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Community Managers, data and storytelling – the key themes of social media sessions at SXSW Interactive 2013

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By Kaye Blum

It has taken me months to get around to publishing the remainder of my SXSW posts…that’s down to bouncing from Austin to LA to San Fran to Melbourne then driving 1,800km to where I am now; plus three trips to Sydney and one to Brisbane since the drive. Excuses done; now on with the posts! 

The Austin Motel - embracing the Austin weirdness for SXSW2013

The Austin Motel – embracing the Austin weirdness for SXSW2013

Unsurprisingly, this year’s SXSW Interactive had a heavy focus on social media, in the form of both panels and workshops. Community Management was one of the buzzwords – or should I say phrases – and it’s a rapidly growing occupational title in the States. I attended three workshops and several panel sessions to get the low-down.

Social media panel sessions

 The first panel session I caught was presented by OMMA (Online Marketing Media Advertising), titled What marketers should ask themselves about social.

CEO, Chairman & Founder of the Dachis Group, Jeffrey Dachis was also the founder of Razorfish, an innovative digital agency that created the first banner ad and first web animation (the infamous blue dot) 18 years ago (my how time flies).

Dachis couldn’t initially figure out how social media would matter to marketing. Then it dawned on him: DATA. Social could be huge if we could capture all the data.

“The democratisation of the tools of self expression have enabled us to express our ideas in a way we’ve never seen before,” he said.

“It’s a huge shift in the way we communicate our ideas… the largest shift in communications in the history of mankind. We are going to re-boot the way companies market.”

He stated that there is a shift from mass communications to massive communicators.

“With digital and social we have the power to engage audiences… we are shifting from advertising to engagement,” he added.

Author, commentator, and advertising and marketing analyst Bob Garfield concurred: “If you’re using blanket advertising to get your message across, you’re doing it all wrong. The world has changed.” The industrial revolution increased scale; the digital revolution has decimated scale.

I completely agree with Garfield: I believe the traditional model for marketing and advertising has been flipped on its head. We are now operating in an entirely different media landscape – one that keeps shifting and evolving. Social media is still in its infancy and we are slowly feeling our way through, trying what works and what doesn’t.

After doing the rounds of the SXSW trade show, I dropped in on Sustainable storytelling from disposable content to hear how creative people are “experimenting with storytelling across digital and interactive platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, to tell stories that sustain engagement and evolve as their audiences grow.” It was a great insight to some fascinating work by the likes of Kenyatta Cheese, Paul Octavious and Sarah Kramer.

A cleverly titled session – How to measure social media – pulled in plenty of punters keen for a solution. It was presented by Nicole Kelly who recently published a book on the subject. She raised some valid points:

  • CEOs think marketers don’t have influence, can’t measure ROI
  • We need to redefine ROI – from return on investment to return on influence, or return on engagement
  • While there are currently no tools for measuring social media data available online, the fact that it’s online means it’s measurable.

Using the Sales Funnel diagram, she showed where social media aligns with brand awareness, lead generation, retention; suggesting that it should align with just one of these values rather than all three. She had additional tips on the path to sales conversion, but I wonder if her book will become quickly outdated as tech companies and the major social media players plug away at providing more direct metrics and tools.

Social media workshops

I attended three workshops on social media, including The Community Manager: enter the C-suite, with Lead Social Strategist at LiveFyre Nick Cicero, BrokenOpenMedia Founder & Lead Strategist Natalie Rodic Marsan, and The Huffington Post Community Manager Tim McDonald. The promo blurb claimed there is little support or understanding of the Community Manager’s role; so this session aimed to present a brief overview of the role, then focussed on participants collaborating to create a Community Manager Manifesto. The final manifesto can be found here and below. It was useful to hear how other Community Managers from a range of industries defined their roles, given there is often limited support or understanding of the role across organisations. In Australia, times that by 100(000).

The workshop titled How to get fans to spread your message proposed to walk attendees through step-by-step instructions on how to create, customize, execute and measure a social media program. However when a substantial amount of time (but probably not that long – I’m relatively impatient) had been spent on asking the audience to define an advocate, I took my cue to head off to another session.

The workshop I found most significant was called Storytelling – the next wave of social media marketing.

Panelists included Principal of Big Deal PR Inc. Carri Bugbee and Director of Social Strategy and Content Programming at LiveWorld Mark Williams. LiveWorld is an expert storytelling company for brands. Mark calls himself the “forest gump” of social media because he has been around since 1999, developing online communities and social media campaigns and strategies for Fortune 500 brands.

He explained that storytelling has always been the core of smart marketing. People remember stories, not messages. “The stories customers tell about your product are not necessarily the same stories that the brand is telling.”

Think of a telco or cellphone company – they’re selling their coverage, but customers might not agree that coverage is the benefit (or even that great, especially in regional parts of Australia). What the telcos should be telling is what their service is good for, what the phone or service can do.

He noted that Facebook had recently acquired Storylane, a storytelling platform. This shows the direction that Facebook is heading.

Social storytelling puts your customers’ stories as part of the brand story, he explained. There are solid business reasons for doing this, including raising ROI.

Carri, whose flight to Austin had been delayed and had Skyped into the packed auditorium on the big screen, raised the Old Spice campaign. There were no tracking tools, so the creative team were using basic excel spreadsheets,  she explained. They didn’t know what they were going to do with the data when they started collecting it, just thought it might be important.

They continued the workshop with their top 10 tips for social storytelling, with a couple of key points I highlighted:

  • Use each social media platform to its best advantage
  • Create stand-alone platform experiences that are enhanced by cross-platform participation
  • Ensure you have team members who really know your platforms – tech and community expertise
  • Tell your story in pictures (including video) as well as words
  • If you don’t have storytelling talent on your team, get outside help and develop an internal team (may take a while) or hire experienced writers/storytellers for project work.

The rest of the workshop delved into some of the principles of storytelling, with a valid reminder that social networks by their very nature are storytelling mediums, invented for people to tell their stories. The end. (Almost…)

Personal observations

What I found most surprising after attending these social media sessions was that no-one made a direct reference to social media as the digital evolution of old-school direct marketing – or relationship marketing, as it was often defined. Coming from a background as a DM copywriter, I see distinct parallels. Amongst other things, it’s about fostering relationships with brand advocates – and that’s one of the most powerful tools any marketer can utilise.



One Response

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  1. […] My main areas of interest at SXSW Interactive (and Film) 2013 were social media, transmedia and mobile. There was a huge range of sessions and workshops on social (of which I attended as many as was physically possible), hence it gleaned the majority of my report coverage. […]

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