I had the pleasure and privilege to speak not once, but twice at Social Media Marketing World 2017 (SMMW17), a fantastic event thrown annually by Social Media Examiner. If you have the resources and time to attend, you should. Michael Stelzner and his crew do an amazing job. Let’s run through what was hot this year in terms of discussions.
Content Is On Everyone’s Mind
Social media marketing has in some ways become synonymous with content marketing, for the simple reason that engagement is what drives social algorithms. Engagement comes from community management and content; the former keeps the audience you’ve earned, and the former earns us new audience members.
However, a quick look around the corporate content landscape shows no lack of quantity, but a vast, lifeless desert of quality. Many of the sessions at SMMW17 focused on how to uplevel the content we create.
Video Killed the Social Star
A social media program without video – especially advanced video such as 360 degree video or live video – is considered archaic today. More important, the algorithms which power Facebook and Instagram give preference to advanced video; advanced video is one of the only ways to earn unpaid attention.
What sort of video content can nearly any brand make?
- How it’s made/how it’s done
- Behind the scenes
- Executive/subject matter expert opinion pieces
- Customer testimonials/use cases
Messaging Is Big
The third major discussion point at SMMW17 revolved around messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Despite our lack of analytics for businesses on most messaging platforms (Snapchat especially), the general consensus among marketers at the show was that participation on these platforms is mandatory. At the very least, we must offer them as service options for customers.
Bots Are in the Trough
Marketers discussed chat bots extensively at SMMW17 as well; bots are in the trough of disillusionment at the moment, having been through the first hype cycle. While many early implementations of bots were disappointing, the current generation of bots is proving more utilitarian in nature.
For example, Growthbot (available on Facebook and Slack) provides useful insights to marketers, especially for competitive research:
Bots still have a long way to reach the plateau of productivity in the hype cycle, but marketers would be wise to continue testing and innovating with them.
AI is the Tsunami
Unsurprisingly, one of the hottest topics at SMMW17 was artificial intelligence. Social media marketers are slowly coming to grips with the implications of artificial intelligence and machine learning – especially how it will impact their work. A significant portion of social media marketing is repetitive, minimally cognitive work (such as curating content) which machines already prove adept at doing.
As machine learning advances, marketers should expect to offload the lowest cognitive load tasks to machines. Tasks such as pure creation, strategy, and judgement will remain in the human realm for now, especially in areas such as crisis communications.
The opportunity for every marketer is straightforward: what repetitive, boring tasks in social media marketing do you enjoy less and less? Find products, services, or technologies which automate them, train the technology, and be surprised at how easy it is to leave them in the hands of capably-trained algorithms.
Finally, the recurring theme across nearly every topic that dominated SMMW17 was storytelling. The reality is that most corporate social media – and content in general – is terrible. Engagement rates on social media are low partly due to algorithms, but the algorithms themselves exist because marketers simply dumped brochureware onto social media in the same way they dumped brochures onto the web.
The ability to tell a compelling story does not change with any of the technologies and trends above. The ability to persuade, entertain, and educate depends on our ability to share stories, because stories are how we humans learn, and have learned for tens of thousands of years. Not a single cave painting in Lascaux is a brand mention or an advertisement. Not one Greek vase of antiquity is a commercial for Agamemnon’s laundry or Euripedes’ tailor shop. All these artifacts, these legacies of the past are stories.
As marketers, we must re-learn the art of storytelling that fits any channel, any medium, any technology. At the end of every smartphone, tablet, laptop, or VR headset is another human being we want to persuade, and stories are one of the best, most reliable ways to do so.
What Will You Change?
For those who attended Social Media Marketing World 2017 either in person or virtually, what will you change or do differently? How will your social media strategies, tactics, and methods change?
For those who did not attend, stay tuned for some of our materials from the event, including a special session for Google Data Studio for Social Media Marketers coming soon.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology