Tagged with the descriptor “Brand Journeys in Social Media,” the first SoCon 2011 conference in London brought together senior marketers from “brands, agencies and supply-side businesses” to look at how social media is being used by some of the leading companies and experts in the field. Organised by John Horsley, the leader of LinkedIn’s Digital Marketing Group (with 114,653 members as of this writing), the conference presented a lively and insightful mix of opinion, success stories and practical tips to an eager and engaged audience.
It must be mentioned that the music industry – aside from two of the presenters, who made intelligent and relevant contributions – was largely absent from this conference, and TMV was apparently the only music media publication or site to send a reporter. Obviously the music business is full of smart people who are way ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing their products (ahem), but this was still a bit surprising.
If there was an overall impression from the day, it was that the social media fruit (however tantalizing, bright and shiny as it may be at the moment), hasn’t actually fallen that far from the traditional marketing tree. As opening speaker Gillian Muessig, Co-Founder & President of SEOmoz put it, social media does not create or change the story, it simply “increases the speed at which it travels”. Throughout the various presentations by speakers including Andrew Smith, Social Media Manager, the FA; Richard Dennys, Chief Marketing Officer, Qype, Matthew Hawn, VP of Product, Last.fm, Karl Havard, Director of Digital Strategy, Wunderman; Ritch Sibthorpe, VP Digital Marketing & Content Partnerships, Warner Music Group; Tejal Patel, Global Social Commerce Nokia, Antony Mayfield, Founder Brilliant Noise and Will McInnes, Founder NixonMcInnes the staples of every marketer’s basic diet – awareness, interest, purchase decision (or in the terminology of the FA’s Smith, “reach, engage, monetize”) – made their presence known throughout. If anything, the virtual world that technology has encouraged us to inhabit has made the need for the marketer to create an authentic connection with their consumer even more vital, if there is to be loyalty and a meaningful relationship. So the shift – and SEOmoz’ Muessig acknowledged that there has been “a huge shift” away from “interruption sales” and the old-model of one-way communication – that has revolutionized contemporary marketing practices is tipped by the word “social” in social media, which is defined by companionship and connection. Today, companies don’t just want to sell you things; they want to be your “friend”, they want to be “liked” and they want to “share”.
To further empower this buddy-buddy relationship, it’s important that our new “besties” know as much about us as possible. How old are we? Where do we live? How much money do we have? What are our preferred forms of entertainment? They also want to make sure they can get in touch with us wherever we are, and entice us to respond to their messaging by offering to give us free stuff if we give them our contact and demographic information (which they will use, of course, only for our own good). One could write several articles – or books – devoted to the subject of data collection and its implications for society, but suffice it to say for our purposes here that the old saying knowledge is power still applies. The ability of marketers to analyse consumer data has grown in sophistication to where preferences and behaviour are not just anticipated, but manipulated with greater insight than ever possible in the pre bits-and-bytes era.
If we were to crown a king in this social media world, it would have to be Facebook, the most oft-mentioned name at SoCon. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it. Some presenters dealt matter-of-factly with this reality, offering examples of successful Facebook campaigns (such as the FA’s “Superfan” and “win a seat in Facebook row” competitions) or evaluating what consumers want when they visit a company’s Facebook shop front (discounts and special offers, according to Nokia’s Patel). However others did turn over the rock to look at what lies beneath; Last.fm’s Matthew Hawn was quite outspoken in this regard, stating, “be on the social networks, but don’t build your house there – do not outsource your community to Facebook”. Anyone who uses Facebook regularly as a marketing tool knows the frustration that comes when Facebook changes some key function or metric, either by “improving” it (changes to News Feed or tab layouts for example) or removing it altogether. The Facebook landscape is one where the ground can shift at any time, and often does.
As far as popularity, there’s no question that overall, video draws more eyeballs than any other content. Many panelists acknowledged its importance, including Warner Music’s Sibthorpe – for them, video is their “most potent interactive tool”. Sibthorpe also led his presentation by providing the audience with other essential information about social, such as the fact that social media has now overtaken porn as the web’s number one destination and that one-in-five people met their partner online (though two-in-five blamed social media for their divorce). Sibthorpe also offered a list of top 2011 music marketing myths, again reinforcing the fact that new media and old are both still relevant:
1: Traditional media channels are dying
2; Social media is about building the biggest community
3: Everyone needs a mobile app
4; Gaming only touches the youth demographic
5: Digital channels always deliver greater ROI than traditional.
The challenge, as Sibthorpe sees it, is to maintain “meaningful long-term engagement,” and to do that he mentioned various elements as key, including exclusive content, vibrant evolving creative, meaningful dialogue, the provision of relevant opportunities to interact and a policy of no spam. For him, everything points to the mobile device as the locus of communication, calling it the “most social channel in history: tweet, like, listen, watch, talk, text, email”.
In terms of thinking about and developing content that is relevant and compelling to the audience one wishes to reach, Last.fm’s Hawn offered two ways to think about traveling the internet: one is the social graph (whom you know) and the other is the interest graph (the things you watch, listen to and read), summarized by “who I know and what I like”. He also referred to the statistic that the average person has 130 Facebook friends, but contrasted that with the fact that in reality, most people are only really conversing on FB with three or four people, so many of those ties are not strong.
Get a group of marketers together in a room, and they will generate enough heat between them about their chosen field to split the atom. However one might also wonder if these same marketers are over-intellectualising what are essentially common sense observations of human behaviour and motivation? On the other hand, one might also claim that social media tools have opened up new avenues of communication that have had considerable impact – witness recent events in Egypt for example. Perhaps it is utopian, but as Muessig of SEOmoz stated, “if you share, you will get more” and “those who say it can’t be done are often interrupted by those who are busy doing it”. So as a forum to examine where social media is at today in the business world – and as a joining up of perspectives, showing that classic principles of marketing, as well as the latest innovations of thought, can exist happily side-by-side – SoCon2011 was inspiring and effective.