Show Me The Future: Conferences Reveal Social Media Trends

It seems the last few months have been filled with more conferences and workshops on digital and social marketing than I can remember. Among the events attended by members of my team or myself were: EyeforTravel's Social Media Strategies; L2's Facebook Clinic; a private conference with Nokia in Paris; and, the biggest and most extensive social media enclave of them all, South by Southwest (SXSW). For the benefit of those who decided not to crisscross the globe, here are some trends and themes we consistently heard. Game On. Forget "audience" or "user." Think instead of participants.

No one who attended SXSW or some of these other shows could avoid hearing about "gamification," which describes adding game-like elements to your website or application such as performance feedback, badges and competitive elements. There's a lot to learn from game design, and we need to acknowledge the fact that more people than ever are spending huge chunks of their time online or with their mobile devices, "playing."

We need to increasingly use our digital and social media properties to engage people, provide opportunities for two-way interaction and allow for play and experimentation. If we do, our "participants" have a reason to come back for more -- a point that was demonstrated to me by Nokia as it took me on a "tour" of the artwork in UNESCO's headquarters. Here, my cell phone became my guide, and all I had to do was point at a special label near the art that brought each piece to life via video, audio and text.

Listening and responding, now in real time.

Shifting our thinking to embrace the idea of participants also means moving past simply pushing out content. Brands are now part of a dynamic two-way dialogue, and that means we have to listen and respond in real-time. This type of responsiveness requires new business models, along with empowerment and education for our staff. At the EyeforTravel Conference, the EVP for sales and passenger services from Norwegian Cruise Lines said that his company has set a goal of a 24-second response time to address customer feedback on social media. While he acknowledged that they don't always reach the goal, it nonetheless underscored how important they believe this real-time customer conversation is for their brand.

Branded entertainment is back and bigger than ever.

The rise of social media is making curious bedfellows of journalists, artists, broadcasters and marketers.

The idea of branded entertainment is that a brand partners with an artist who shares similar values. The brand provides money and the artist provides an entertaining piece that supports the brand's message. While branded entertainment has been around for a long time (think BMW Films), the concept is becoming more widespread as marketers struggle to make an impact on traditional channels. In the latest iteration of branded entertainment, brands are recognizing the value of adding to their teams resources and people with the talent to tell great stories on the web.

At virtually all the conferences we attended, we heard people proclaim, "Content is king," and marketers urging their brethren to "think of yourself as publishers, not marketers." The speakers who made the biggest impact at the conferences were producing entertaining, educational and oftentimes personal content. While its story is well told, it's still worth looking at what the Roger Smith Hotel has done by turning its entire staff into creators of content. This entertaining, stylish and authentic approach has earned it the distinction of being called the "social media hotel" and helped attract a young, hip and affluent customer to its property.

Build where the users are.

At the EyeforTravel conference, a KLM new media manager said it best: "Customers don't want to connect to KLM anymore; we need to be where they are." That's why the airline interacts heavily on Facebook, Twitter and geolocation-based networks like Foursquare.

The L2 Conference crystallized this point by reminding us that we should stop looking at Facebook as a social network and instead begin to recognize that it has become its own media channel, with 500 million members. The people virtually every brand wants to reach are already there, so that's where you need to build. No matter how big the brand, your customers are more likely to interact with your Facebook app than to visit a separate microsite.

In a similar vein, Google's director of mobile ads noted that by the end of 2011 more than half of Americans will have a smartphone that will have become increasingly central to how they communicate and live their lives. Yet, 79% of online advertisers haven't built mobile-specific collateral.

Measure. Measure. And then measure some more.

Measurement was a theme heard repeatedly throughout our travels, with marketers recognizing that increased investment in social media requires the same kind of scrutiny and accountability that is being demanded from other channels. While a good measurement plan looks at the return on investment, it also needs to take into consideration a wider range of engagement-based metrics. Like all good marketing, every social media plan must start with clear business goals and objectives, and they need to be far more developed than the "we need a Facebook page" lament that we all too often hear.

Given how rapidly the world of social media is evolving, we're finding that attending these conferences is a vital way to network with thought leaders in the space and to learn firsthand what is (and isn't) working. We may be a little winded from attending so many conferences, but we're feeling a lot smarter for having done so.

Unlike a lot of other things we heard, we think these trends are sure bets.

Next story loading loading..