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Having a front row seat to watch social media change

madgenius-logo_rgbFrank Owen is a professional observer and a self-described closet anthropologist who’s “fascinated by cultures.”

He has a background in psychology, training in counseling and experience in museum design and web content strategy.

He joined Mad Genius as a copywriter and audience researcher in 2007, a time shortly after social media was beginning to take root.

Now, as social media director of the Jackson-area creative production and advertising agency, Owen has a front row seat to watch the constantly changing landscape.

“Social media really is a fledgling field,” he said. Starting around 2004, a cascade of social media channels began operating, most notably Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Social media is increasingly a tool for social networking, business to business relationships, sales, marketing and advertising. “Social media is a huge umbrella. The applications are endless,” he said.

Before social media came along, he said, the Internet was predominantly for information exchange and e-commerce. “With the establishment of social networking sites and social media channels, you get a whole other domain of human exchange. It’s a fascinating field that has implications not only for business but social change.” He pointed to recent events in the Middle East in what has been termed the Arab Spring, when “people on the ground in essence became reporters.”

At Mad Genius, social media is being used to develop customer loyalty, not just to increase sales but to develop a community around a brand or an organization.

Owen uses the example of Mad Genius consulting with the Red Cross in Mississippi on how to use social media tools during disasters.

When Hurricane Isaac came ashore last year, a group of people became stranded and didn’t have access to a telephone. They turned to Twitter instead to send out a social media flair and were rescued. “That would not have happened 10 years ago,” Owen said.

The workplace

Without setting foot in the offices of Mad Genius, you get a sense of the place just from the name.

Owen said there are two aspects. One is sort of the Mississippi version of Google headquarters, with dart boards, chicken costumes, a ping pong table and “a very laid back unorthodox creative experimental working environment.”

The other is the area where the interactive team works. “It looks like the war room for NORAD, with all these different computer screens,” he said.

Mad Genius was founded in 2005 by CEO Rick Moore and president Chip Sarver. The creative and technical staff offers advertising, design, media buying, film and video services along with interactive and social media, post production and animation and special effects.

“One unique feature of Mad Genius,” Owen said, “there’s a lot of talent here.”

There are camera and video production crews, animators, editors, media buyers and other professionals brainstorming, creating and producing for local, regional and national clients.

On a typical day, Owen comes in early, checking social media channels for clients to make sure there are no fires to put out. “Then I meet with my team and we make assessments of where we stand today based on our huddle yesterday, then we break.”

Any number of projects are under way. “Everyone is very good here about tending their own garden but it’s not like a typical corporation with individual silos. It’s a very collaborative environment.”

‘Zen hermit’

Owen was born in Biloxi where his father was stationed in the Air Force. After graduating from high school in Chapel Hill, N.C., he moved away from the South for almost 25 years before coming back to the Jackson area in 2005.

When he’s not working with clients, Owen is a “Zen hermit” who likes to get out in nature, biking and hiking and doing a bit of meditation. He’s an aficionado of Asian cooking and reads a lot of history and travel books. Santa Fe and New Orleans are favorite places to visit and Japan and Bali are on his wish list of destinations.

Owen

Owen

In predicting what the new year will bring to social media, Owen said to expect more tablets and smartphones. “Every time you turn around there are new mobile devices,” he said. “They’re a bit like rabbits.” And with more devices will come an increased demand for content. “A lot of what we’ll be involved with will be assisting clients with coaching and consulting on how best they can do that.”

‘Social media isn’t about free advertising on the Internet, and certainly not about instant results, Owen warned.

“It’s a little bit like a plant in the corner of an office. If you don’t water it, it’s going to wilt. That is social media. If you don’t water it, the audience will go away.”

But not all brands lend themselves to high activity on, say, Facebook, he said.

To drum up enthusiasm, to get eyeballs on their brands, businesses need relevant and compelling content in the form of words and especially video. Video is king in social media. Just look at the popularity of YouTube channels, he said.

“Brands and organizations have to start thinking about not just selling a product, they’ve entered the realm of publishing.”

He offers this advice to future social media directors: “Be aware there isn’t a textbook to turn to. You have to be able to think on your feet and solve problems.”

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