April 3, 2014

Top ten insights from SMWF Europe 2014

For those unable to attend this week’s SMWF in London, here is my round up and analysis of key insights shared by the more than 80 speakers, hundreds of attendees and millions engaging online with #SMWF. Whilst the thoughts aired may not be all that new (my presentation on social listening was originally made in 2009), they provide a barometer of what and who is hot in our industry at this moment in time. It is worth noting the similarity in themes emerging from the #adweek event running in parallel in London this week.

1. Brands no longer in control: Customer perspectives are now more influential than brands’ and so are directly affecting business performance. This situation dictates prioritising marketing energy into influencing customer perceptions and online behaviour through better customer service and creating and sharing more regular diverse types of value-added content. Saxo Capital Market’s Uriel Alvarado (@urielac) prescribes ‘adding value to customers before they are customers’ whilst MacDonald’s Pierre Woreczek showed their commitment to helping their customers save time via digitally enabled self-service kiosks and mobile ordering.

2. Gen Y is driving the change, but we all now expect social engagement with brands: As most businesses are not run by Gen Y, a strong need for digital education is evident with many brands introducing digital training for their staff. McDonald’s has created a Digital University to accelerate understanding and align expectations for organisational change across their business whilst SAB Miller has introduced a digital sprint programme for its business leaders entailing trips to Silicon Valley start ups. Due to the speed of digital disruption, taking an entrepreneurial approach is critical.

3. Content is the currency of social media: Social success is signaled by people sharing your content and spreading the good word about your brand; your content needs to be relevant and timely but you also need strong ideas to cut through the noise. Pleasance Coddington (@ipleasance) of Momondo Group shared the strongest example of a highly targeted integrated idea emanating the requisite ‘fairy dust’; their Friend Compass app integrates social data with their flight search engine to give customers the best flight options for visiting their friends. Story telling is not new for brands, but it is evolving by becoming more participatory and diversified in terms of formats.

4. Social success requires commitment: Sean Gardener (@2morrowknight), ranked #1 Social Media Influencer  by Forbes in 2013,  provides daily inspiration and responds to followers across multiple social platforms typically posting between 20-30 times per day. You can’t grow your fan base to a critical mass (in Sean’s case over 600K) without putting in considerable time and effort. In this regard, the importance of social operational tools that facilitate publishing and evaluation cannot be underestimated. This is an area where further innovation is desperately needed. In spite of the challenges, several suppliers received client endorsements at the event including Sprinkler and Sodoash. Comments were made about how time consuming some data/publishing tools can be highlighting an important judgement that needs to be made regarding the need for data versus the ability to process that data which will vary from business to business. A topic worthy of another post.

5. Facebook is forcing brands to seek new engagement channels: Facebook is massive as a source of web traffic and brand advocacy for many brands. James Whatley (@whatleydude) highlighted how changes in the organic reach of branded content on Facebook is having a big effect on strategy and tactics. Is it nudging brands to newer channels and potentially to develop their own on domain brand communities?

6. The role for user generated content in brand communications is growing: Integrating the voice of the customer into the brand experience on and offline is a visible trend. Prelini Chiechi (@prelini) of Bazaar Voice provided many case studies showing on and offline integration and a model for verified authentic content which advocates 3 things: unedited, transparent, free from fraud. Brands need to accept some negativity if their on-domain UGC integration is to be credible. She said customers are impressed when the brand responds visibly to negative comments, so don’t be afraid to address them. Censoring  just won’t work and could come back to haunt you!

7. Social business is the end game: Although social leaders often sit in marketing/comms departments, social needs to be integrated into the business and owned by every department. This point was well made by BP’s Ben Jeffries (@benjer172) and many others who championed breaking down the silos between departments and working much more closely together to help their businesses more customer-centric.

8. Behaviour change inside the organisation is what’s needed: If a business is to become more customer centric and nimble, it needs to change from the inside. Royal Philip’s Blake Cahill (@bcahill) made this point as did GE Healthcare’s Jeff DeMarrais (@demarrais). The need to break down the silos between departments has never been more pressing as is having C-level sponsorship for social programmes. For this change to happen requires new attitudes and behaviors. Reverse mentoring is a tactic some businesses are using internally.

9. Employee engagement is needed to make brands shine online: Max Nadjn (@mazi) identified employee engagement as a key trend. If employees don’t love the company why would anyone else? Social maven Tiffany St James (@tiffanystjames) ran a cracking participatory workshop identifying the countless (soon to be published) ways employees can be empowered to support the reputation of their employers online.  RSA’s Jenny Burns(@jennyburns55) wants everyone in her organisation to have a role. She does not want to become a policewoman for social, but rather an enabler. Great call.

10. Social / digital leaders need to be caring and thick skinned: BP’s Ben Jeffries (@benjer172) highlighted how exhausting and demanding social leadership can be. It requires the right blend of being caring about so many diverse internal and external stakeholders needs, but also being able to take knocks or blocks along the way. Hootsuite’s Ryan Holey (@holeytonal) and others championed the need for Chief Digital Officers to provide necessary leadership across the business until digital and social becomes business as usual and encouraged attendees to be that person.

This Huff Post interview with Perry Hewitt (@perryhewitt), Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer sheds further light on this role.

SMWF provides a great support network and insights for pioneers on the front line of social business. More representation from the social networks would be great to see at next year’s event as their viewpoints on the debates would be most welcome.

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