Brand Sponsored Experiences: Powermouth by Refinery29 and Nars [Review]

Brand sponsored experiences with strong social media elements are a very exciting area of marketing that are developing at rapid pace.  I was excited to attend Power Mouth in London last month, an event created through a collaboration between Refinery29 and the cosmetic brand Nars. The event was interesting in so many ways for anyone that wants to learn more about how to use social first experiences for brand growth.

Firstly it’s very interesting that Nars choose to collaborate with Refinery29 in this way. Refinery29 are an online publisher that called themselves a modern woman’s destination for how to live a stylish, well-rounded life and include articles covering entertainment news, fashion tips and health. Refinery29 has over one billion pageviews per year and is among America’s fastest growing private companies. They have a strong social media presence; over one million followers on Twitter, approaching two million on across their various accounts on Instagram and over six million fans on Facebook. What sets them apart from a lot of other online publishers is their 29Rooms experience. I have to admit that when I first saw 29Rooms promoted on social I literally craved to go there. 29Rooms is Refinery29’s Funhouse Of Style, Culture, And Technology – basically everything I ever wanted in an event all wrapped up into one. 29Rooms took place in New York in September and opens in Los Angeles in December 2017. To get a sense of what some of the rooms hold take a look at 29Rooms on Instagram. Just looking at this now makes we want to run away and join the circus that is 29Rooms!

A post shared by 29Rooms (@29rooms) on

Nars obviously see the reach that Refinery29 has with a young female audience and that the 29Rooms event is an extremely social first experience and no doubt hoped that by collaborating with Refinery29 they could get some reach on social into the Refinery29 audience and then strengthen that connection with the audience in person. The collaboration produced an event called Power Mouth, an exhibition which ran over two days (8-9 September 2017) at Protein Studios in trendy Shoreditch, London – lots of boxes being ticked there for Nars.

Power Mouth was promoted as a collaboration between Refinery29 and Nars and their founder and creative director, François Nars to celebrate the launch of Nars’ newest product: the Powermatte Lip Pigment. The female-only art exhibition featured works by artists Daantje Bons, Natalia Stuyk, Romily Alice, Shae DeTar and Vanessa Kisuule. I came across the event via an Instagram ad from Refinery29 and immediately signed up on the Eventbrite page hoping to get a slice of the 29Rooms experience. I follow Refinery29 on Instagram and they already have an established audience there that they were able to target on social to promote Power Mouth. Would I have been as interested if I had seen the same ad from Nars and not Refinery 29? Probably not so the strategy to use the collaboration to leverage the existing audience of Refinery29 was certainly a good one. The event was marketed by Refinery29 as being an Instagram dream so from the outset it was promoted as being a highly social event with lots of impactful, visual and  shareable content for attendees.

I attended the event with Amanda Webb of Amanda is a social media and blogging expert so it was interesting to get Amanda’s perspective as we experienced the event together. The exhibition was laid out over three rooms including an anteroom that had some signage explaining the exhibition and three artworks, two photographs and one sculpture – a rose nipple in a bell jar on a pedestal by artist Daantje Bons. This set the tone for the exhibition, it was to be very ‘feminine’ and very much about female empowerment. This is also as challenging as the work got. Still, a nipple is a nipple.

A post shared by beth 🌊 (@pagesfrombeth) on

From there we entered a room that had some other works, some female forms in neon by Romily Alice and a video featuring Vanessa Kisuule’s spoken word piece, A Personal Malleable Manifesto. Unlike the original in this one Vanessa’s lipstick wearing lips were a central focus. I think I would have engaged more with the authenticity of the original had it been used instead.

Surprisingly the main feature of the next room was a full Nars makeup studio, as if it had been lifted straight from a department store and dropped into the middle of the exhibition. We were approached and asked if we would like to get some lipstick applied and we both politely declined. I love my makeup as much as the next girl but we were there to have an experience, not try on lipstick.

A post shared by perfect cartel (@perfectcartel) on

We took refuge in a small room within this larger space and to our delight this turned out to be a mirror box featuring work by Natalia Stuyk. This room of multi-colour video was a welcome surprise and felt like a small sampling of the 29Rooms experience. We stayed in here for quite a few minutes taking Instagram and Snapchat video.

Inside the magic room at #powermouth an immersive exhibition by @refinery29uk for @narsissist

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And that was it. Apart from a social photo stand where you could take your photo and have it sent to you on social or email, that was the full experience. I’ve since learned that there was also a ‘wall’ where attendees could write their own message but we missed that, thinking they were just coloured pieces of paper reflective of the various colours of the lipstick on offer.

I had really high hopes for Power Mouth. I was expecting more than two rooms and a lot more art and maybe a bit more of the 29Rooms experience. Given that a lot of the second room was taken up by product promotion I have to say it was a bit of a let down. I understand that selling product is the ultimate goal but I think this could have been achieved in a different way. Knowing that the experience was sponsored by Nars was enough to increase their brand awareness and consideration with me. I did not need to also be confronted with a request to try their product as part of the exhibition and I’m surprised that the artists allowed their work to stand beside such blatant product promotion in a gallery context. Amanda and I discussed what would have made us more likely to actually try the product during the event and we thought perhaps something that was a little more fun and irreverent like a glitter lip might have worked, who knows! I think it would have been fine to have been handed a sample of the product on the way out, perhaps with some print content about the artists and their work. In this context the art should come first and the product second.

On the flip side we did like the experience enough to share it on social, especially the part in the magic room aka mirror box and from looking at the content on the event hashtag lots of other people liked it too, so ultimately I think that this event was likely a successful one for Refinery29 and Nars though it could have been so much more.

Some key learnings from this event if you work with a brand that want to use an event like this to improve their reach and resonance:

  • Consider collaborating with an established publisher that has good reach and an established experiential framework like Refinery29 have with 29Rooms
  • As part of the collaboration include sponsored ads targeting the publisher’s followers
  • Don’t be tempted to oversell the brand or product at the event – yes there has to be an ROI for the collaboration but if you push too far it can make attendees resentful
  • Include micro experiences that are immersive and shareable like the mirror box at this event
  • Give maximum value. In this example that would have been more art, more content, just more to experience

For more examples on how brands create social first experiences take a look at my book.

B2B Instagram Strategy

B2B Instagram Strategy – Humans of Business for Sage

In January 2016, B2B software company Sage wanted to launch a global Instagram channel. But how could they engage people across many different countries with one Instagram account? How could a company synonymous with business software stand-out on a channel famous for fashion, food and feel good?

Investing in Instagram would future proof the Sage social media strategy, ensuring they stayed relevant and attracted emerging start-ups looking for cutting edge technology solutions but Sage needed to act fast and achieve impact if they were going to stand out with the new SageOfficial Instagram account.

Finding Inspiration on Instagram

As part of the social media team in Sage, it seemed that the only way we could engage a global audience with one Instagram account was to create a content strategy around a universal theme.

It is often the most universal of themes that are the most personal. We are all more alike than we think.Click To Tweet

I wondered what universal themes inspired business owners and I thought back to when I owned a small business. It was the hardest time of my life, every day a struggle. I could really have done with some inspiration, some sense that I wasn’t alone and that other people had faced and overcome the same challenges I had.

Back in Sage, Humans of New York stories were showing up on my Facebook feed every day. I saw  one story about a man who had experienced the ups and downs of business life and I thought what if there was a social media channel that shared business owner’s stories every day. Humans of Business was born.

If this was going to work Sage had to step aside from any corporate ego and accept that @SageOfficial would never be about Sage. Humans of Business is about the audience Sage serves, small business owners, and the stories they have to tell. On Instagram, the Sage brand lives through business owners and their stories.

Instagram Content Strategy

Once we had the big idea we developed a content strategy for the account. We had to have striking images that featured real people in each story. To support each photo we needed the story behind each small business owner. We decided that the content for @SageOfficial would be audience generated or at least created with the audience. It is their voice, their life, their world, curated by Sage.


Our Instagram content mantra goes like this:

On Instagram our content will:

  • Put customers at the center
  • Be user generated content (or created with them)
  • Be authentic and human rather than ‘constructed’ branded content
  • Be content that we’re not using on our other social channels – to achieve channel distinction
  • Leverage social influencers by sharing their content
  • Relate to the experiences of starting a business around the world

This presented a new challenge, finding the right content.

Sourcing Content for Instagram

Here is how we find great business stories to share on the @SageOfficial Instagram account:

  • Searching on hashtags like #startup and #entrepreneur helps us find great stories. Once we find the right content we reach out to the owner via the website link in their Instagram bio.
  • Sage customers tell the best stories. With millions of customers Sage knows a lot of  business owners we can invite to be featured on our Instagram account. Often we combine this approach with hashtag searching by searching for Sage hashtags like #SageOne. Another approach is to look for customers that were photographers, designers or otherwise creative as they likely have good photos that they are already sharing on Instagram.
  • We hits the streets. Some of the best pieces of content we have for Instagram are from when we went walk about and stopped by some small businesses. Once we show them @SageOfficial they are often happy to take a photo and share their story with us. Sometimes they take the photo, sometimes we do. We try to capture the business owner at work in their business.
  • Influencers are a great way to get the word out and often have strong content too. Sage already have a social influencer programme that we use to source  content. When we launched the @SageOfficial Instagram account we featured some stories from business owners in our social influencer programme.
  • Events work really well for Instagram content generation. At Sage Summit we invite our customers to share their best Sage Advice in video for publishing on @SageOfficial. Sometimes they share their stories too but we find that layering some stories with business advice is a good way to increase the value of our Instagram posts for our audience.
  • By cross promoting Humans of Business onto well established Sage accounts on Facebook and Twitter we are able to source content from an already highly engaged social audience.
  • We invite business owners to submit their photo and story for inclusion. If you want to submit yours you can fill in the form here.
  • We created a pop up content studio with the Startup Van to create lots of posts to feed our Instagram account for weeks and months to come. More on that in another post.

Instagram Content and Audience Targets

Looking at the markets Sage were active in and cross referencing those with the markets that had the largest Instagram user base we selected the countries with the biggest opportunity for follower growth and content sourcing. It makes sense to source the most content from those markets where we want to grow our followers. When we set up @SageOfficial, the number of businesses active on Instagram within our target markets was 400,000.  This gave good scope to find relevant content and grow our followers. Our captions are usually posted in English with a translation into the local language of the person featured. We also tag the location of the business and I’m proud that we have featured business owners from many different countries and languages. We see again and again that the experience of being a small business owner has many similarities around the world.

Creating a Process

Sourcing content is not easy and the process behind Sage content curation on Instagram is quite complex, involving legal forms that we ask people to sign to give us permission to use their content. A photo of a person is legally considered to be information about that person so there are very strict legal rules about how we store and use that content. It’s not just a matter of finding a photo and sharing it that day on Instagram, a lot of work and administration goes on behind the scenes to ensure we are following the correct process and maintaining legal compliance.

Crafting a great Instagram Post

As well as adhering to a strict process we also take the time to curate a compelling story to go with each photo. Usually when people share a photo on Instagram they don’t write a Humans of Business style caption to go with it so the social media team in Sage often interviews them to discover their story and find an element that will resonate with other followers.

As our social media team are sourcing content from a wide variety of sources we also created our own guidelines for finding and selecting the best images and stories. Thanks to these guidelines created in collaboration with the Sage brand team, there is a consistency across all of the images we use on @Sageofficial. This guide tells our social team to look at our Instagram feed as a big picture.

To create a consistent feed, we need to view our Instagram as a whole rather than lots of separate images. When we are posting an image, think about how it will look like next to our other photos. This means that all your photos should have a consistent element or theme to tie them together.Austin Maguire, Creative Director, SageOfficial Instagram.

To create a consistent feed, view your Instagram as a whole rather than lots of separate images.Click To Tweet

We also strive for quality over quantity and ask our curators to not settle for poor quality images just to get a post published. Our Instagram guide advises: Instead of treating your photo as a line item on a to-do list, it should be sourced and respected as a meaningful moment. – Austin Maguire, Creative Director, SageOfficial Instagram.

Winning with Instagram

Of course sourcing and publishing content is only one part of the job. Community management and promotion of @SageOfficial is an equally important part to grow followers and increase engagement and it’s all paying off. Sage  has been recognised as one of five software companies rocking Instagram and with the following awards for Humans of Business content:

Killer Content Awards 2017

The @SageOfficial Instagram account has over 3,000 organic followers and continues to grow. Most importantly @SageOfficial has built a highly engaged community of business owners who trust Sage to share their stories with the world.


Are You Ready For The Post-Social Media Age?

Are You Ready For The Post Social Media Age?

This is not a post about the death of social media. Sorry folks but social media is not going anywhere! However we are entering a new age of social media, the post social media age. It has roots in the time that came before and there will be overlap, but it is also distinctly different. What’s most important for brand and social media managers is what you’ve been doing up to now won’t work in this new era so you need to prepare or risk the decline of your brand on social media.

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Sell Event Tickets on Facebook

Facebook Lets Event Organisers Sell Tickets Directly from Its Site and Apps

Facebook is a great tool for event marketers. The largest social network with an every growing user base and a range of functionality for event promotion it is no wonder that event organisers love Facebook. Event organisers currently use the Buy Tickets button on Facebook Events and the call to action button on Facebook Pages to bring audiences directly to their ticket purchase web page but soon you will also be able to sell event tickets directly on Facebook thanks to the recent Eventbrite and Ticketmaster integration.

Facebook has partnered with Eventbrite and Ticketmaster  to let people buy tickets to events from its site and app. This integration is currently being tested on Facebook’s desktop site, and iOS and Android apps. Though the pilot program is currently only available to those in the U.S., it is likely that it will be rolled out to other countries soon.

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The Science of Events

Social Media: The Science Behind Online Engagement at Events

I was delighted to be included in a recent report by Eventbrite on the science behind online engagement at events. It is a topic really close to my heart and I think Eventbrite do a great job supporting event professionals by providing them with the most up to date insight and information on events, including the use of social media for event amplification and promotion.

The guide includes lots of great tips and advice on how to use social media to engage an event audience and lots of nuggets of advice from your truly. You can download the guide here.

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How to use Facebook to Promote Your Event

[Superpost] How to Use Facebook to Promote Your Event

No marketer can ignore Facebook. It has the largest potential reach of any social channel at 1.71 billion monthly active users and growing (at time of writing). If you want your audience to know about your event, you need to use Facebook. Even if you’re sure your audience is not on Facebook, chances are that those that influence your target audience are on Facebook. The great irony is that this potential reach is limited due to the News Feed algorithm and Facebook is largely becoming a paid social channel as organic reach continues to drop for pages. There are, however, many opportunities to leverage and some features of Facebook that are particularly suited to event marketing.

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The Long Tail of Social Influence

Leveraging The Long Tail of Social Influence for Your Event

Social influencers are a key part of any social media strategy. Social influencers bring reach and advocacy that most brands and events could not achieve on their own. Most social influencer plans focus on working with influencers with a very large reach. Sure other factors are taken into account like how engaged their followers are, what their retweet rate is and their overall personal brand, but often the search for influencers starts out with follower numbers. There is however, another part to social influence, the long tail of social influence.

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Pokemon Go for event marketing

What Pokemon Go Means for Event Marketing

Is Pokemon Go just a fad or here to stay? Time will tell but clever event marketers can use Pokemon Go to increase audience engagement and satisfaction which always translates well onto social media. Just when you thought you had your social channel plan for your event confirmed and all of your on-site event engagement opportunities in place Pokemon Go presents another opportunity for event marketers.

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Help Your Event Trend on Twitter

Nine Steps to Trending: Help Your Event Hashtag Trend on Twitter

So you want your event to trend on Twitter? This is like trying to make a viral video or someone asking a publicist to make them famous. Like those examples, there are many tried and tested ways to help this happen but seeking fame, even in the form of a Twitter trend, for the sake of it is not the best way to approach social media. Instead, trending should be approached as one of many outcomes of delighting your audience rather than a social media objective in itself. That is not to say that trending on Twitter does not have its benefits.

Trending should be approached as one of many outcomes of delighting your audience.Click To Tweet

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