Interviews

Lucy Doubleday, Managing Partner, We Are Social

From recognising the value of kindness in business, to helping brands navigate the new wave of privacy in social media marketing, We Are Social’s Managing Partner understands why the best leaders are committed to change.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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There are few mediums which have profoundly impacted culture in the past decade to the degree that social media has. Love it or loathe it, consumer culture, the marketing ecosystem and society more broadly has been irrevocably changed by the advent of social media channels.

Nothing reflects the shift in cultural conversation more than the fact that it was just five years ago that President Obama became the first US president in history to use Twitter. The role of technology in public discourse is now top of the political and social agenda and its true potential is perhaps yet to be realised. As a new decade dawns, the dual promise and challenge of that direct engagement, whether for brand, politician, celebrity or individual is still being grappled with.

From a marketing perspective, We Are Social is the agency at the forefront of this social media-driven shift in engagement. The agency brand that has become synonymous with the vibrant and fast-moving world of social media marketing has continued to evolve and grow. In a decade, the agency has grown from two people in an East London flat, to over 800 people in 15 offices around the world.

As Managing Partner of the agency, Lucy Doubleday has been a key part of its evolution and as the agency starts the new decade, a decade old itself, she reflects on the journey: “We were pioneers, I’ve been here for six of those ten years and the output is so vastly different today.” Yet it’s not just the agency output that has shifted; the entire social media ecosystem has shifted.

Everyone is different, and the key is to create a culture where we can treat everyone as an individual.

Lucy Doubleday

A decade of social

There is no question that social media platforms have topped the news agenda over the past decade. According to Doubleday, people’s attitudes towards social have taken a battering in recent years, with regulation topping the agenda. As well as the rise of influencer marketing and the crisis of confidence amongst more traditional agencies and marketers which has accompanied it.

These controversies have contributed to a media narrative which makes it easy to overlook the phenomenal opportunity social channels offer brands and society more broadly, providing the platforms for brands, leaders and individuals to connect. Or the fuel for people-powered social movements such as #MeToo or #JeSuisCharlie.

Yet at the same time, amongst marketing circles at least, there is a growing cynicism surrounding social media. As well as a growing awareness of the mental strain of that ‘great life you aren’t living on social media’ on the mental health younger consumers. Although arguably, it is the baby boomers and millennials who didn’t grow up in an always-on environment, who naturally find it more difficult to navigate.

So, as social media comes of age, what should brands be aware of? “Authenticity is what people are looking for,” explains Doubleday. “Social media has played a role in huge global societal changes,” she explains. Pointing to the growth of communities of influence which can play a vital role in providing research and insight into what audiences are really looking for.

Social media comes of age

The We Are Social story is not just a tale of first-mover advantage; the agency has played a key role in elevating the role of social media in marketing more broadly. This means the agency has taken a level-headed approach to the phenomenal rise of influencer marketing, in the midst of a business narrative that is often wedded to the status quo.

“We have so many different brands; influencers are important, but they play a role. Making sure it is the right role and ensur[ing] they drive people through that purchase funnel is vital,” explains Doubleday. She believes that it is not good enough for brands to just put stuff out there in a short-term attempt to capitalise on any given trend. Instead she is eloquent on the need to strike a balance between efficiency and engagement.

Having begun her career at Coca-Cola, Doubleday says her career arc has followed developments in technology. After a stint at Dare, she opted out of the industry choosing to spend six-months waitressing in Cornwall.  She is refreshingly open about her decision to follow her gut and gain some perspective: “Over the course of eight years your life changes and you can’t take a one-size fits all approach to your career.”

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A people-first approach

It was the senior leadership team at We Are Social who persuaded Doubleday to ditch wind-swept Cornwall and return to London and their perseverance has paid off. “Our brand is so important to us and recognising how much you believe in your team is so important,” she explains.

Doubleday was three-months pregnant when Jim Coleman, UK CEO at We Are Social hired her and it is clear her experience of taking time out from the industry has fuelled her approach to talent and retention at the agency. Empathy breeds empathy.

As she explains, “There are a lot of people who have grown up in this agency and we recognise the need to be supportive of that change. That flexibility isn’t reserved for parents, but we have good parental role models across the business.”

Retaining and developing key talent is clearly a business priority. “You have to change your mindset after you have children and coming back to work can be scary,” she adds. “But everyone is different, and the key is to create a culture where we can treat everyone as an individual.”

A roadmap for resilience

Treating employees as individuals means as the agency has come of age, its structures and support systems have also evolved. For example, the agency has trained 15 Mental Health First Aiders and has a comprehensive employee assistance programme.

She explains, “It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. People are our greatest asset; from a business perspective we want to attract the best people who have a collaborative approach and can operate in a fast-paced environment.”

There are few areas of marketing as fast-paced as social media, but Doubleday notes that targets or pitches aren’t always the key driver of the stresses people feel. The key is to take the time to enable your employees to feel heard and supported; to get the unnecessary barriers or pain-points out of their way.

“Attitudes in the industry are changing; in the last 18 months to two years we have seen so much change. Companies have realised they are losing talent and it can be a long journey, but it feels like the industry is committed to change,” she explains.

You can see that younger people value privacy, but they still crave validation.

Lucy Doubleday

Privacy is the new luxury

Finding the right balance between being connected all the time and switching off is just as much of a challenge for the industry as it is for society at large. Doubleday notes that trends in social media, like any other medium are cyclical, but nonetheless she believes a significant shift is afoot.

“You can see that younger people value privacy, but they still crave validation,” she explains. Yet where that validation comes from is shifting. “There is a generation coming to the fore that place a huge value on kindness and caring,” she adds.

A commitment to kindness and nurturing talent has underpinned Doubleday’s career. For while her career path has followed developments in technology, it has been equally led and supported by the people she has worked with. “I love agencies; I love the creativity and energy. I have made life-long friends and grown up within the industry,” she explains.

It would be churlish to claim that social media has come of age in just a decade. Yet as We Are Social passes its own milestone, there is no question that the commercial case for social media-powered creativity has long been made. For the agency that was on the leading edge of technology to be driving the charge when it comes to prioritising talent and embracing new ways of working underlines the fact that it’s always the people behind the technology, rather than the platforms themselves, that make the biggest impact.

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Images taken from We Are Social's Ten Years of Social exhibition, 2018