LevLane Wins Five Trophies from Art Directors Club of Philadelphia’s 2016 Louix Awards

Takeaways from the Social Media Leadership Awards #SMLA13

On December 9th and 10th, Tracy Dabakis, Erica Nardello and Eric Spector, members of our PR and Social Media team, traveled (in lots of snow!) west on Market to attend the Social Media Leadership Awards‘ Best Practices Conference. Held at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, our LevLaners learned from some of the industry’s best and most innovative about using social strategies for customer service and community creation/management, and overall best practices. Check out the top takeaways from the conference below. If you were in attendance at #SMLA13, let us know what you found most valuable in the comments below!

The Power of Social Media

The common thread of every presenter’s story was, of course, how powerful social media can be and how it explicitly positively impacted their company, no matter the industry.

Jennifer Sengupta, Manager of Social Media at National Geographic Education, stressed the importance of knowing your audience. Once she was able to create two separate social media plans for Nat Geo Education’s Facebook and Twitter, Jennifer saw the brand’s overall social engagement increase 3300%. Prior to this, Nat Geo Education’s social presence was “sporadic at best”, and entirely self promotional. Jennifer explained that social media works best when it’s used as an engagement tool, not a marketing tool. Amanda Hite, Co-founder of BTC Revolutions, suggested that by engaging brand enthusiasts, they become natural ambassadors and can do more than an entire marketing team, which is exactly what she did when promoting No Kid Hungry‘s Giving Tuesday campaign. The power of social media is essentially word of mouth, as users place more trust in their peers than brands, and can ultimately smell ingenuity from the first tweet.

Steve Wick, Founder and CEO of FanNewscast, mentioned that in 2011, time spent on social media surpassed all of dot-com. Read that again. Time spent on social media surpassed all of dot-com. This fact is the sole reason why Wick and his associates have invested all of their efforts into social media and native advertising, which was another popular topic for the Social Business panel. Wick has seen a trend shift to native advertising, specifically in-stream advertising. Nearly all of the panelists mentioned native advertising and personalization as “the next big thing” and the trend to look out for in 2014.

For several years (and many years to come), the be-all and end-all of social media is Facebook. Lou Kerner, Co-founder of The Social Internet Fund, put it this way: “Facebook is the second internet. Anything that happens off of Facebook, will then come to Facebook.” This rings true for users who share their photos and thoughts on the site daily as well as advertisers. Kerner and Wix both predicted a shift in ad dollars from display to Facebook in order to reach consumers where they are (nod to the native and in-stream advertising discussed earlier). It’s no secret that Facebook has the ability to target you brand’s ads to the Nth degree based on consumers online behavior. Most consumers aren’t aware that Facebook is also working with several companies to collect your offline buying habits and personality, which will intensify the capabilities of Facebook advertising, making “traditional” digital display outdated and ineffective.

The Integration (and Separation) of Social Media and PR

The moderator of the Social Media for Customer Service panel, The Wharton School’s Sr. Director of New Media Stefan Frank, pointed out that 50-75% of social media managers are still part of larger PR and communications teams. From proactive blogger relations to crisis management, PR and social media teams work collaboratively as close partners, even if they are not one intertwined team. Those who work with or serve as part of social media teams will not be surprised by this, but the fact of the matter is that this can be both an asset and a detriment to social media strategies, if not managed properly. While many PR strategies focus on specifically-worded answers to customer inquiries or problems, the canned response is met with disdain in the social sphere.

Still, that doesn’t mean that elements of traditional PR fall by the wayside in a technologically modern world. As Bianca Buckridee, VP of Social Media Operations for JPMorgan Chase, explained during the panel, it’s crucial for PR teams to communicate with social media teams regarding buzzworthy events (from both a content strategy perspective and community management perspective), as well as anticipating and planning for positive and negative reactions across different media. This doesn’t mean latching onto one canned response for the duration of an event, however. Brian Mook, AVP Social Media at Barclaycard US, said that his team often crafts several different ways to communicate the same message, so that customers don’t lash out about being served the same response repeatedly. It seems like a no-brainer, but you might be shocked to see how few brands actually utilize this simple tactic. In fact, those varied and personalized responses are the primary way in which social media and PR strategies diverge when it comes to customer service. Buckridee emphasized that at JPMorgan Chase, they have (and use) brand and conversation guidelines for customer service issues, but the most important thing is that their team members’ personalities shine through. They, after all, are the voice of the brand for each customer – and that voice needs to have a human touch. Personalized responses may sometimes require a little background research (and almost-daily coaching and education to determine which responses work best), but the pay-off of having a happy customer is so worth it.

In fact, The Wharton School’s Frank pointed out that, “You can delight people the most in a crisis because they expect to be let down.” But what do social teams need to do before and during crises in order to delight, rather than dismay? As Dennis Stoutenburgh, Co-Founder of Social Strategy1, explains, it’s about using social media tools to anticipate reactions or issues and to communicate with the larger team to proactively reach out or to provide valuable reactions to those issues. “Social care can be the early warning system that helps to create a good coordinated effort.” Once an issue has reached crisis-level, American Airlines’ Sr. Analyst, Social Communications Katy Phillips, emphasizes three things: honesty about the situation and what it means for customers, delivering timely updates, and (perhaps most surprisingly) knowing when to let the crisis go.

As David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY, put it in a later panel on content and communities, “Real-time marketing [or response, for that matter] is too late.” That’s exactly what the day’s #SMLA13 sessions were all about: the need to anticipate, predict, and respond in strategic, delightful ways for customers and stakeholders, alike.

What was your favorite part of the conference? Did anything surprise you? Share your comments below!