Social Media’s First Graduating Class Finalist #3: Anna Pakman
As we announced in this post, Simply Measured has spearheaded a search for Social Media’s First Graduating Class: the marketers who set up their brand’s first Facebook page, sent their brand’s first Tweet, live-streamed their first event…the list goes on. These are the folks who started as interns, assistants, and community managers, and now head up social at major organizations all over the world.
This first graduating class has unique insight into the history of social media and what the future holds for our industry. We asked you to nominate these thought leaders, and the people have spoken — we have our finalists!
Our third finalist is Anna Pakman, Director of Digital Strategy for Empire State Development.
We spoke with Anna about her journey.
Give us an overview of your career and how you got into social.
I started my career on Wall Street, but soon realized that it wasn’t for me. It was when I went back to school for my MBA that I really got involved in social media; though on a personal front, I had been a power user from the time a lot of social networks had been started. My first professional foray into social came almost by accident. I was doing a summer internship for PBS and I was working on a digital video project. They were awarded a grant for a social media program, and one of the stipulations of the grant was that it needed sign-off from someone who was a current business school student. So, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time!
I really developed a strong love for social media, and when I went back to school in the fall, I ended up interning for TV Guide Online, working on social media strategies for them.
That led to an opportunity at Oxygen, which turned into a full-time gig after I graduated from school. I was the Social Media Manager for Oxygen for 2.5 years.
I was actually the first social media hire they ever made. It was a really interesting time to be there and be in the industry. Now, social media and TV just go hand-in-hand. But back then, we were just seeing these trends beginning to emerge, and being able to ride that was incredible.
After I left Oxygen, I went to work for Current TV, which was Al Gore’s network. We did a lot of social for the 2012 election, which was really exciting.
At Current, they were very innovative with their use of Twitter. During 2012, we integrated people’s Tweets and commentary alongside all the debates, conventions, and election day coverage.
I spent about six months doing that, came to work the day after New Years and found out — actually from Twitter — that we were being acquired by Al Jazeera. My job morphed into helping launch Al Jazeera America, which I did for about a year. My team built their social channels from the ground up, and we were honored with the Shorty Award for the best News Twitter Account category in 2014.
We're excited to begin Tweeting from this account so that we’re able to share behind the scenes updates as we launch. More soon…
— Al Jazeera America (@ajam) April 4, 2013
After Al Jazeera, I left and took a job working for New York State. I’m now the head of digital for Empire State Development (ESD), which is the state’s economic development agency.
One of ESD’s functions is to serve as the marketing arm for the state of New York, promoting it both as a place for tourists to go through the I Love NY campaign and as a great place to start, expand, and grow a business. My role here was new. When I was hired, there was no one here focused on the digital strategy, and so the opportunity to use my experience from the private sector to help the state market itself on digital platforms was really exciting.
Which campaigns separated you from the pack and propelled your career?
Definitely the social media campaign I developed for an Oxygen show called The Glee Project, which was a spin-off of Glee. There are some shows that lend themselves more to creating a social conversation than others, and Glee had an incredibly engaged and passionate social audience, so social played a major part in our overall launch strategy.
You Gleeks are so dedicated! "Happy Two Year Brittana Heart Anniversary" and "Be Our Valentine Chris Colfer" are trending worldwide!!
— The Glee Project (@TheGleeProject) February 14, 2014
I think what made it really successful was the meticulous focus of being there at every touchpoint fans had with the show, weaving in a high degree of authenticity, really listening to the audience and reflecting what they were saying back to them, and integrating the show’s talent into the social conversation in a big way. Definitely a lot of hard work, too — it’s amazing how much sweat equity goes into social media.
Believe it or not, I started working on the social strategy for the show and launched some of our accounts a full year before it premiered on air. We of course had to be live on social in time for the press release, but instead of our Twitter account being a placeholder during the months the show was in development, I used it to live-tweet episodes of Glee (something I did in my personal life anyway — I was a huge Gleek!).
New potential romance? Blake + Marley =…..Barley? #Glee
— The Glee Project (@TheGleeProject) November 9, 2012
This transformed our account from being this official thing that just talks at you to a friend who happens to have the same passions you do. The fans really appreciated that authenticity, and we built a large following before our show even started.
Another thing I did was dive into Glee fan site communities and ask them what they liked and what they wanted to see out of our social channels. That was very powerful. The thing I was able to find there was that all of these kids had Tumblr links in their forum profiles. And this was back in 2011, so Tumblr was pretty new as far as brands were concerned. Just on a whim one weekend, I set up a Tumblr page for The Glee Project and later on we found out that we were actually the first reality show to form a Tumblr, ever.
Tumblr became a very popular platform for us, and as the season went on, things really grew and grew.
I also worked very closely with the show’s contestants to train them on social media best practices and helped them set up their own accounts.
Just did 3 hours of interviews for Australia. Honestly said the same thing in like 12 different ways about 100 different times.
— Damian Mc Ginty (@damianmcginty) April 6, 2016
They developed such a huge fan base, and we were able to see certain trends emerging through the conversations with cast and the show. This helped inform the production company what was really resonating with the fans.
Where do you think social is going?
The social media landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented. For example, I LOVE NY, which is such a well-followed and loved brand (we’re the #1 most-followed state tourism board account on Twitter and #2 on Facebook), is not on every platform.
We prioritize based on where our target audience is and how travelers use social. People come up to me and ask, “Oh, how come you’re not on Snapchat?” We don’t have a large team and a ton of resources, in comparison to some brands of a similar caliber, so we really focus on creating a great consumer experience on a few platforms, rather than trying to be everywhere. I think how you staff for these things and where you invest your media budgets will continue to be a challenge for all brands, because I don’t think we’ll see any less fragmentation.
Another trend is that social is becoming a pay-to-play marketplace — Facebook, Twitter a bit, and Instagram soon. Facebook’s organic reach is really closing in on zero. That’s a hard thing, because there’s been this perception that social is “free,” and now you need a significant budget to be seen.
Influencers are also becoming increasingly important because, at the end of the day, people are using social to keep in touch with friends and family, and to be entertained. You now need to get into that conversation almost through a side door. And influencers, too, are increasingly becoming pay-to-play, with agents.
Do you think that solving the problem of social ROI will take social to the next level?
I think that will be part of it, but the bigger question is: How do we put social on par with other traditional marketing channels like TV, which still gets the bulk of marketing spend? At the end of the day, audience is king. The more and more the audience behavior and landscape changes, people are just going to go where the audience is. That’s smart marketing.
Now that social media has kind of grown up, there’s increasing pressure to tie social activities to purchasing behavior. Proving the link of online and offline behavior is critical, and for that reason I’m jealous of e-commerce marketers. We’re working on it, though. There are some really exciting young companies that are doing things to get closer to some of those answers.