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5 Powerful Takeaways from Social Media Week Chicago

By Derek Franks  •  November 20, 2017

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5 Powerful Takeaways from Social Media Week Chicago

Posted by: Derek Franks on November 20, 2017

Social Media Week Chicago 2017 has officially come and gone, and we spent the past few days being treated to awesome presentations, groundbreaking ideas, thought-provoking theories and futuristic marketing techniques that any brand or agency should take closely to heart. Here’s what you need to know:

Social media is boldly going into new territories that, even now, it hasn’t really been before.

As it turns out, social isn’t a place for simply talking at people anymore. It’s much bigger than that.

It’s about customer experience, authentic connection, listening, discovering and powerful visionary-like creativity that hits an emotional nerve. Today, social is human.

The impression from our speakers, presenters, exhibits and conversations throughout this week is that social is uniquely forward thinking.

Indeed, the state of social is an optimistic one. It seems funny in this day and age of divisiveness, trolls and fake news that a realm that is, in part, to blame for these dark marks could harness such a positive, exciting, dare-we-say it, confident outlook. But that’s the vibe you get at conferences just like Social Media Week.

After an awesome week of social media best practices, case study videos, and the latest techniques, here are the most impressive and incredible key takeaways for the industry and beyond.

Social Media Week ChicagoJason Wire of Pinterest presents "Give People What they Didn't Know they Wanted"

Social Is all About Telling a Compelling Story

“The future of storytelling is about dialogue with our followers and fans.” - Adam Quinn, VP of Digital at National Geographic

Social then: let’s post stuff to get likes and clicks.

Social now: what do we stand for as an organization and how do we convey that to the people who matter?

There may be no more important place to tell your brand’s story than social media.

Today, social content marketing cannot thrive without the organization telling a cohesive, consistent story across all channels, platforms and activities. A disjointed brand message and lack of a consistent look and feel is a detriment to any social media presence.

Most presenters at Social Media Week made a careful point to discuss the importance of the storytelling aspect on social. Brands can’t rely on just being active on social, they need to be strategic as well.

Rather than posting sporadically and without any meaning behind your content, put yourself in the shoes of an author and start to construct a narrative around and about your brand.

One of the best ways to develop your brand story is first by figuring out what makes your audience tick, what it is that will attract them to you. In order to achieve this, you need to have an open dialogue with people.

Keep the lines of communication open, and also monitor the conversations that exist around the topics, people, brands and entities that are salient within your category or industry.

What you need is to use the answers to these questions to help you construct that overarching brand narrative:

  • What is our purpose? Why do we exist? What are our values?
  • Who are our most precious audience members? What do they want and need?
  • What are we interested in? How do we reach people with the same interests?
  • What emotions can we drive? How can we strike a nerve?
  • How do we express ourselves? What do we say, how do we want people to feel?
  • How do our fans express themselves? The brands people follow says something about themselves, so how does our audience want to be perceived?

Personalization is the Future

“Today’s consumers expect personalized engagement. Communications leaders need to shift their mindset to a more personalized experience.” - Mark Blanchard, Global Head of Experience Design, Havas

If being more human is the the key to effective marketing, the best possible result to meet that standard is a more personalized experience.

Social isn’t a stand alone entity for brands’ marketing sources. It’s part of the customer experience. To be the best, most human brands, they must tie the social to the rest of the brand and do so at a personal level.

People expect their experiences with the brand to be curtailed to them. Rather than making messages for everyone, it’s important to get to know everything you can about your audiences. You need to learn who your fans and followers are and how you can reach them at scale.

Regardless of how big your organization is, you’ll need to function more like a small business when it comes to engaging your fans.

Establishing connections with people on a more personal, one-to-one level will boost a brand’s presence across all the touchpoints. Design your content and activations to reach actual individuals and learn as much as you can about them.

In 2018, thinking big will be about acting small.

People don’t seek out, they discover

"If we can connect people with the right ideas, we can unlock the power of discovery in new ways.”

-Jason Wire, Creative Strategist at Pinterest.

Social is evolving from being a place where people go to look something up and turning into a place to stumble on great ideas, inspiration and useful information.

“We call this the Pinterest rabbit hole,” Jason Wire of Pinterest said during SMW.

The idea of a rabbit hole is really prevalent on many channels. Many people don’t have an idea of what it is they want out of each social experience until they find it. We need to start creating social content for this specific user experience.

Expectations from audiences aren’t just about what they are hoping to find, it’s about discovering new ideas they didn’t know they were looking for.

The thing about this kind of discovery is that people talk about amazing things they find during this activity. They share out new info, new project ideas, news stories and viral content when they aren’t even looking for it. That’s the great thing about the way we engage these days.

And brands have an incredible opportunity to be in the right place at the right time:

69 of brands purchased by switchers were ones that were found in the very early consideration stage-- or “inspiration” stage..png

“People aren’t coming to [social] for information as much as they are going there to find something new, to understand or to feel inspired,” Wire said.

The Pressure to Prove Social Media ROI is High

“Even if things don’t feel right at first, keep going. Stand strong and let it play out.” - Rachael Datz, Assoc. Director of Social Strategy, Digitas

Social has changed how we buy, but proving its impact on buying? Not easy.

In nearly every presentation, the topic of proving and measuring ROI of social media marketing was brought up. The data is clear: marketing professionals feel extreme pressure to figure out how to prove the impact of social on sales and revenue while some executives don’t understand or are simply not invested in learning about the ROI of social.

Only 27 of executives with budget control feel that social media is a top priority.png

Social marketing is the long game. Even the best campaigns or ideas may not produce desired results at first. But it’s important to stay the course, and while doing so, measure and optimize.

As you’re implementing your social strategy, keep a close eye on the metrics, identify what’s working and what’s not, and give it time to play out. Then, let the metrics guide you. By documenting every blip on the radar, every data point, and reporting on your analytics throughout, you can better explain to your supervising teams and other doubters the effectiveness of social.

A previous insight in this article will help boost social ROI: good storytelling. Brands that tell the best stories deliver the best returns on their investment.

Focused brand campaigns with thematic creative are 11 times more effective than isolated creative.png

“When we’re jumping on every trend or just filling calendars, we’re losing the important element of effective storytelling,” Rachael Datz, Director of Social Strategy at DigitasLBi said from the stage. “If we have focused campaigns with better spends, it will lead to better outcomes. Stop looking so much at only vanity metrics. Prove the ROI by tying it to the cohesive story.”

Intelligence and Listening will Help Brands Connect with Their Audiences

“We have the closest ear to any of our audiences than ever before” - David Greenbaum, Managing Director, Edelman Digital

It seems counter-intuitive, but A.I. and marketing technology will be the key to helping brands establish better, more personable connections with people. If personalization is indeed the future, intelligence will help us get there.

The data available to marketers and advertisers is so precise and so detailed that we can take the information and apply it more accurately to our marketing strategies, audience analysis, and buyer personas.

In other words, you can create a more personalized customer experience, thanks to the data gleaned from the use of social intelligence and social listening. This information can help you take a more strategic approach and build relationships with audiences.

Social listening and intelligence are an x-factor to connecting with and understanding audiences and measuring effectiveness.

Intelligence can also help in proving ROI. We need to connect social intelligence to sales. We do this by establishing trends within the online conversations and relating them back to our campaigns, product launches and other efforts. And there it is, the missing link between social media analysis and helping build connections with the audience.

“Strong relationships mean your customers will go to bat for you, they’ll advocate for you and defend you,” Edelman’s David Greenbaum said. “And we need to use the right intelligence on audiences to build our brand and get to that point.”


As social continues its meteoric rise and evolves everyday, it’s going to take forward, opportunistic thinking from marketers and advertisers taking advantage of innovation and intelligence.

Keeping up with social has never been easy. But thinking both bigger and smarter seems to be the primary underlying theme from each of our Social Media Week hosts.

And most importantly? It’s time to start thinking human.

Did you attend Social Media Week Chicago? We’d love to hear from you. What were the biggest takeaways, surprises or inspirations from the week?

Want to see how social intelligence can take your brand into the next frontier? Get a free demo with our team today.

Topics: social media, social media week

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