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WebMediaBrands held its inaugural Social Curation Summit on July 31, 2012 in New York City. The gathering sought to address the proliferation of visual social networks and the transformation of the social graph of “who-knows-who” into an interest graph of “who-knows-what” with an eye toward exploring new strategies for determining what sacrifices to make at the alters of the all-powerful gods of ROI. Representatives from Tumblr, Pinterest, Behance, BO.LT, AOL, Bertelsmann, Sesame Street and GE ran the gauntlet alongside fashion bloggers, scientists, brand evangelists, venture capitalists and a videologist, demonstrating that everybody has the potential to be a big player in the social space. A few threads weaved consistently through the proceedings giving a glimpse of the way that businesses small and large can make friends on the new frontier.

Social ROI
One constant that permeated the dialogue on all fronts was that despite the prevalence of digital devices in our conversations, the human voice remains important. Understanding your audience and establishing a culture around your content gives your company a chance to build participatory experiences that have the potential to inspire your following. The assembled experts proceeded to unleash a fire hose of social aphorisms that went something like this:

• Social doesn’t have to be perfect, just get in the game.
• If you’re on the internet and you’re not doing social you’re missing out.
• Build a community first and curate from there.
• Resist the urge to be everything to everybody.
• Let the community tell the story when appropriate.
• Social media in its inherent nature is the fickleness of human beings.
• Move beyond your vertical

Alphabird VP Mike Caruso recommended integrating your brand into a lifestyle to make it part of the culture. Strong “organic lifestyle plays” by P. Diddy with Ciroc vodka and Red Bull whose business is energy drinks but whose brand is extreme sports both resulted in increased sales. According to the VC panel, more often than not, the primary means of driving growth has been through leveraging price rather than developing the brand. Newer paradigms focus on driving users and engagement before attempting to monetize. XYDO CEO Eric Roach framed the situation thusly: “Imagine going to a party where someone always talks about themselves. That’s what brands do.” Compared with the rest of history, we’re living in a relatively golden age of transparency. Customers are over brand-centric messaging. In the words of CEO Steven Rosenbaum: “Does anybody do business with anyone who begins by fundamentally lying about who they are?” As one panelist suggested, we may be seeing the demise of “Whack-a-Mole Marketing” (“if you show your head I’m going to whack it with a deal”). One interesting slide stated that 70% of people trust social media while only 33% trust sponsored messages.

On what may have been the most insightful panel of the day, the participants in “Moving the Needle: Curating Fan Content to Boost Brand Loyalty,” unleashed a steady stream of common sense about social ROI. GE’s Digital Marketing Representative Katrina Craigwell pretty much summed it up when she said “We’re never going to sell a jet engine off of Twitter.” Despite this humbling fact, the largest companies in the world are writing checks for social media. Attention VP Felicia Sullivan offered a shrewd assessment of the playing field suggesting that companies not focus on top of the funnel metrics when looking at social media but concentrate on the lower part, customer engagement. Social is more about “Return on Objective.” “It’s not about how many fans you have. It’s about deploying an intelligent content strategy and utilizing back of the loop metrics to convert people into repeat purchasers and brand advocates. Engage customers in a real way. Engagement with the customer leads to stronger brand equity.”

According to Knight PE Source CFA and Director A.B.Mendez, “Social curation is not a market, it’s a layer for solving other problems using mobile, search, seo etc. to enhance the experience.” Buzzwords in the new model are “Authority,” “Trust,” “Leadership” and “Relationship.” Give the customer value, invest in them.

Additional Takeaways
• It’s easy to go from a loved to a hated brand in a short period of time. Transparency is key to gaining back customers.
• Brands wanting to stay in business need to listen to their customers. Be authentic and honest and customers will know you care.
• In a crisis, your community will not appreciate it if you’re arrogant and defensive.
• Brands used to tell us how to think and feel about the brands. Social media tools now allow for the opposite.

Deep Search and Big Data
The explosion of social data on the web has effectively inundated our ability to sift through and interpret it. As one panelist stated,” The volume of things on the web is swamping the technology we use to sort it.” Pure Discovery CEO David Copps explained that by 2020, 76% of the planet will be connected to the net. As one of the engines behind something called BrainSpace, Copps is heavily involved in the transition into the Post Search era. “In a search environment, you find information. In a post-search environment, information finds you.” The new technology will focus on “mashing up social-graph information with interest-graph information” to create a social brain. “Social curation and semantics are keys to meaningful interactions between people who share passions and interests,” Copps said. “Humans don’t socialize in a random way, they gather around things they have a passion for.” These things Copps refers to as social objects (articles, pictures, videos and songs) are the “hard currency on the web today.” Where earlier in the day Songza Media CEO Elias Roman referred to using the technology to determine predictive behavior and purchase intent, Copps claims he’s “not too concerned about directly monetizing the consumer business because, if it succeeds, Pure Discovery will have created a very large, connected network of people and content. Companies will be able to access this information, and they’ll also be able to build their own brainspaces that connect their internal brains — the data and people within their four walls — with the greater social brain.”

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