Putting businesses on the social media map

 

UNDER THE RADAR:Mark Swaine, founder, Squire. Interview: PETER CLUSKEY

THE RUSH to social media as a cheap alternative to traditional advertising has been extraordinary, but how effective will it actually turn out to be? Powerful, perhaps, for businesses that can afford time and money, but pretty irrelevant for the rest?

Mark Swaine (31), award-winning founder of interactive design agency Squire, is a social media fan and a firm believer in its long-term potential. Yet even he believes that, for many companies at the moment, the pay-off is haphazard – at best, hit and miss.

“Everyone’s an expert and you hear endless stories about why one thing works and the other doesn’t,” says Swaine, “but most users don’t seem to realise the sheer complexity of the area and how time-consuming it is to build brand awareness.

“It’s easy to start a social media campaign, but it’s not magic. Anyone can throw up a page, but if you don’t market it, nobody is even going to know it’s there. It won’t automatically result in a flood of business.

“Then, as well as marketing, you have to maintain your pages, you have to fight against competitors in the same space, you have to blog as much as possible to build on your presence, to twitter as well . . .

“I already have one client who’s employing someone a few days a week to maintain the company’s pages and write its blogs because nobody else has time to do it, but they don’t want to let the campaign slip.”

Even if you do put in the time and effort, there is “a fine line”, maintains Swaine, between making your business look good and making it look, well, just a little bit idiotic. “For example, I like Twitter and I find it very effective, but I only use it to build my professional and business persona. I’ll post articles that are relevant, information about projects I’m working on, that sort of thing,” he says.

“So when I see professional people tweeting every 10 minutes, posts such as ‘just had a cup of tea’ or something ridiculous like that, I actually cringe. I think to myself, what on earth are you doing?”

Swaine set up Squire Creations 1 in 2005, striking out on his own after spending the previous two years with Ennis-based Magico, where he was chief creative director. He rebranded the business as Squire in 2008 and has worked with household names such as O2, Guinness, Nokia and Irish Distillers, specialising in interactive design and high-end animation projects.

“We’re small, but what makes us different is our emphasis on creative thinking and design. Our aim is to give brands as plush a presence as possible online, to give them a wow factor which really gets their essence across to the consumer. That can mean, for instance, using subtle elements of animation while still having what’s called a static website; in other words, one that functions well with Google and for search engine optimisation.”

Swaine adds: “When you move up-market, a fully animated flash website is like a Flash movie, one file embedded into a HTML page and put up online. That means Google typically can’t crawl through it to read the text and key words which help with search engine optimisation, though that is gradually changing.

“But if you’re a large corporate with the money for a full Flash website, you’re probably marketing your brand in other ways. The website is likely to be just a point of reference in an overall marketing campaign.”

So who are the clients for these more stylish productions? “They are typically the bigger brand names who might have gone to London in the past. Our job is to convince them to keep their business here, with us.”

ON THE RECORD

Name: Mark Swaine

Company: Squire, www.squire.ie

Job: founder, creative director

Age: 31

Background: A degree in digital media design from Letterkenny IT in 2003 and a master’s in interactive media design from DIT in 2004. Chief creative director of Magico.ie, which won a Golden Spider for best Irish web design agency in 2005.

Set up interactive design agency Squire Creations 1 the same year, rebranded as Squire in 2008. Has worked with clients such as O2, Nokia, Irish Distillers, Diageo and German drinks brand Schwartzhog. A member of Filmbase.

Challenges: “Staying ahead of change in the web industry, which is still only in its infancy and is going to become more and more dynamic.”

Inspired by: “Cutting-edge American interactive design agency 2Advanced Studios, run by Eric Jordan . . . Everything they do is top-notch and integrates video and animation. It’s really cool stuff. If I could follow in their footsteps I’d be very happy.”

Most important thing learned: “Communication is invaluable, with clients and with colleagues. I have two other rules: stay creative and fresh and work hard.”