I never attended a happy hour. Walked right on by the chatting crowds at the morning breakfast table. That FOMO Factory booth, where attendees snapped brightly colored selfies? The prominently placed step-and-repeat? Nope; no selfies or group shots populate my feed. Nor did I make a bee line for speakers after their sessions.
So, you might ask, what keeps me coming back year after year to Social Media Week Austin? Well, I’ll tell you.
Connecting and Interacting
Social media is a necessary platform for creatives. I religiously track stats (primarily Twitter and Instagram; my Facebook business page suffers from some neglect, and I had to walk away from Pinterest for its sheer black hole of a time suck factor. LinkedIn? Learning to do a better job). SMWATX provides a big boost–in followers, likes, shares, and–where it really matters: profile views.
Though we never technically met, Christina Jovanna Olivarez (“The Social Butterfly Gal”) became one of my best Twitter buddies. For about three days, we interacted with each other’s stuff, amplifying one another’s voices.
Live tweeting reinforced existing relationships with companies (event presenter Best Practice Media and, naturally, the Social Media Week Austin account) and developed rapport with a handful of other media companies. Even though I was often hurrying off to the next learning opportunity, tweets and posts found presenters like Brittany Shulman of TurnKey Vacation Rentals. Though this year’s sessions doubled from 2018, SMWATX is still small enough for intimacy; I could sit in Brittany’s awesome presentation (“Why You Should Listen to Strangers on the Internet: Utilizing Online Feedback”) and find a few chairs down as we both indulged our inner data geeks with some Google Analytics info.
The conference app, Whova, let me message my thanks and appreciation to presenter Peggy Gardner, public relations director with UPS, which turned out to be a nice icebreaker for when our paths crossed another day.
I’m sure others involved in social media careers are, like me, extroverted introverts, and SMWATX is the perfect place to connect and interact with those industry experts from behind your account.
Best Practices and Education
Social media waits for no-one. This field changes so very rapidly that keeping up isn’t for the casual dabbler; professional attention requires dedicated effort. Anyone who’s averse to learning and adapting is sure to hate this form of communications.
Claire Winslow, president and senior strategist at Best Practices Media, delivers the yearly SMWATX kick-off keynote and that right there is worth the ticket. I always appreciate “the big picture,” and among Claire’s highlights was an overview of differences: how much 2018’s big issues (Facebook prioritizing friends’ content over publishers; optimizing online video; and mobile-first prioritization) paled against 2019’s–Cambridge Analytica, the election assault, and eroding social media trust.
I hit as much of the varied program as humanly possible–sixteen presentations in three days! The sessions providing the most immediate takeaways were a diverse bunch. Highlights:
- “Navigating Creative Copyright in the Age of Social Media”: a panel of creatives (photographer David Brendan Hall, comedian Evelyn Ngugi, aka Evelyn from The Internets) and lawyer (Adrin Resendez) discussed examples of actual infringements and how they’d handled them.
- “How a Clear Message Can Help Influencers Monetize”: presenters Corrin Foster (Greenleaf Book Group) and Kristin Sheppard (Giant Squid Media) had us all with the Fyre Festival pitch deck (sometimes a bad example makes the best impression). I’m a sucker for practical examples and concrete takeaways; Foster and Sheppard delivered the goods from their experiences working with (and as) influencers. If nothing else, the disclosure information was priceless.
- She shared her spreadsheet! Presenter Brittany Shulman walked through her process for tracking and responding to clients in “Why You Should Listen to Strangers on the Internet: Utilizing Online Feedback.” Did you know that 90 percent of people use social media to communicate with a brand? And it’s usually because they want a better experience.
- Ah, Meredith Gonsalves–whatever this woman wants to talk about, I’ll listen. I was in the audience at the inaugural SMWATX 2017 when she presented on social media strategy mapping (life changing!); this year, she gave pointers on “The Art of Insta Storytelling.” Her example–Deloitte’s campaign involving millennial employee account takeovers, featuring 24 hours in their lives. I came back for another session (“Methods for Measuring ROI in Social Media”); it’s a testament to Gonsalves’ presentation strength that, at day’s end, in one of the conference’s final sessions, with a happy hour looming, she could throw formulas at creatives and keep us happily engaged.
Yes, in spite of my extroverted-introverted big-group-avoiding self, SMWATX never fails to deliver the perfect people moment. This year’s outstanding experience came on Day 2, in “Who Are You? Using Business Principles to Tell Your Story” by creative consultant Liz Feezor.
In the corporate world, Feezor had become disillusioned with her work–what she referred to as a “misalignment of her values. Modeling the vulnerability key to developing meaningful audience connection, Feezor revealed her reckoning came following a mental and physical crash: “My body knew before my mind could catch up.” What she desperately needed was a career change; what she desired to do was “help people find the words to tell their story.”
Then she announced the thing every introverted person (no matter how superficially extroverted) dreads: “We’re going to do an exercise. Get together with the people at your table.” Gulp. Sitting at a table by myself, I’m sure I physically blanched; thankfully, two people made eye contact and encouraged me into their group. Feezor made the the rounds, providing encouragement as we worked to distill our stories into business-appropriate pitches.
I’m still thinking about this exercise, noodling on the answers to those questions and how best to apply this year’s SMWATX takeaways.
With clarity comes growth. And that, ultimately, is the best ROI possible.
Something Extra to Read
“Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What You Need to Know as Fallout Widens,” by Kevin Granville, The New York Times
Meet Evelyn from The Internets (she’s from Austin!), “Zoe Saldana ‘Nina’ Trailer Reaction”
Research professor and storyteller Brené Brown came up three different times (and that’s just in the presentations I saw). Her book, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone,” is No. 7 in my #52books2019 list.