#SMMW16 Takeaways, Insights, and Keys to Success

Social Media Examiner threw their fourth annual Social Media Marketing World. This year saw 3000 attendees from 55 different countries descend on the San Diego Convention Center. Over 150 speakers talked about a wide variety of social media marketing topics. But there was one word on everyone’s lips:


Video, specifically live video, has taken the industry by storm. After Meerkat and Periscope duked it out last year, now Facebook and YouTube are getting into the game. You couldn’t walk 10 feet without seeing someone talking into their phone’s camera. The revolution is here, and it will be televised on 5” screens.

The first day of the conference was a series of workshops. These were different than the regular sessions in that they were 90 minutes in length, as opposed to a 45-minute session. These workshops also offered actual tactics on how to achieve goals.

The first workshop I attended was Park Howell, brand strategist for professional service firms. Park focused on a topic near and dear to my heart: storytelling. He talked about how we were all at our storytelling peak when we were in kindergarten. I have a five year old, and I can attest to this. Her stories follow no structure, and they’re amazing 

Park walked us through Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It turns out that almost every great story told follows the same structure. After walking through that structure, Park then whittled it down so it fit the narrative that marketers are trying to tell.

One fascinating moment was he showed a video that had two triangles and a circle moving around the screen. Park then asked the audience what they saw. The wide array of the interpretations illustrates that people apply their own narrative to your story. So make sure you are clear in what you’re trying to communicate. (By the way, I saw the video as a hunter/prey story).

Today’s ADHD world has led to a variety of storytelling methods. Park showed a great video example called “Late to Work” where an entire story is told in five seconds.   

Park’s last point was the most potent story you will ever tell is the story you tell yourself, so make it good.

The second workshop I attended was Conference Networking for Introverts run by Mike “Ambassador” Bruny. Like anyone, I slide around the introvert/extrovert scale, but I thought this would be a good way to meet some of the people I’d be spending the next couple of days with. 

Mike told us about what he calls “the Ambassador Pivot.” When you see someone approach you or your small chatting group, make sure you turn to welcome that person to the conversation.

There are tried and true icebreaker questions at these types of events (Where are you from? What do you do?). We do this to find common ground and establish familiarity. Mike also talked about the importance of business cards. Even in this digital era, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have time to unlock your phone, find the app, scan, or type in your info. And because a business card is a physical thing, you’ll look at it again after the event. It’s not just another name in your digital address book.

Mike had us run through a few exercises where we would write down some answers to questions, and then discuss those with someone near us. I ended up speaking with a woman named Tara Schreiner who also happened to be in the same dinner group the next day (I think she was stalking me). Tara is just one example of the many people I met and had true conversations with. As cliché as it sounds, almost everyone at the event was very social. I think having this session at the beginning of the conference was a great idea because it got the crowd into the mindset that everyone is there for similar reasons.

Sunday night was also the Opening Night Networking Party on the USS Midway. SMMW rented out an aircraft carrier. This was a great way to meet new people and hear about the wide variety of industries and companies that are all facing the same challenges. It makes people feel good when you hear that a household-name brand is trying to solve the same problems you are.

As exciting as the aircraft carrier was, many people left earlier to head back to the hotel. Buzz had been building throughout the second half of the day that Gary Vaynerchuk was going to be hanging out by the pool in case anyone wanted to stop by and say, “Hi.” Gary is the closest thing to a rock star in this industry. There were probably a couple of hundred people circled around Gary by the time I got there.

One of my biggest surprises at the conference was meeting a lot of people who didn’t know who Gary was. I thought I was a late adopter when I first discovered him doing a whole day live stream to promote Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook a few years ago. I truly believe that Snapchat is taking off with marketers because Gary decided to go all in a few months ago. He now has that sort of power within the industry. Let’s see if his next “could be big” app, Musical.ly does the same thing.

Monday morning was the opening keynote. Social Media Examiner’s Phil Mershon, Director of Events welcomed us to the conference and introduced author, podcaster, and SME’s founder, Mike Stelzner.

Mike ran through a lot of data from a report that is about to be published. I won’t give away the numbers here (though I wrote them all down), but it set the tone for the conference: video, video, video! He discussed how video is leading to true engagement. And this engagement is leading to more exposure and thus brand evangelists. Another theme throughout the conference was how customer references are the best form of advertising and marketing.

The other running theme of the conference was the explosion of Snapchat. Snapchat is an app that marketers are still trying to figure out. As of now, only 5% of marketers are on the platform. 

Mike then yielded the stage to Brian Fanzo. Brian has built a name for himself by diving in and testing out each new platform when it launches. Brian’s “Think Like a Fan” message applies perfectly to the buzz surrounding Snapchat and live streaming. These platforms provide unique access, conversations, and insights that fans or customers weren’t able to achieve just a few years ago.

The first session I attended was Joe Pulizzi’s session on Content Marketing. Joe is one of the foremost authorities on the subject, and the founder of Content Marketing Institute, and Content Marketing World. Joe stressed the importance of building an audience BEFORE trying to monetize them. Customers will appreciate it when you deliver on your promise. If you going to put out content on a regular basis, do it. It helps to build an audience that knows, likes, and trust your brand. The know/like/trust methodology follows the process of turning prospects into fans.

Joe’s presentation is the foundation for his latest book, Content Inc. where he breaks down how using content can build massive audiences that lead to successful businesses. 

Joe is the co-host of my favorite podcast on the planet: This Old Marketing. Joe’s co-host, Robert Rose, was the next speaker. I got to chat with Robert for a few minutes before his presentation. When I introduced myself, he reacted like I was an old friend. That was the closest I had to a fangirl moment for the whole conference. 

Robert is the Chief Strategy Officer for Content Marketing Institute and the perfect follow-up to Joe’s presentation. Robert recently co-authored a book about how experiences are the newest era of marketing. For his presentation, he focused on “anticipatory delight.” Robert was preaching the importance of providing value to the customers, and they will become loyal. After that, he talked about the need for a clear content strategy. If there is no strategy, a company will end up with a disconnected pile of assets.

Too many people see content marketing as just creating collateral. He stressed the importance of starting with the end to determine the experience you want your customers to have and then working backward to create that value.

Content is the driving ingredient in a customer experience show that never ends. We heard a similar theme during the closing keynote.

Next up was Shaan Puri discussing influencer marketing. Shaan is best known as the creator of Blab.im, a new live-streaming community platform that allows multiple viewers to join the same conversation while people can type comments below the video.

Shaan’s presentation only mentioned Blab in a cursory measure. He focused more on how to win in a noisy world. Building a tribe is the best way to stand out because those in the tribe will support you no matter what platform you’re on. He gave Gary Vaynerchek and Bill Simmons as examples of people who have a tribe that will follow them anywhere.

Tribes have a unique voice or philosophy, leaders and diehards, and a place to gather. Shaan then focused on trends. He said by the time you hear about the “next big thing” it’s already too late. Social changes faster than anything we’ve ever seen. By the time you hear what “works,” it won’t work anymore because everyone else is already doing it. 

Trends are temporary, tribes are forever. Your tribe will follow, share, and buy on any platform. Shaan then talked about how Blab was built to provide a platform for tribes.

While he didn’t talk about it in his presentation, one of the smartest things I’ve seen across any live-streaming platform was a Blab that Shaan hosted a couple of months ago. On there, he basically had an “Open Office” session. He wanted people to jump in and give him feedback on the platform. Shaan and his CTO took notes on a whiteboard as people offered up their likes, dislikes, and suggestions. On what other platform can you get unfettered, immediate feedback from the people who use your product?

(by the way, I’m only halfway through day one at this point. Hope you’re someplace comfortable)

Next up was Ann Handley, known as the most influential woman in social media. Her topic was focused on content, specifically, good vs. good enough content. The basics that she was promoting are bigger context, bolder marketing, and a braver perspective. Ann said the biggest missed opportunity in marketing is playing it too safe.

77% of B2C organizations plan to produce more content in 2016, and half are planning to spend more to produce content. By my math, that sounds like there is a good percentage of companies that want more content, but don’t want to pay more to create it. I’ve seen that plan fail plenty of times. But good luck to them.

One way to get customers engaged is to teach them something. Training can be a form of marketing. This helps people feel smarter, and a part of something bigger (something we heard in Shaan’s presentation on tribes).

Ann is an expert in this space, so it’s no surprise that she is able to sum up branding in a simple sentence: a brand is the sum of every experience a customer has with a company. Most first impressions are lousy. Too often a customer’s first impression is a stale landing page that demands too much information. You have to go on a few dates before you get married.

Another area that Ann discussed was building a great content experience on the audience’s terms. Telling a unique story with a unique point of view can be a key differentiator. A brand can create a tone of voice that reflects its culture.

Brian Fanzo’s session on knowing when your business should get into live video was very informative. Not only is Brian a live-streaming expert, but he’s a change evangelist. His goal is to help companies evolve into what they should become.

Live streaming has broken down the barriers of video. While there is still a lot of value in long-form, professionally-produced video content, live streaming allows everyone to broadcast themselves. People want access to the people and brands they admire. Live streaming now allows this access, and it’s helping to build communities. For a while, Brian has been preaching that community is the future of business. 

A community helps build and establish authenticity. These communities are how advocacy and loyalty are created. Though others have discussed finding ways for your customers/fans to advocate for your brand, Brian was one of the few speakers I saw that discussed getting employees to become advocates for the brand. Establishing trust, training, and tools will empower your employees to share the word of the company.

Brian then ran through the differences between today’s live-streaming platforms

  • Periscope – unfiltered global streaming
  • Facebook Live – targeted live streaming, allows nurturing of existing fans and friends
  • Snapchat – Raw, real-captured attention
  • Blab – Collaborative live streaming – a gateway drug for brands

Though live streaming doesn’t have to be overly produced, there does have to be some thought put behind it. There has to be a strategy and measurable goals. Companies need to shift to a right-time content mindset. Different audiences are looking for different things at different points of the buyer’s journey.

Brian’s parting thought was that we can’t force change. We must inspire and teach change. 

The keynote, or the main event to use a boxing analogy, for Monday, was the one and only Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary was interviewed by Marcus Sheridan, founder of The Sales Lion. Part of the throughline in Gary’s answers was patience and that everything will change. We have a fascination with declaring something dead. Gary discussed how Facebook is the best ad product in the world, and when it came to reaching millennials, there is nothing close to Snapchat.

At one point Gary was asked if there were any B2B brands using Snapchat. Gary answered with a simple, “No.” I mentioned it on Brian Fanzo’s Periscope the next day (around minute 9), but as a B2B marketer, it was good to hear that we’re not too late to the Snapchat game. The game isn’t being played yet.

Gary explained the dichotomy between his two messages: You have to hustle to get what you want, but you have to be patient while you’re working toward something. Marcus called Gary a professional at human behavior. Gary said that he’s good a projecting people’s behavior because he’s a good listener (something that many wouldn’t expect due to the way the “public” Gary Vee dominates discussions). 

At one point Gary started talking about how Snapchat is the daily documentation of our lives. Though he didn’t really flesh out the thought, I have heard him talk about this in the past. We are the first generation that will have our lives completely documented. He knows his grandkids will be able to watch everything he does. When you think about how few photos there are of our grandparents, it’s amazing to think about how our lives will forever be available in HD on demand.

Gary documents his life through his DailyVee show. The goal was to illustrate that nobody can outwork him. He places a great deal of his success in the knowledge that others can’t get his results by working half as hard as he does. Gary then raised a great point that he doesn’t believe anything that steals your time and doesn’t provide value is good. Just a couple of days ago he went off during a Facebook Live rant where he was ripping on people who waste their time-consuming mindless content like Netflix.

Gary covered too many topics to list here, but my favorite was the fact that parents should build the confidence of their children, but not reward them for failure. You can build a kid up without giving eighth-place trophies. That’s not how the real world works.

Wednesday morning kicked off with a panel about live streaming. Noted author and podcaster Joel Comm moderated the panel that featured Kim Garst, the first lady of Periscope, Shaan Puri, co-founder of Blab.im, and Mari Smith, top Facebook Marketing Expert.  

Shaan gave some amazing stats about Blab. Right now the average viewer consumes 82 minutes of video on Blab per day. It’s four times the video time on Facebook, and twice as much as on YouTube. On Periscope, people are consuming 40 years of content every day.

The end of the panel raised an interesting point that some people disagreed with, both on the panel and within the #SMMW16 hashtag on Twitter. Shaan said that live streaming is not built for businesses right now. Mari responded that it could be, but live streaming still has a way to go before it is widely adopted.

My next session was Brian Solis’ presentation on creating experiences that inspire people to share. Brian is the principal analyst for Altimeter Group, author, and writer. Brian started off by revealing how he was among the group of Silicon Valley people who coined the term “Social Media” (it was almost called “The Live Web” at one point). Brian’s primary thesis right now is that crafting the right experience is essential to get people interested in what you are selling or what you have to say. Companies need to remember that behind every screen is a person, not a prospect.

Brian shared some fascinating research that showed that teenagers need a break to consume digital media every 60 seconds. Also, 90% of people making decisions on mobile are brand agnostic. They want what they want right away. If your company doesn’t have what they’re looking for right at that moment, the person will look elsewhere. With so many options these days, there isn’t the brand loyalty that once existed.

Leadership was another running thread through Brian’s presentation. He started off by sarcastically said nothing says “leadership” and “innovation” better than a Powerpoint deck. People and companies can’t move in a new direction unless there is someone leading the way. We’ve already seen that the old model doesn’t work. We run campaigns in a way that is completely opposite of how a story should be crafted. The future of marketing is a blank slate. We need to focus on the ART of engagement: Actions, Reactions, and Transactions.

As with any session, there was a group of people that wanted to chat with the speaker. In the past, I’ve done some work to promote a couple of Brian’s projects [self promotional link #1] and [self promotional link #2] thanks to Vala Afshar. It was great to meet Brian in person and exchange numbers.

One area of marketing where everyone probably needs advice is Influencer Marketing. Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Marketing, is an expert in this area. The best takeaway I received from this session was that if you work with influencers, you become an influencer. Everyone is influential on a topic. Influencer marketing is the practice of engaging internal and industry experts with active networks to help achieve measurable business goals. 

An influencer’s motivation is the same as yours: to grow the brand. 

Lee then walked through the dos and don’ts of hiring an influencer to help achieve your goals. As in any relationship, you have to slowly build a relationship before asking an influencer to contribute his/her time and name to your project. 

Following other running themes of the conference, you have to create an experience where people want to engage.

I attended the How to Get Public Speaking Gigs session that was hosted by Mike Stelzner and Phil Mershon. It was mostly focused on how to become a SMMW speaker, but there was good guidance in there for anyone wanting to become a speaker. I spoke at a conference last week on the topic of visual marketing at the Social Tools Summit, and it was good to hear about the steps I should take if I want to further investigate that avenue. 

Bryan Kramer, CEO of PureMatter, spoke to a packed house about cutting through a noisy world. Today 2.5 quintillion (25,000,000,000,000,000) bytes of data are created every day. How do you get anyone to consume your content? The secret is creating connections and engagement. People like to be included and share their own content.

To see what is resonating with people listen to them. Find the influencers who can cut through the clutter. Treat people like VIPs and find a different way to market yourself. He talked about the rule of thirds, the method by which your focal point is not in the center of the image. Create off-center marketing and it will get noticed. 

Bryan has a unique method where he replies to emails with a quick 10-second video. He thinks every company should have a Thank You department.

To wrap up this amazing event, Mark Schaefer was very entertaining as he encouraged us to think bigger and bolder with our marketing efforts. He started off by asking the question that we’ve all been asked (and a question that usually stumps us), what is the ROI of social media?

Many of the benefits are qualitative, not quantitative. Not every metric fits nicely on an Excel spreadsheet. The true ROI of social media is awareness and reliable reach. The reason why (most) companies are spending money on social media is that it works. 

Mark had a hilarious rant about how we’re all making “Taco Marketing.” It’s the same five ingredients rearranged and called something different. If we take a different approach and teach people things, there are more likely to buy and become an evangelist. 85% of people say reading content that other people share helps them understand and process brand information.

Sharing creates advocacy. There is an audience out there that will share whatever you create. Focus on building trust instead of engagement. Trust leads to loyalty. Loyalty trumps everything.

And with that, the conference was wrapped up.

One of the absolute highlights of the event was meeting online friends in real life. There were a number of people with whom I’ve had many online conversations, and this event gave me the opportunity to give real-life handshakes and hugs. I’ve been to many conferences in the past, yet this was the first time where I had previous knowledge (and often engagements) of many of the speakers. There was only one speaker of a session where I wasn’t already following that person on one platform or another.

The only drawback to the event was how condensed it was. There were so many sessions that I wanted to attend but I had a conflict. Had the conference been more spread out, this recap would have been 8000 words because there was so much more for me to learn, and so many more sessions I wanted to attend. 

Everyone I spoke to had a different “favorite” session. Though we’re all in marketing, we all have different areas where we focus our limited time and energy. Because my company is a B2B IT solutions company, I didn’t attend a lot of live streaming/Snapchat sessions. But I would have loved to learn more about how to use those tools to strengthen our marketing efforts.

You know you’ve attended a great conference when your only criticism is that there was too much good content. This has been the most rewarding conference that I’ve attended. Social Media Marketing World has set the bar pretty high. Thank you to Mike, Phil, and the Social Media Examiner team for putting on a great event. 

If you didn’t get to attend the conference, you can buy a virtual ticket to the event.

This SlideShare has some different speakers, as well as different takeaways from the ones I posted above. I hope you enjoy it. 

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