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Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Engage NYC 2013 event held by Social Bakers. It was a huge breath of fresh air to discover that the speakers were covering fresh topics and not droning on about the same old, “be present, listen and engage.” Here are the highlights of the BIG ideas presented at this stellar event.

Build social into your business

Many of the speakers touched on a common theme: In the next few years, social media is going to be built into the cloth of many businesses. This means not just using it as a marketing tool but for internal communications as well. It also means letting other departments learn from insights discovered through using social media.

Katy Phillips of American Airlines shared the company’s success after its recent rebrand. It was able to bring its online presence from 8 hours to 24 hours a day in just 2 years, and have focused energy on bringing down response time. Similarly, Yossi Erdman from Appliances Online shared how his company has integrating social media into the brand’s website, which now shows Facebook comments about products directly on the site. The social team also shares responsibility with the customer service department, allowing that team to handle customer care on social media. It seems many companies are striving to decentralize social media and let all departments have a part in building and maintaining online presence.

Use social leverage

Social media provides a lot of opportunity to impact customers. However, only those brands that can truly embrace consumer content and take action on it will make that impact with their audiences. That’s just what

Jeremie Moritz and Pernod Ricard did. Pernod Ricard has what it calls “passion brands” (brand that people feel passionately about) and it uses only a conversational tone with its customers. “It’s better to have 6,000 meaningful conversations than 6,000,000 fans,” Moritz said. All of Pernod Ricard’s brands talk with their customers and stay as far away from corporate speak as much as possible. Some of their brands have even been known to go out of their way to gift their fans out of the blue. That’s how passionate they are about their customers. In return, their customers have been devoted and loyal. This is the leverage brands can get from social media.

Lock down and move forward

Avoiding a PR disaster is always at the back of any marketer’s mind. But social media is a public place and anyone can have a voice. So when Sam Wilson and her team at Woolworths had a political spat take place on one of their posts, they had a difficult decision to make. Falling back on their social media guidelines, they decided to shut down the brand’s Facebook page to let things simmer down. After a week they opened the page again and started where they left off. While there was still some backlash, it was manageable and addressed appropriately. This was a risky move, but one that may have saved the brand. Rather than let it be tarnished by the forum of opposing ideas, the Woolworths team protected the brand and let the storm pass. Karen Le and her team at Telstra achieved a similar feat with social media. Telstra was suffering from negative brand sentiment. But by internalizing social media, integrating it into the website, and being conversational with its customers, it has been able to improve sentiment and turn the brand around.

Connecting social to business goals

This is probably the most important lesson from the conference and one that I’m glad to see big companies trying to do – and implementing – successfully. Susan Etlinger from Altimeter provided some examples of companies using social media in different departments and focusing on tracking metrics across the organization. She shared a great anecdote about Parasole Steakhouses using social data from Yelp to identify a meat supplier that had pulled a bait-and-switch. Bad reviews from social tipped off the company, who then realized the locations with bad reviews all had one thing in common: the supplier. Stephanie Rodriguez, from Mighty Media Group, also came to the stage with a full deck. She shared the story of her “4 Aces” (Context, Mobility, Smarter Data, and Creativity) and how they play a role in driving business forward. To paraphrase, a strong strategy is lead with metrics (smarter data) tied to business goals. Understanding who and when (context) and understanding that social is international and mobile (mobility) can lead to great content that drives the business (creativity). Ultimately, she says, “creativity trumps technology.” No matter the platform, to really make an impact you have to be creative.

This conference was a great change to the typical forums in both style and substance. It is truly inspiring to see companies and agencies finally expressing their challenges, successes and failures publicly. This event was a blast and you can read the storify here.

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