, want to do.
Matthew Ray: 04:15 And some of our city councilmen called press conferences. Their attitude and their understanding of Facebook and the way Facebook communicated, was clearly a mess. I think in the article, they even called, the Facebook’s. [inaudible 00:04:38].
Matthew Ray: 04:38 And I didn’t expect these leaders to understand completely a new communication platform. But what my business partner and I did recognize was that they might be interested in people who could help them understand that. So our first iteration of this company was really as pure consultants, and kind of teachers, consultants-teachers, and helping people dispel myths around social media, helping people realize the potential of social media. And we kind of jumped in the wave pool, and thought we would ride a nice sized wave to the shore. And then all of a sudden the tsunami happened.
David Hitt: 05:33 The tsunami in terms of the public relations crisis caused by these flash mobs, or?
Matthew Ray: 05:37 Oh, no, I wish it was that. No, I just think social media then really blew up.
David Hitt: 05:42 It exploded.
Matthew Ray: 05:43 Yeah, I think a lot of… when we started, I think we kind of hung a shingle out. And within three months we’re working with a lot of larger agencies, on very small budgets. This was back when digital as a whole had a smaller budget and then social, as part of that digital had a minuscule budget. They would throw you table scraps. And this is before influencer marketing, or retargeting, or anything, any of the all the new witchcraft we use daily.
Matthew Ray: 06:18 So we kind of got involved in that it just every year, every month, every day, a new project would happen, or an old project would get bigger, or a new social feature would happen. Instagram launched, Snapchat launched, Pinterest became a dominant power. And you kept seeing victories. And you kept seeing new creativity from old agencies, or you saw traditional brands leverage social in unique ways. And it just kind of exploded and I don’t think it has stopped.
David Hitt: 06:56 So what I mean, I’m curious, what was your first interaction or experience with social? And what had you been doing prior to meeting Evan and deciding to put your shingle out? What was your first experience?
Matthew Ray: 07:12 I was pretty much very involved in communications for several years.
David Hitt: 07:18 Okay.
Matthew Ray: 07:18 I started in traditional publishing, and worked in print on demand publishing, worked for medical publishing. And I was really bored with that. And so I kind of moved from… I had a really good job in medical publishing, and I was really bored. But the job was great. I had great benefits, I had great vacation. I had great boss, I had great colleagues. And so I had a lot of opportunity to not worry about my job and to dream.
Matthew Ray: 07:55 And so I was dreaming about bigger ideas for Communications and Public Relations and Advertising. And part of that really involves social, just kind of learning about social media. I was not what you would call early adopter of anything, I was not a techie. I remember kids in my neighborhood getting computers and me not really caring about them. I was always more of a book guy, a comic book guy, a newspaper, an NBC Nightly News guy.
Matthew Ray: 08:26 So to transfer my interest into social was more out of the idea that these could be vehicles to step to tell stories and to reach out to people. And the first platform I got involved with, maybe… Oh, gosh, probably close to 15, 16 years ago, was Friendster, which was-
David Hitt: 08:52 Right. I remember Friendster.
Matthew Ray: 08:54 … Yeah, Friendster, a much Beloved, almost forgotten, early social site that really functioned as a bulletin board, allowed you to meet people and post pictures. I remember introducing it to people I worked with, and people just being shocked. You could connect with old girlfriends or old boyfriends or you could find new people.
David Hitt: 09:22 Ones you’ve been stalking online for the last 20 years.
Matthew Ray: 09:24 Yeah. Well, I think that was even before stalking.
David Hitt: 09:28 Right.
Matthew Ray: 09:29 I think we assume online stalking is going on for so long. We forget 10, 11 years ago, nobody had any presence online.
David Hitt: 09:39 Right. There wasn’t enough history to look up.
Matthew Ray: 09:40 Yeah. Nobody had a Google Alert set up for their name. Now we have eight, right?
Matthew Ray: 09:47 Yeah. And so I got really involved in Friendster. I actually didn’t like Myspace. I didn’t love it. But I started to use… By the time Myspace rolled out, and it was really powerful, I was working for an independent filmmaking company that produced and bought and distributed foreign films, LGBTQ films, really niche, scary and gruesome horror movies. And we found great success using Myspace and having our stars use Myspace to promote screenings, DVD sales, everything.
Matthew Ray: 10:38 And so, while I didn’t love Myspace, personally, I was still loyal to kind of a ghost town that was Friendster. I was using Myspace to market products, specifically films, and stars, and actors, and actresses, and makeup people, and it became a lot of fun.
David Hitt: 11:03 Sure. So another thing that I sort of was interested in exploring was the level of sophistication that’s evolved over the last decade in terms of people’s use of social media. I was wondering if you could give me an example of a typical job brief that you might have had 10 years ago, that now would seem sort of quaint and unlikely to be something somebody would ask you to do.
Matthew Ray: 11:32 Sure. I think in the olden days, we were really tasked with; set up a Facebook page, set up a Twitter account, and sell tickets to our events. It was a lot of event based social traffic in the beginning. And now, that simplicity just doesn’t happen. Now it’s less about the platforms. It’s so much more about the audiences. We have a much more nuanced, much more specific, much more thought out approach to who’s the audience that we want to reach? What is the audience need from us on a social perspective? What do they need to see daily or weekly from us on whatever social channel we’re at, to engage and admire, or be entertained by our brand?
Matthew Ray: 12:41 And I think 10 years ago, we were really so… it was such an afterthought. It was really that you were sitting at the little kids table at Thanksgiving. And so whatever gravy or stuffing or turkey you got, you were having happy to have it. And now the business has become close to the head of the table. We are moving towards a if not social first, a very digital first way of branding, advertising and marketing our products. And so, that has really required social creators to think about what they’re doing every single post, every single post. You can’t have a stinker in the batch. It used to be, “Oh, write a content calendar, five days a week, who cares when we post it, make it cute, make it funny.” And then, “Oh, gosh, we got to make it visual.” And then, “Wait, are we speaking in the right tone? Have we identified our audience? Are we creating content for our audience? Do we have the right people working on this?”
David Hitt: 13:59 I’m wondering… I’m listening to you and I know in my world, there are all kinds of digital tools that allow us to sort of assess relative success. How do you know if you’re succeeding other than just pure followers? You’re talking about refining messages in very granular ways. How do you know if the voice is off? How do you know if… Other than obviously, the number of shares the post has received, what kind of feedback tools do you have to sort of gauge success and refine your message?
Matthew Ray: 14:30 That’s an important question. And that necessitates that… The question you asked, really implies that everybody who works on social has had a conversation with their client, where they find out what the client hopes to achieve from a social campaign. And I don’t know that everybody does. I think some people just say, “Oh, we got to get a Facebook page up. Oh, we know we need to be on Instagram, because all the kids are on Instagram.” Well, that’s great. But I think you’re selling funeral services. So getting 14 year olds…
Matthew Ray: 15:09 I think the first thing that has to happen is the creator and the client have to determine what is success? Is it website clicks? Is it walk through the door? Are you a brick and mortar location that needs walkthrough? Are you looking for engagement on media? Are you looking for somebody to view a video? What is success of this campaign?
Matthew Ray: 15:39 And then once you have worked with your clients to understand, “Listen, you’re sinking a lot of money into the social, what do you want it to do?” You can find a way to measure that ROI, you can find key performance indicators for almost every social program. A lot of social programs we do are designed to drive clicks back to the website. So, that’s one of the easiest things to measure in our world of data analysis. We only need good old Google to help us with that, Google Analytics.
Matthew Ray: 16:19 But if you say to me, “Well, we’re looking for this social campaign to alter the way people think, we’re looking for this social campaign to add new ideas, we are looking for the social campaign to get this person elected president, as opposed to that person elected president.” That requires different types of monitoring equipment. It requires working with the client to not have a templated report, but to literally have a report that’s catering to them. We’re in our 10th year, and every year, I have to modify reports, what’s the information we’re delivering? I have one client who wants to know, what are people saying about us? And who is saying it? And so that requires a much more nuanced, and a much more granular look at the data. You really have to dig in and know, is this person in our audience profile? Are they an outlier?
Matthew Ray: 17:29 So for every time there’s a new trick on social media, thank God, there is a tech guru in Israel or Silicon Valley, who creates a new monitoring tool that allow… or a new analytics tool.
David Hitt: 17:48 Let me ask you, what role… How much reputation management, do you folks find yourselves doing?
Matthew Ray: 17:54 I think we find ourselves doing… Well, it’s never… That’s a great question. It’s not always build as reputation management, right? It doesn’t-
David Hitt: 18:06 I’m just listening to you… When clients ask you to monitor what’s being said about a brand online, that begs the question. That obviously comes from a place of, a concern for reputation management. So I’m just… It’s obviously a concern your clients have. So to what degree do you sort of officially tout yourself as offering reputation management? And in a day-to-day client interaction, how much of a role does it play?
Matthew Ray: 18:31 … We do quite a bit of it, especially for our bigger brands, you look at some of the big logos. And you know, the Comcast, the Hitachi’s, they like to know… they definitely want to have a report that is generated for them, some insight into what the world thinks of them.
Matthew Ray: 18:55 Of course, for the brands, you can be running reports 24/7, you know, the amount of data and sentiment shift that’s out there. For our real estate brands, it can really be crucial. It can be crucial in the beginning, middle and end. And now we’re noticing-
David Hitt: 19:16 Give me an example.
Matthew Ray: 19:19 … Sure. Without naming names, one of our developer… one of our good clients is a developer, and they undertake what I would call difficult development projects. It might be a brownfield land, or an area of the city that no one had ever thought would be gentrifiable or developable. I don’t know if that’s a word.
Matthew Ray: 19:47 So they also sometimes face in the development of these, they’re encountering consistent community feedback. And so, this one developer of ours owns a fairly popular strip mall. I think they call them power stations now.
David Hitt: 20:06 Right.
Matthew Ray: 20:07 It’s basically a strip mall. And they have invested heavily into making it a more vibrant place to go. And one of the things that they did was to hire some really talented mural designers to paint the sides and the back of the strip malls, which are just normally kind of boring. Not the front area that you walk by Payless shoes and say, “Oh, I want this,” but behind it and to the side. And so they chose some really fantastic artists to come in and create some very Keith Haring ask work.
Matthew Ray: 20:49 The community didn’t love it. And the community complained about it loudly on Facebook, every hour. And the complaints got worse and worse and worse. And so, our client, which had been used to the traditional method of this type of feedback and reputation management was used to people sending them a nice letter or showing up at a community meeting. They did not expect a Facebook page to be posted, and for neighbors to be calling for boycotts and linking to and tagging news reporters. And so it created this whole dynamic shift where-
David Hitt: 21:36 It’s really interesting to me that you’ve mentioned this, because I never thought about it before. But businesses like that have had their entire way of doing business turned on its head, because we’ve worked for a bunch of developers. And it’s, as you say, typically, the process that they’re accustomed to, in terms of receiving, and monitoring, and responding to feedback takes place through a series of public hearings, or meetings.
Matthew Ray: 21:59 … Yeah, maybe like a stern letter to the editor, right?
David Hitt: 22:02 Right. Sure. And now basically they’re dealing with a 24/7 news cycle that’s generated by the likes of nasty Facebook, and LinkedIn, and tweets, basically.
Matthew Ray: 22:15 And it’s every… It’s not only just our clients in the real estate space, but it’s everybody. We now have… We have gifted… We went through a prometheus moment, except instead of being given fire, Mark Zuckerberg gave everybody a platform that allows them to speak to brands directly. And so did not just Facebook, but Twitter, Pinterest, all of these. The web itself now allows us to post anything we think of, at any time. I had never… I now know the political beliefs of every one of my cousins, and I have about 15 cousins. Thankfully, we’re all kind of inline. But I don’t think that that existed.
David Hitt: 23:04 Thankfully you can unfollow people.
Matthew Ray: 23:06 Yeah. We now have the ability to… And we lived in a society where a news reporter came on TV and told the world what was happening. And there was maybe 50,000 letters that might have come in to say, “Tom Brokaw, you’re wrong.” But now, we can immediately let Rachel Maddow know when she’s off base on anything she said. We can let her know in real time as she says it. And it’s not just media, but it is all of our brands. I can go into your restaurant, I can try your food, and immediately tell everyone how much I like or dislike it.
Matthew Ray: 23:50 And so, that type of reputation management has seeped into… that type of crisis… slight version of crisis communication has seeped into all social work. You literally have to go in every day. My team has to come in every morning, and check those pages to make sure nobody’s complained.
David Hitt: 24:13 We’re talking about an interesting phenomena, which was another thing I was hoping we could sort of get to. In a whole sort of conversational narrative about how things have changed and whether or not the promise of social media has, is still delivering 10 years later. When I was thinking about talking to you, I got a book on Web 2.0 from 2006, written by some folks by the name of Robert Scoble, and Shel Israel, it was about blogging.
David Hitt: 24:49 But they talked about some of the sort of liberation that people felt when Web 2.0 technologies came into being. And that sense of having to… Suddenly brands had to facilitate conversations with real human beings as being sort of the big promise. But fast forward 10 years and like, in terms of blogging these days, a lot of news outlets especially, have just had to shut comments off completely, because they’re so nasty and uncivilized. The time necessary to sort of facilitate civil dialogue is just an albatross around a brand’s neck. How do you approach clients who seemingly lack a certain sense of authenticity about what they’re asking you to do? Or, what’s your position on when curation becomes manipulation?
Matthew Ray: 25:49 That’s a great question. I think sadly, it all comes out in the wash eventually. And if you’re not honest about the services that you offer, the product that you’re selling, if you’re not honest about your goals, social will erode you, it will eventually force you into a position where you have to be.
Matthew Ray: 26:19 I do think we are living in a world where social curation is more important than pure authenticism. I love when I see people saying, “I’m living my most authentic life, I’m living my best life.” And their images have better lighting than Vanity Fair. I don’t think you… Who’s taking that picture?
David Hitt: 26:50 Right.
Matthew Ray: 26:53 I have I’ve known influencers, who my first question to them has been, who does all your photography? Because it’s just such good photography. On a human level, we look at our friends, our companions, the people in our life, and you kind of sense that, they’re not sharing with you 110% of their journey.
Matthew Ray: 27:19 And in the same token-
David Hitt: 27:20 Do people see through that?
Matthew Ray: 27:21 … Yeah, you can see through that. And so, I think we kind of still expect companies and corporations and businesses, to have a little bit of a stiff upper lip, and to have a little bit of a smokescreen. I mean, for those of us in marketing and advertising, that’s the name of the game to some extent. But social has certainly not been the high powered search light for the truth that we expected. And now, post the 2016 election, we are aware that social… our ignorance of social has possibly allowed it to be manipulated in ways we didn’t expect, creative ways we didn’t expect. We have given everyone these… We’ve democratized broadcasting, and we’re still learning how to communicate with one another. And I think that allows corporations and businesses and clients a little leeway.
Matthew Ray: 28:32 And I’m actually, and maybe this is because at 10 years, I’m a complete sellout. But I’m actually a little comfortable curating it, and not putting everything up online. I used to think, “Oh, my gosh, your water main broke! Go down and film that, show everyone that you’re working on that water main.” When the flood happened here in Philadelphia, and one of my clients, they have an amazing building. The building withstood the flood, people were asleep, water is pouring into their building, tons and tons and tons of water. And the water is being absorbed by pumps, the emergency generator goes online, people woke up that morning and had no idea the disaster that their neighborhood in Philadelphia was in because the building was well built.
Matthew Ray: 29:24 And I called my client and said, “We got to talk about this. About how great that building is, and how … ” And the client said, “We’re not going to talk about that at all.” You don’t have to be… Nobody wants to come to my social pages, and see me at the end of the night. I certainly don’t like this, when I see people do. You don’t want to see me at the end of the night go, “Well, I had a really great day everyone except I stub my toe and… ” No. We really kind of… We still want the highlights, we still want to be entertained and informed. And we occasionally want to feel emotions of sadness or be a little contemplated. But for the-
David Hitt: 30:09 Those need to be curated as well.
Matthew Ray: 30:11 … They need to be curated as well. PR people, and a vision of this is what you should say, and this is what you should not say, are so important to social, probably now more than they ever were. Because if it’s not thoughtfully curated into a story, then everyone else… If you don’t have a plan for your social content, someone else does. And that’s why I think curation is so important.
David Hitt: 30:42 Matthew, thanks for joining us. I’m just looking at my stopwatch and we’re about 30 minutes. I guess in closing, what do you see coming down the pike? Or what are you excited about in terms of what people are asking you to do? Or, technologies that are breaking? Or, tools that people are using, that you see as especially sort of exciting?
Matthew Ray: 31:05 Well, I think the technology because I am not a technologist, but the technology keeps moving at leaps and bounds. We forget that we have a phone in our pockets that has more broadcast capability than the Today Show did 10 years ago. And so, that’s just… It’s just sad that I basically only use it to take pictures of cats, and you only have so much more potential.
Matthew Ray: 31:38 I think storytelling on social channels is still open wide. 50, 60, 70 years ago, television really created whole new opportunities for marketing and advertising. 60, 70 years ago, you had the rise of Procter and Gamble, who went into creating television, owning daytime TV, lock, stock and barrel, and selling billions of dollars of products. And I think social as this developing platform, has now this opportunity to take advantage of this democratization of content. We’re seeing influencers rise, people who sell their lifestyle. And it’s easy to be jealous of them, but it doesn’t change that they’re there.
Matthew Ray: 32:35 You also see amazing small brands, like goPuff, here in Philadelphia, that have figured out how to in a unique way, and in a highly curated, but still riskier than most brands, talk about themselves, and still appeal to Coca Cola, who is one of their huge partners, and Hershey foods, not known to be very risky, and another partner. And yet they’ve been able to really still tell the story of their audience and their product that is still very goPuff.
Matthew Ray: 33:11 And I just think there’s a lot of opportunity. I think there’s so much ability, and we haven’t even gotten to… David, you and I are kind of a generation born, invested and lived in television for most extent. We can go in there and kick that around and understand that. We have not yet seen the creators who were born and raised on social, who grew up across the table from a father or mother, who was Instagraming their friends. We haven’t even seen… I can’t wait until my god son, who has already an Instagram account, not even one year old, has his own Instagram account. He’s obviously not posting, but his parents started his Instagram account. And I wonder, is he going to be mad at us in 17 years that everything has been documented? How do we…
Matthew Ray: 34:14 It sounds kind of chaotic and destructive, but I kind of look forward to the social dilemmas that we’re going to go through in 5, 10 years based on decisions that I’ve made, decisions that you’ve made, decisions that’s been a consensus among us all about social. I just think it’s really the digital Wild West.
David Hitt: 34:39 Right.
Matthew Ray: 34:41 That comes with some bloodshed, hopefully metaphorically. But it also comes with a lot of opportunity, lot more gold rushes, a lot more homesteading, a lot more fun. I just think there is so much opportunity, and the integration of creative content and data is just dawning. We’re just starting to make those connections between those two houses. And it’s going to offer all of us just so much amazing opportunities.
David Hitt: 35:19 Well, we’re entering a brave new world.
Matthew Ray: 35:22 Hopefully.
David Hitt: 35:25 Thanks for chatting with me, man.
Matthew Ray: 35:26 No, thank you for having me, David.
David Hitt: 35:27 And again, just tell us a little bit about yourself again, who are you and why are you relevant?
Matthew Ray: 35:33 I don’t know that I am.
David Hitt: 35:38 You are.
Matthew Ray: 35:38 My name is-
David Hitt: 35:38 You’re just here and shared 10 years’ worth of wisdom with us.
Matthew Ray: 35:40 … My name is Matthew Ray. And I am the Creative Director and one of the founding partners in a social media and digital storytelling firm called ChatterBlast. We are 10 years old this year. And we’ve worked on national, internationally… one or two international projects; national, regional, local and international projects, kind of basically with brands who have had difficulty or confusion in reaching their audience online. And so, yeah, that’s me.
David Hitt: 36:12 Thanks.
Matthew Ray: 36:14 I want thank you.
David Hitt: 36:16 Okay, great. Well join us for our next episode. We’re not sure exactly what that episodes could be featuring or what we’re going to be talking about, but we will see you next time on Site Unseen. Thanks so much.