Data driven social media at the Royal Institution

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I’m joined by Steven Franklin the Social Media Manager at the Royal Institution.

“We’re quite unashamed in our belief that, Science is for everyone and Science is important.”

Steven Franklin is a self-confessed social media addict, with 4 years’ experience of work in social media, drawn from a mixture of heritage, cultural, government, and the charity sectors.

To date, he has worked at Egham Museum, Bradford Museums and Art Galleries, The National Archives, and now The Royal Institution.

When he’s not making TikToks or trying to write witty posts on X, you’ll find him thinking about how the latest evolutions in social media could translate and be used within the cultural and charity sectors. His passion for innovation has seen him deliver huge social media at every organisation that he has worked, bringing his distinctive mixture of creativity and storytelling to every account, which has resulted in an attention-grabbing tone of voice that has greatly increased brand exposure and recognition.

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Stephen Franklin’s Role at the Royal Institution
  • Role of the Royal Institution (RI)
  • Importance of Social Media at the RI
  • Data Utilization for Decision Making
  • Demonstrating RI for Social Media Efforts

Skip the Queue Steven Franklin

The interview

Your host, Paul Marden

Our guest, Steven Franklin



Paul Marden: Welcome, Steven, to the Skip the Queue podcast. It’s lovely to have you.

Steven Franklin: Yeah, thank you very much for inviting me on, Paul. Really looking forward to this chat.

Paul Marden: Yeah, me too. Me too. So, before we get started, where are you sat at the moment? Because it’s looking like a pretty impressive location.

Steven Franklin: Yeah, no, I thought I’d make an effort for the listeners and viewers. So I’m currently in the very salubrious surroundings of Mayfair. To be more specific, the Royal Institution on Albemarle street, in the historic writing room, which dates all the way back to the sort of mid 1800s. Interestingly, a little anecdote.

This is the room where our discourse speakers are locked in and have been locked in for quite a while, for a couple of, well, approaching a couple of centuries, following one specific instance where one of our speakers got so overwhelmed by anxiety and nerves that he basically left before his talk. So, in order to prevent that from happening, we now locked speakers up half an hour before their discourse is supposed to start, so they don’t have the chance to run away and leave the audience wanting more to speak.

Paul Marden: And for the Skip the Queue audience, I would like emphasise that is not my plan going forward with the podcast. I am not going to lock people up half an hour before that.

Steven Franklin: No.

Paul Marden: So, Steven, we always start with some icebreaker questions. So I’ve got a couple for you. First one, what’s your earliest memory of travelling outside of your hometown?

Steven Franklin: Oh, I think it would have to be travelling up to see one of my aunties who lives in Northamptonshire, and I always remember sort of going up the M1, which is an interesting thing to remember, seeing sort of the lights. But I think, more importantly than the sort of mundaneity and boredom of travelling up a motorway, it was just sort of the excitement and good times of getting treated by different relatives who also had a golden retriever called Barney, who I was very fond of. And, yeah, that was probably my earliest memory.

Paul Marden: Yeah, family trips like that are lovely, aren’t they? I remember lots of trips up into South Wales. So mine would be that my memory would probably be the M4, travelling from Somerset up to the South Wales Valleys to visit Auger Farrell. Okay, so the next one. How would you describe your job to a two year old?

Steven Franklin: I’m in the business of entertaining people. And the way I entertain people is by either doing it through the form of video, or by doing it through the form of written word, or by doing it in nice visuals, whether they are still photos or animated graphics. And as a byproduct of my entertainment, I hope to also educate. There you go.

Paul Marden: Lovely. So another thing that we always ask our visitors onto the show is, what’s your unpopular opinion?

Steven Franklin: So I’ve been. Obviously, you gave me the heads up for this, and I’ve been thinking long and hard about what’s the most unpopular opinion that I came up with that I truly believe in, and mine is that audiobooks are a more pleasurable and enjoyable experience than reading a proper book.

Paul Marden: Oh, wow. Okay, so what’s wrong with reading a proper book? There are librarians among us that might actually care about a physical book.

Steven Franklin: Yeah. Yeah. See this where it becomes a poor reflection on my own self, basically, because the reason that I don’t really enjoy reading proper books is that I find it quite difficult to sort of sit still for long periods of time. I also find it quite difficult to shut my brain off for long enough to only be really focused on the one, the book that’s in front of me. So, yeah, whilst I do appreciate the romanticism of sort of reading a book in the sun or reading a book over a cup of tea or, you know, reading a classic novel on holiday and the sort of the tactile nature of the book experience, it’s never really sat with me.

So I think in some ways, that sort of unpopular opinion isn’t really surprising, given what I work in and sort of age I am and sort of the media that I create, so I don’t know whether it’s a sense of the tail wagging the dog or the dog wagging the tail, but either way it’s, you know, there’s a nice sort of closed loop there.

Paul Marden: I’ve got my subscription and I’ve got a few credits that I need to spend at the bank, but I like an audiobook, but they send me to sleep, so if I can’t do factual books on audiobook that sends me straight to sleep. But even listening to fiction on audible, within five minutes, I’ll be out. Whereas I can sit and read a book and that can hold my attention for a couple of chapters before nodding off. Audiobook, I just need. I was listening to a Stephen Fry narrated one the other day, the lulling tones of Stephen Fry, but off I went to sleep.

Steven Franklin: I think Stephen Fry is, you know, he’s sort of a silent assassin of the audiobook world insofar as he has such a, you know, his dulcet tones just naturally send you off and give me the Harry Potter audiobooks read by Stephen Fry, and I’m golden, so to speak. But, yeah, now, I also got into a bit of a nerdy sort of. And this is a very typical conversation at the RI, but a nerdy chat about whether you retain more information having actually read the book than listening to the book. Because I was of the opinion that you probably didn’t take as much in if you were listening to it than if you were reading it.

I can’t exactly remember what the figures were, but I think the long and short of it was that actually, the science suggests that sort of retention is slightly less, but not as drastic as you might have thought. So that gave me some sort of, you know, made me feel a little bit better about myself and my inability to sit quiet for long periods of time and read.

Paul Marden: So, anecdotally, I’m reading to my daughter as we read every night before she goes to bed. She’s ten years old. She can be doing something else. She could even be reading a different book that I’ll be reading to her. And I’m like, “You’re not listening to me. What did I just say?” And she could just recite exactly what I just said. So she is listening, somehow, doing two things at once. I do not understand how she does it.

Steven Franklin: I don’t know whether this is actually correct, but somewhere somebody might have said something or have read it, but there’s something about doing two things at once that, you know, sort of gets your brain in a state of flow and maybe ups your performance again, I actually don’t know whether this is true, but if it’s not, this is a lie that I tell myself.

Paul Marden: So it’s a pinchot that we’re not actually scientists of the RI, so why don’t we. You’ve told us what the two year old view of your job might look like, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about the RI? Lots of listeners will be aware of the RI from the Christmas lectures, but it’s got really long history. So tell us a little bit about that, about each role today and what you do.

Steven Franklin: Yeah, so the RI founded in 1799, basically from its very inception, a science engagement institution. I think that’s something that has always and will continue to always set the RI apart from other sort of science organisations, insofar as we haven’t been an organisation that’s got a traditional focus on research and research outputs. Our sort of modus operandi, for want of a better phrase, has always been the core principle of connecting the public with science. Back in 1799 and through the early 1800s, you know, that would have been done traditionally by. Well, it still is to this day, but obviously that’s back. Back in the day of ye oldy, victorian times, it would have been done by sort of, you know, lectures and demonstrations.

So the likes of, you know, Humphrey Davy, Michael Faraday, you know, these are some of the big figures that are associated with our long 225 year history. And in fact, pretty much every, you know, sort of famous scientist of the Victorian age is likely to have been a member here at some stage. Yeah. So, you know, we’re very difficult. We’re very different from the likes of the Royal Society in the sense that we’ve always welcomed women. We’ve always sort of had an ethos of connecting children. The Christmas lecture has been the most obvious example, but we’re connecting children to science. And I think also, you know, we’ve also been quite historically wedded to the idea of being slightly different, less snobbish for, you know, I think, and more. More sort of open, more playful. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

And in fact, during sort of the Victorian period, we were sort of lambasted by famous caricatures of the day for that very fact. For the fact that sort of. We were obsessed with teaching the public. We allowed women in. We sort of broke the traditional rules of the day. So that got us into a bit of not trouble, but people laughed at us and pointed at us and sort of said that weren’t doing it the right way because we weren’t an academic members only organisation. So that was. That was sort of our founding. And I think, you know, pretty much from that point onwards today, we’ve not really changed in that regard. The thing that’s changed is sort of society around us. So we still have a lecture theatre.

I’ve mentioned earlier that we have our discourses. They used to happen every Friday, and they now happen once, the last Friday of every month. Christmas lectures continue to this day, and next year it will be the 200th anniversary of them.

Paul Marden: Wow.

Steven Franklin: And the Christmas lectures have pretty much been a constant. They were stopped or paused during World War II but, you know, by and large, a tradition that’s sort of a line that links us from the present all the way back to the past. And, in fact, even the desk that sits, that’s in the lecture theatre today, whilst it’s not Faraday’s original, part of it, is, so every time they rebuild it, they keep a part of the old desk and use that. So it’s a bit like that, you know, that famous Titanic sort of riddle like, if you were to change all the parts of the Titanic, would it still be the Titanic? And, you know, or bicycle, whatever. But, yeah, so there’s that. And I think, to the present day, our scope’s much larger now.

So we have a sort of traditional stem learning framework in place where school kids, pretty much of all curricular curriculum ages, can come to on site and be taught. So we’ve got a very buzzing, very healthy science programme. We also do a lot off site science engagement for the schools that aren’t based in London. We also have a very thriving public programme that, you know, sees some of the foremost, greatest scientific thinkers of today come and provide lectures in the Faraday lecture theatre. We’re also home to a wonderful collection of scientific history. So there’s been ten elements of the periodic table that were isolated here at the RI. So, yeah, we’ve got a history of that, and we have, well, basically, we’ve far too much for even us to talk about. And then I guess.

I guess for me, working in sort of digital social media, I guess part of my remit, well, my remit is to engage people with Science to get them interested in Science. We believe, and we’re quite unashamed in our belief that, you know, Science is for everyone and Science is important. It is quite fundamental and crucial to everyday life, regardless of how old you are. So a knowledge of science is important. And, you know, another key sort of part of my work is to sort of show off what the RI has in our heritage collection, our public programme, to get people onto site, to encourage people to become members and support our mission, and just to, I guess, entertain people through science. There you go.

Paul Marden: That’s interesting, isn’t it? The entertainment element of it. I guess there’s an element of trying to get people on board and engage in their RI’s mission, but at the same time entertaining them. And everyone likes a good explosion video, don’t they?

Steven Franklin: So, yeah, I mean, yeah, I’ve sort of. Not a day goes past where I don’t feel incredibly fortunate, really, because, you know, in some ways, I get a lot of the credit for success that we see on social media when videos go viral. But I’m not the one exploding hydrogen balloons or making, you know, really impressive looking sort of demos, chemical reactions, so to speak. So, you know, it’s very much an all sort of team sort of mission. But, yeah, I do have it very good, actually, because I’ve got so much. I’m like Aladdin in the cave, got so much to play with.

Paul Marden: Lots of material. So that’s interesting. So let’s talk a little bit about social media at the RI. It’s really important to the organisation, because when I was doing my bone round research to all of this, and I open up the annual report, then on the trustees report, on, like, page one or page two of the annual report, they are talking about the impact of social media on the organisation. So it’s obviously crucial to what you do. How do you think that it’s become that important for the organisation?

Steven Franklin: I think, genuinely, it does link back to that core fundamental purpose. All social media is the 21st century way of connecting people with an idea. In the Victorian times, you would have had to sit in a lecture theatre and listen to the lecture given. If you were lucky, you might have been able to read it, if you were in the right sort of circles. But, in many ways, the way in which technology has evolved and where we sit here today, it’s never been easier to sort of publish ideas and communicate thinking. That isn’t to downplay the craft that goes into it, because I think that’s two separate conversations. It is very easy to publish.

It’s a little bit more of a science to publish in the right way with the right sort of thinking that goes into it. So, yeah, I think, it’s fundamental about connecting people with science, and that is what the charity and the institution is built on. I think we’re quite fortunate, the RI, in the sense that we have a leadership team that truly believes in the importance of connection and doesn’t devalue digital connection against physical connection. So, whether you’re supporting our social media channels, whether you’re a subscriber on YouTube, or whether you’re sitting in the lecture theatre, that is a valuable engagement that is fulfilling a function and part of our purpose. So, yeah, I think that’s why. And actually, it’s really nice to be working at an organisation that does play such onus and importance.

Paul Marden: Yeah, absolutely. So what is it like having responsibility for over a million followers across social? That must be a little bit bolting.

Steven Franklin: Yes, it is. And I’ve thought about this a lot, and indeed, I’ve had quite a short career in social media, but I think even I’ve begun to mature in the way I think about this, too. I think, first and foremost, if you’re working in social media, you probably aren’t somebody that’s overawed by that fact that you can hit huge numbers of people pretty much instantaneously. And I think if you are somebody that would get anxious about that, you probably wouldn’t be working in social or indeed comms. So I think there’s that. But I think it’s a great honour, to be honest, to be trusted pretty much within reason, to sort of spearhead a strategy and have a bit of fun.

And translate sort of, scientific ideas into a medium that makes sense for the 21st century, or indeed the trend, or indeed the platform. I think that’s in a very entrusted position. Yeah, so there’s that. And then, I think, for me personally, there’s been a bit of maturity in sort of realising that, actually, whilst you still get that rush, when you see a viral post really take off and you get that lovely dopamine hit and you’re on cloud nine, actually realising that this is not your account, you’re doing the work of the organisation. This isn’t Steven Franklin out there and sort of going viral.

Paul Marden: This is some of the jokes. There’s a little bit of you in there, I think.

Steven Franklin: Yeah, no, there is, there is. But I think the thing that I’ve realised is that when things. When things go well, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. But in the odd moments where you get into a bit of a sticky patch, something didn’t go quite anticipated. That’s when having too close a personal connection with it does become health sage. Correct. Yeah. And actually, I think, by and large, for the most part, that sort of talking to a million people is 99% not a problem. It’s that small 1% of moments where something goes awry that you didn’t quite anticipate, we didn’t expect. I try my best to think 360 degrees about what possibly people could think in response to it.

A post that I think is harmless, but in reality we’re posting to the Internet and everybody on the Internet is able to hold of you. And so I was having this conversation with my line manager a couple of weeks ago, 20 years ago, you would have published something in the press and somebody would have had the same thought. The only difference was they were having it in their living room and they were just uttering it to their other half. Today they can literally give you instantaneous feedback. So that’s how the dynamic shifted. So yeah, I think hopefully that’s answered your question. Paul.

Paul Marden: Yeah, you touched on this a minute ago, you touched on kind of the broader strategy. So what are the goals for social, for the organisation going forwards?

Steven Franklin: I mean more, more, more. How do you like it? How do you like it? I mean there is an element of that. So obviously we want to continue growing all of our channels as much as possible. We want to be talking to as many new people, raising the awareness of the institution, raising the awareness of our work, but then also sort of subsidiary to that, just sort of communicating good science and providing that sort of educational offer. So I think, there is that sort of vanity metric in terms of raw number of followers, but we’re also really interested in engagement and you know, there’s no point to us in having 5 million followers if only 5000 people engage with your content each month. That to us feels a little incongruous.

So, putting out quality content on channels that our communities on those channels respond to and enjoy and engage with is sort of a big motivation factor for us. And then secondly, or maybe thirdly, we’ve been quite agile in adapting to technology in the 21st century. So some of our channels we have monetised and sort of use digital content to help drive revenue and bring in revenue. So that’s a sort of secondary or tertiary sort of thing on social.

Paul Marden: Yeah, it’s a nice bit of feedback, isn’t it, in batching to the organisation. So who are the audiences, those communities that you touched on a moment ago, who is it that you’re trying to speak to?

Steven Franklin: So I think by and large, like any organisation, we have an audience sort of strategy that sort of segments all of our audiences into various catchment terms that represent people and we have about six to eight of those. And we made a conscious effort to focus on to two groups that we internally refer to as the science connected and the science curious.

So science connected being people that might work in science, might have done a degree in science, might have a connection through science, they might be studying it. So, that traditional science call, they work in a career that is adjacent to science and then the science curious, probably, are those people that don’t fit into that group, but are probably more arts and culturally orientated.

They are interested in learning new things, they are open to ideas and exchanging ideas and. Yeah. So those are the sort of two audiences that we predominantly focus on. That isn’t to say that we are deliberately excluding the rest.

Paul Marden: If you’re not focusing on some bit, you’re focused on no deal.

Steven Franklin: Exactly. Yeah.

Paul Marden: So I guess the reason how the way that we got connected, the way that our conversation started together, was more interested in data and pulling data out of the sector and understanding how the sector works. And in a conversation I had with Rachel at the Association of Science and Discovery Centre, she said you’d be a really good person to talk to because you’re really motivated by the data behind social and you use that a lot to be able to influence what you do. So tell us a little bit about that. How are you using data to make decisions about what you do next?

Steven Franklin: Well, that’s a big question. I think one of the great things about working in digital social being a part of digital, is that there’s no shortage of data that is at your disposal. I think one of the things that makes me sort of sad working within the charity cultural sector is that actually, by and large, the level of resource isn’t there to truly sort of get to the bottom of what that data tells you. 

Paul Marden: Yes. 

Steven Franklin: So I’ll get off my soapbox now. Yeah. So, as you say, I’m very interested in using that data to inform my content choices. And I think by far and away, the clearest example I have to show you today is the way that we’ve sort of looked at data in terms of our Instagram growth.

To put that into context, in the last six months we’ve grown organically by 110,000 followers in about 130 posts. So absolutely staggering numbers. And then within the last four or five months, we’ve done approaching 10 million impressions on just Instagram alone. So, huge numbers. And the thing that I noticed was that whenever I posted a static image or graphic to the grid, so just a post, the only people that saw it were your followers, and there was a tiny fraction of people that weren’t your followers. So I posted a reel and then I realised that percentage and was completely skied the other way. So, depending on how successful the reel was, you could have anything up to 75% non followers versus 25% followers on a truly viral reel, that was over a million views.

So what that told me was that if I wanted to grow, the easiest way to grow is to obviously get your content to new people. And the way the platform and the algorithm was telling me the easiest way to do that was to just publish Instagram reels. So. And, there have been other stories. I think the Washington Post sort of in 21, 22, grew their Instagram channel to over a couple of million by publishing three Instagram reels a day. And they had exponential growth of which hadn’t been seen before. So I didn’t do three times a day. I just did three a week one on Monday, one on Wednesday, one on Friday. All videos about 60 seconds, some 40 seconds and some, up to a minute and a half. But yeah, just got into that pattern.

Steven Franklin: Posted, posted posters, and then I would supplement those reels with, a couple of grid posts. And the way that I sort of was seeing or the way that the strategy has sort of evolved is that the reels are the things that grow the channel and the grid posts are the things that cultivate the community. So, our Instagram reels are our calling card.

Paul Marden: Yep.

Steven Franklin: For a traditional analogy, they’re the billboard that you put on the motorway that lots of people see. And the content you post to your  followers or to those followers are the sort of entertaining, sort of, membership pack that they can read and that equivalent, the analogy sort of fell down. But hopefully you get my gist.

Paul Marden: Yeah, I get what you mean. So when you flip it on its head and you go with the reels, you get this massive increase in people that aren’t following you, seeing what you’re talking about. And what sort of conversion rate are you seeing how many people are actually following you as a result of that? Is that the great point there?

Steven Franklin: Yeah, so we’ve like, within a month, we’ve been growing on average, 20,000 followers a month. In some days, we’ve been doing one and a half thousand followers a day. You can link that. So, you know, Instagram, if you go into our most popular reel that has over 5 million views, it will tell you how many new followers that specific video has generated. That video, I think, for us, has in itself generated like 30,000 new followers.

Paul Marden: Many thoughts. Now there’s just play by mind. That’s amazing. What is it about the content? Have you changed the content over that time? So you’d say that you’re presenting different things.

Steven Franklin: Yeah. So it’s been really interesting. And the reason it’s been interesting is because by and large, it sort of has gone against the industry received wisdom. So, for context, I am the sole person in charge of social media. I work in a digital and marketing team. We have two full time video producers who help me create visual content and assets and video. But by and large, you know, I am sort of a one man band. So I sort of decided that I couldn’t create brand new content all the time. But what I could do is use the 40 minutes to an hour lecture that we have take place in our lectures sometimes three times a week that are by and large filmed.

I know that we’ve got some of the greatest scientists in the world coming to speak about really cool things. Okay, cool. Why don’t I take that 1 hour talk and skim through it at two times speed and isolate 1 minute moments that peak interest. Okay. So that’s all very well and good. What are the things that we internally think peak people’s interest? Well, there’s the obvious one. It’s the demonstrations or the impressive science experiments, the bangs, the smoke and all of that. So there’s that. Then there’s the talking about something that’s, you know, vaguely topical trending. So I think that, the probably most obvious example of that is the, is Chris Van Dulligan and his ultra processed foods or ultra processed people book.

So, yep, we released quite a lot of content around that. And that did very well. And then thirdly, I guess it’s the content that is likely to somewhat divide opinion. I won’t say it’s controversial content, but I would say that it’s content that is most likely to get people talking. Because another thing that I noticed was that if your video gets more comments, it seems that helps with performance than likes. So you could get loads of likes. But if nobody comments, then algorithm isn’t interested. But if people start talking and commenting, then the algorithm says, “Oh, people really like this. And, you know, it doesn’t matter what they’re saying.”

Paul Marden: And that’s what you’re seeing with the reels. Is it that you push a reel out there? And if it’s, if it is thought provoking, not controversial. Yeah. Then you’re seeing people commenting on that and that drawings up more impressions, which itself drives more engagement and all the outcomes.

Steven Franklin: Yeah. So like to take that 5 million reel example, you know, it’s got like 45,000 likes, so it’s still a lot of likes. But if you did the maths, that compared to 5 million views, it’s quite a small rate. The amount of comments, it’s got huge. It’s like the comment section alone is bordering on 5000. Conversely, we have another video that’s done sort of approaching 4 million, the likes are at 100,000, but the comment section is far smaller and it hasn’t received as or hasn’t been pumped out. Now, am I reading too much into this? Probably, because at the end of the day we’re all slightly at the mercy of the algorithm and there is a bit of luck. There is a bit of luck.

But I guess for me, having sort of worked on it and sort of adopted this strategy for six months, it does seem to be the case that the more people start talking and commenting and sharing, the more the algorithm sort of takes that as a sign or marker of good content.

Paul Marden: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So around the kind of content planning and production piece, there’s a team of people around you. You’re in a fortunate position because you’ve got all of these amazing scientists from around the world that want to talk about what they do in your lecture theatre where you can go and record their content and back, all of a sudden you’ve got a content plan in front of you of the year, haven’t you? So that’s a really fortunate position to be in. But how do you go from that plan of all of the activity over the year into figuring out what you’re going to do on a daily basis on your Monday, Wednesday, Friday posts that you do.

Steven Franklin: So there’s two ways. There’s the official answer and then there’s the unofficial answer. The official answer is in some ways the reels that we post are somewhat predetermined by the schedule of our public programme. Now that isn’t to say, and this somewhat circles back to your previous question, but I think it still makes sense. Not all of our content that we published on Instagram or TikTok is, a clip of a talk. You know, we do supplement the content calendar with our own sort of original content, whether that be green screen or our own internal science demonstrations, you know, and interestingly, actually there’s another anecdote. The green screen on Instagram just dives. People aren’t interested in it.

The green screen on TikTok, people love it, whereas on TikTok you post a clip of a talk, people less don’t like it. They probably don’t feel it’s very authentic to the platform. The green screen, you know, goes bonkers, you know, work that out, whatever. Yeah, but, yeah, so going back there is. There is obviously there’s somewhat predetermined by the talks, but then also it’s coming down to, okay, we have had, you know, how many physics, how many biology, how many chemistry, how many hard science, soft science. We are an organisation that is inclusive reflex all. So we don’t want to just publish white men.

We need a gender balance there, we need an ethnicity balance as well to reflect the vibrancy of everyone that comes to talk here, but also the vibrancy of the scientific community and large because at the end of the day, our content has the ability to inspire and allows people to feel seen, I guess so. So that also sort of informs our planning process.

Paul Marden: I think you said something about when we were talking before, actually, if you were being really mercenary about this and just going for the engagement, then you would focus on certain demographics of who it is that’s presenting all the subject matter as well. Those can skew as well. But you have this obligation to be more diverse than it used.

Steven Franklin: Yeah. And that is an internal challenge. And I think it is a challenge that you could let yourself get carried away by following, chasing big numbers and fall into a trap of sort of undermining your own institution nor mission. Just at the sake of  to get to a million followers or whatever. But yeah, no, there are some challenges, you know, there are.

And this is me not trying to overstate things, but we do publish content that we know sadly won’t perform as well as say something else that we know probably would. But I think that is also one of the great joys and great beauties of working here is we’re not yet. We will never be at a stage where we just do things for the pure KPI’s. We are also all about engagement and inspiring and being inclusive.

Paul Marden: There’s a big mission that plays. It’s quite interesting, isn’t it? Because it makes you wonder whether just if you focus on one demographic or you focus one segment at the expense of the others. Is that because the algorithm favours that or is that because the audience. You would think that even if it was the algorithm favouring it’s because that’s because the audience that the algorithm serves is optimised around the algorithm is optimised around the audience. So you would expect it to be the audience listening. But yeah, it’s a. Which came first is a chicken and egg problem, isn’t it?

Steven Franklin: It is. It is a chicken and egg problem. And I think, you know, sort of this comes back to you. What’s it like to manage a channel of a million sort of people? You just got to accept that not everything you post is going to be to everyone’s taste. There’ll be things that fly and there’ll be things that don’t. But the things that don’t, it doesn’t mean that it was bad content, doesn’t mean that it’s not fulfilled an important or valuable function or done something that has meaning, even if it only gets, you know, 50 engagements. Those 50 engagements are very valuable and in some cases could be potentially more valuable if it’s chimed with the right sort of people and got in front of the audience we wanted.

Paul Marden: Yeah, my daughter absolutely adores Mark Rober videos and the crunchlight boxes that he has. And he talks about, you hide the vegetables. Yeah. You give people the big exploding test tubes or whatever, but hidden behind that is the chemistry. Or you give them a toy that enables them to do amazing things with ping pong balls, but actually along the way they’re learning some physics. You can hide the veg in amongst all of your exploding videos.

Steven Franklin: Yeah, correct. And funny you should mention Mark Rober. I was literally just watching a YouTube video about him earlier today on the way in. Yeah, I wouldn’t say an idol of mine, but a really interesting sort of case study in somebody that sort of, you know, the way in which the creator economy is sort of pivoted to a way where you can become your own sort of advertiser as well as product. And you have the perfect closed loop. You create a product, you make a video for 30 million people that advertises your product, that then generates income so you can create more product, so you can just go round around.

Yeah, I mean, I guess for me, I’m a YouTube nut and I’m a sort of social media addicts and I think there’s really big potential in sort of unlocking some of the secrets of how creators work and how they think and how they approach content and product and collaboration, taking some of those principles and concepts into the world of brands and organisations and institutions, because, let’s be honest, that’s kind of the future. And those people, regardless of whether they’ve got a marketing background or qualifications in marketing, they are cutting edge marketers who.

Paul Marden: Absolutely, yeah.

Steven Franklin: Who know exactly what they’re doing, who are obsessed by the detail, who study and analyse retention graphs until it sort of makes them blue in the face. And that’s the type of thing that I would love to do, to be able to do A and B tests on Facebook, to be able to do something as simple as publish the same video, publish one without a sort of timeline that shows how long you are through the video, publish the same video with that. See how that affects retention. Because if you believe that, as we’re told, that retention is one of the keys sort of metrics of success or good content, then if you can find ways in which you can create longer retention metric, then that would be a key.

And even something as simple as that could possibly lead to some really big impacts. Another thing, you could post your video on reels and you could look at the or TikTok, look at a retention graph. Okay, we’ll publish the same video, but we’ll take that spike and we’ll move that there and we’ll cut the video short. 

Paul Marden: That’s amazing, isn’t it? 

Steven Franklin: Yeah, but that is the sort of thinking that’s happening with some of the biggest creators, and sort of I guess they’re in a very privileged position because they have now huge teams behind them. But I guess for me the core point is that they didn’t always have these people there.

Paul Marden: And did the data just add to that, isn’t it?

Steven Franklin: Yeah, yeah. You know, and my suspicion is I’ve never spoken to the likes of Mr. Beast or Mark Rober or anybody with huge social following. But my suspicion is basically if you just take one piece of data and you optimise your workflow around that, then once you’ve got that sorted, you then turn your attention to another piece and then another piece, and then if you’ve optimised five pieces of data, then maybe you are in a place where you can get another person and then, so to speak.

Paul Marden: It’s a positive reinforcing cycle, isn’t it? So let’s take that. How do you demonstrate back to the organisation the return on their investment for all the work that you’re doing?

Steven Franklin: Well, as sort of referenced earlier, there is the sort of monetisation aspect to that. So I have a KPI of sort of quarterly and monthly budgets that I am against, that I’m accountable to. So there’s that. So that’s a very obvious straight line trajectory between a very opaque money and then digital content.

But then I guess outside of that, there’s other KPI’s, obviously, growth on channels, engagement rates, numbers of engagements, link clicks through to our posts that promoting our membership offers, whether that be family membership or adult membership or our public programme events. So those are all the ways in which I can demonstrate value, I guess. And that’s just numeric data.

But then there’s also the actual stuff that I much more enjoy, which is the anecdotal, the sort of the written word where somebody says, give the social media manager a raise. I cheaply screenshot and send it over to my line manager to say, you know, just leaving this here.

Paul Marden: Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. This has been brilliant to talk to you, find out a little bit more about what you do and what the RI is doing with social media. It’s been awesome. We always ask our guests to tell us about their favourite books that we could share with the audience. So have you selected a book for us?

Steven Franklin: I have selected a book that I listened to on audible. Yeah. So Steven Bartlett’s the Diary of a CEO, 33 laws, business and life, something that I’ve just finished listening to. Yeah, I’m a big sort of fan of, or, you know, have great admiration for, you know, Steven Bartlett and sort of the way that he’s sort of, you know, that a rags to riches kind of story. But yeah, I think there’s lots of. It’s a very consumable, accessible book with some really nice little ideas in there that you can take away, probably implement to yourself. One of the greatest is the idea of absurdity, and the role that can be and how that can be exploited not just in social but just within marketing.

And those sort of tidbits, stick with me, I guess. It’s in that ever sort of growing pursuit of mind of trying to just make myself, you know, 1% better each day. And if I can learn from some of the world’s best and sort of get any part of wisdom or insight from them and sort of implement that, then that’s not going to do me, I hope, any bad. So yeah, that would be my recommendation.

Paul Marden: There you go, lovely listeners. So if you would like a copy of Diary of a CEO, then jump onto X, retweet the show announcement and say, I want Steven’s book. The first person that does that will get a copy of the book. Steven, it’s been utterly delightful. Thank you ever so much. I really enjoyed we said to each other when we finished the prep call, I hope the main call goes as well as the prep call did. It really did. I’ve enjoyed this one just as much as the prep call. So thank you.

Steven Franklin: No, thank you very much. And yeah, it’s been really enjoyable. I just wish it could have been longer, to be honest.

Paul Marden: Well, maybe we’ll bring you back for part two again sometime soon. Thank you, Steven.

Steven Franklin: Thank you.



Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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