Global Head of Luxury at Facebook and Instagram Morin Oluwole discusses how social media is helping luxury brands to reach a whole new audience.
As Global Head of Luxury at Facebook and Instagram, Morin Oluwole has a huge job on her hands. She is working as a thought leader in digital advertising, collaborating with international luxury brands to achieve footfall from the content they create for social media platforms and building long-term partnerships with luxury clients.
Oluwole has worked with Facebook since almost the beginning, joining twelve years ago when there were just 150 employees. That number has of course now risen to over 35,000 worldwide. In her current role, Oluwole is based in Paris where she set up the Global Luxury division in France, the first time this sector was based outside of the US, and has grown it from just four employees to over fifty. Oluwole’s background is in science and data management. She achieved Bachelors and Masters degrees in Human Biology and Sociology at Stanford University, before diversifying into the digital world. Despite her training being quite different from her role now, Oluwole believes that her background has helped to her to become a rational thinker and manage a team in a successful and organised way. Here she discusses her future plans for the division and what Facebook and Instagram are doing to guide luxury companies in producing successful international digital content.
Can you tell us about the vision and direction at the department you head for Facebook and Instagram?
I have been at Facebook since 2006 and I moved to Paris four years ago to train this division. One of the reasons was because it was a real focus for us to be partners with our luxury clients, especially those based in Paris. We wanted to help them to really understand what it means to communicate through our platforms. This included everything from creative optimisation, building for the global experience to understanding what it means to connect with their current and perspective customers through the platforms. As well as understanding what it means to build an end to end media strategy that allows them to measure both brand and business metrics. And being able to measure that with the tools that we have available on our platforms. So these are the initiatives and I have to admit this was the first time that Facebook decided to have a global division outside the US so it was really important to us to have a team of expertise based in France.
Can you tell us what you are focusing on right now?
We’re very much still focusing on the different aspects I mentioned, the journey has only just begun and we are one per cent there. Where we have the opportunity to elevate our partners is by being part of their communication strategies and really taking advantage of the innovative tools that exist on our platform. What I mean by that is to include the work that we are doing with artificial intelligence and augmented reality. This is the direction that the company is going in and where we aim to get our partners.
How are you using augmented reality and artificial intelligence with luxury brands?
Our goal with these is to be able to create and enhance the experience for people who are using our platforms, so we are very much focusing on the ‘people experience’ first, and we transfer that to the ‘brand experience’. So the people experience plan is very concrete and we are just at the first step. There’s a long ten-year strategy for this and we are only just at the beginning, so the very first tests that we’ve done have been more so on augmented reality filters on Facebook and Instagram. This is where we can allow people to try on products for different experiences for example, one particular project that we’ve worked on was with Dior where we created a filter so that people could try on the latest collection even before going into the store. It’s a live filter so they literally open their messenger application and they are able to choose the filter and try on the looks immediately. We have had only the very first feedback but we are measuring customer engagement and how that can translate into a business metric and how they link to the website directly to purchase after trying something on through the filter.
What is an objective at the luxury department of Facebook and Instagram that has not been achieved yet?
Within the sector there is a lot! We are very much looking at advancing the work that we are doing with our partners and being able to showcase the work that we are doing with a long-term objective. We are a very young platform compared with brands that have been in existence for decades and sometimes even hundreds of years, so we want to be able to showcase to these brands that for this evolving world and consumer we are a great tool and that people spending time with us gives them an opportunity to take advantage of this digital and mobile experience to reinforce their brand identity and their DNA.
What tips would you give to brands on promoting themselves through social media?
Firstly we need to understand what type of view they want to share. We have tools that work for them but we’re not going to dictate how a brand should communicate. So we have to take the time to understand what is the brief and what brand message they want to communicate. Who is the audience they want to reach and how to make sure that they’re approaching their presence on Facebook and Instagram from a native point of view. So this means that the goal is not the ‘copy and paste’ that’s being done in traditional and offline media but really thinking about the native customer experience. This person is opening Instagram over 20 times a day and Facebook over 15 times a day so how can they as a brand connect with a consumer that’s on the go, very quickly with content that’s going to attract their attention.
So from this do you build up a tailormade programme for each individual brand?
Absolutely. We are there to respond to each brand or partner directly. They share with us what is the true objective that they have. Myself and my team have a structure that brings together this idea of a global decision and we have what we call client partners and solutions managers who are there to meet the core needs of the relationship with the partner. We also have a cross-functional support team that works on different aspects – we have one team called ‘creative shop’ for example whose goal is to help support the creative expression of the client. We have another team called ‘solutions engineering’ their goal is to make sure that they have all the tools and signals that ensure all activities that are aesthetic. We have ‘marketing client services’ that focuses more on measuring business metrics. So there really is a core team that makes sure we address our partners very precisely.
What is the process behind algorithms?
Our focus is on making sure that every person that uses Facebook and Instagram has an experience that’s most personal and relevant to them. It’s tailored to what they’re interested in with the content that’s most relevant to them. When it comes to algorithms we actually think about the person and make sure that we create the experience that’s most relevant. That means creating content based on signals from the brands and pages they follow, the content that they like and the order in which they engage. From this, each person has a personalised experience and news feed. On Instagram for example we have one billion different news feeds that are unique to each person and on Facebook we have over 1.2 billion unique news feeds. So our goal is really to be as precise and relevant as possible. I don’t personally pay attention to trucks or vehicles for example, so our algorithms will make sure I see they content that is most relevant to me and it is what I want to look at.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a luxury department for Facebook and Instagram?
Initially when we started the division four years ago, our focus was on building long-term relationships. You could even say that this was an unknown world for some of our partners so our goal was to be able to help them understand what we can add to them and what kind of value we can be for them. The initial goal was getting to know them, getting them to trust us and building a dimension with these custom plans. And the goal was first to run this and measure the results so that we can evolve in our activity and our relationships with the brands. Today I would say the question is not necessarily “why digital?” but “how digital?” meaning there’s little convincing brands that they need to invest in digital based on customer behaviour, but the question is how to do it in a way that’s right for the brand. It’s very much tailored to what they want to express and how they want to express it on our platforms.
What difficulties are there when it comes to controlling the content that is out there in the world related to brands?
Our focus is very much on giving brand guidance on how they can shape their relationships on our platforms. There are some brands that haven’t been present on social media for example and the reality is that they’re not the ones that are driving the discourse around their brands but the consumers are. So when a brand has the best quality content and the best and most relevant storytelling that’s present in a frequent manner, it is actually owning the direction they are going. That for us, is the ideal scenario.
You mentioned the project you did with Dior, are there any other recent brand activities that have shown great success?
Absolutely. We also worked with Gucci – they were one of the first brands to test the Instagram filters. They did this project with the beauty filters. It was a fun experience and also a way to create a light-hearted experience that engaged the brand as well as the consumer. In terms of engagement and getting people to interact with the brand this was a great success.
How are you managing fake accounts and fake followers?
This is something we take very seriously. The development of Facebook is also about making sure that people are their authentic self and that there are authentic people on Facebook. We address this in a number of different ways. The first way is via automation. This is where artificial intelligence comes into play as we have machine learning tools that actually track and detect for example when someone is trying to create thousands of fake accounts in seconds. These accounts are deleted even before they become present on the platforms. To be very concrete about this, during the first six months of last year, we deleted over 1.3 billion fake accounts on Facebook and this was primarily through automation. On Instagram it can be more difficult because on Facebook you tend to have accounts that are about you as a person but for Instagram you can have an account for anything. On Facebook this is where we have worked for several years. We also have a large team of people that are focused on things like fake accounts, spam, abusive content, and removing this.
What can you tell us about Instagram and Facebook stories?
Our focus is on following consumer behaviour. The reality is that stories on Facebook and Instagram have become a major way in which people communicate. If I start with Instagram stories – this was launched just over two and a half years ago and stories are the fasted growing functionality that exists on our platforms. There are now over 500 million active users on Instagram stories per day. If you look at usage of Instagram feed versus Instagram stories, there is now a 50/50 split between the two. So you can see how this has just become a phenomenon and a new way of how people are choosing to share. The thing with stories is that it gives a quick and light-hearted way to share and this is what we are aiming to serve across all our platforms. Even WhatsApp has 215 million users of its WhatsApp stories (which is called WhatsApp Status) and most people don’t even know about this yet. It’s a function that is only a success in certain markets so far. Facebook also has 300 million users of stories every day.
What about when it comes to brands specifically how should they be using this to market themselves?
It’s important to create a consumer experience. People are looking to be able to capture a message very quickly. If you’re posting a video on stories it’s 15 seconds maximum, so brands have to re-think the way that they communicate and the way they are storytelling to build a new global store experience and be able to get across the single brand message in this light way through a quick format.
How does your background in data and science help you with your role today?
I think it helps in a few different aspects. One is how it helps in terms of day to day. Being able to have this very rational and operational thought process in the way that I manage my team. Making sure that we have very clear objectives and making sure that we’re building prospects for people to be able to get there. When I joined the team four years ago there were two people working on luxury, and now we have a team of over fifty around the world. To be able to build the skill to manage these operational traits I think that’s where my experience has really helped me to build up this luxury division that we have here in Paris and now in eight markets around the world.
How do you measure the impact of the work that you do with the brands?
One point that I want to make sure I highlighted and that is regarding this, our goal is very much to be a 360 partner to luxury brands. So we help them in terms of creative development and also in supporting their content. We want to make sure that we’re really helping them achieve their true business metric. We worked with Bottega Veneta for example, to make sure that we are using tools through which we can drive business and business metrics for them. So in a real world way. One specific thing we did was that we worked with them to measure the impact that we have on the sales they get in store through the work we are doing with them. How do you translate what we do to the visitors the brand has in store? We are able to compare the people who saw their ads on Facebook or Instagram with the people who went to store to purchase. So we can measure the impact the ads are having in this way.
What are the differences between sponsored content and editorial content created by brands?
The difference isn’t in the content. The difference is in terms of the strategy and who sees the content. When a brand is pushing content organically the people who follow the brand on that platform are the ones seeing it so this could be anyone. But when a brand is running ads they are actually targeting the people the very people they want to reach through our platforms. This way they can know exactly who is seeing the content because they have a profile that fits the customer they want to attract. We respond to their objective by analysing who makes sense to them and who they want to reach.
What developments can we expect to see in the next few years when it comes to luxury brands and social media investments?
I think if we look at the company vision we have a view that we announced a couple of years ago and we are actively developing that. I mentioned earlier about augmented reality and virtual reality – we are only at the beginning of this in terms of building different tools that can contribute to it globally, so very much look out for more of that in the future. The second aspect is looking at how we build community. How do we build community and reinforce it around the world. When I joined Facebook there were 150 employees and now we are over 35,000. It’s a completely different company today than it was twelve years ago, so our impact on community relations is very important. We are going to be working on very much reinforcing that and supporting community development across different platforms. The third thing, which is on an even larger scale is the aspect of connectivity. So allowing people to have access to information and connect to the people that they care about in an easy way through the internet.