The Social Fresh East Conference held in Tampa last month was jam-packed – both with attendees and great information on the latest social media trends. The sold-out conference was full of an amazing variety of people, from corporate professionals to small business owners. All united by the desire to learn more about the social media phenomenon and how to harness its energy. Speaking of energy, there were so many electronic devices being used at the same time, that we actually caused a brief blackout at the hotel and surrounding city blocks.
This was not like any other conference I have ever attended. The most interesting aspect of the conference, made all the more apparent by its format, was the almost real-time emergence of common themes. Even though the presenters were very different individually, the single-track, short, information-dense presentations and the very fast pace of the conference began to highlight some interesting convergences. It was also mentally exhausting! Thank goodness for the yummy cookies and coffee that were kindly provided during breaks.
First of all, I am happy to report that most, if not all, of the presenters touched on the theme of creating relationships. I was a little concerned that with the influx of marketers into the social media realm we might lose the personal nature of social media. But judging from the presentations, that is not the case. It’s more like there’s a celebration going on. Social marketeers are finding that the most successful strategy is to embrace the personal and intimate nature of social media. Finding opportunities to help their customers/followers in ways not available through traditional media. A wonderful example of this was the presentation by Morgan Johnston from Jet Blue. He presented examples of his social media program being vital to helping customers during crises such as delays and cancellations, as well as surprising them with service above and beyond.
Be Real. Be Human.
Morgan’s presentation also highlighted another theme of the conference – the importance of attaching a human face to messages sent via social media. Christopher Tuff of 22squared said it best in his presentation, “be real, be human.” Savvy companies are using social media to show their customers that they are dealing with real people who work for the company and who want to help them, as opposed to customers being faced with a monolithic corporate ID. While I love the idea and see that it is the best way to maximize the effectiveness of social media, it also serves to emphasize how important it is for companies have a good social media policy. This trend is a double-edged sword when one employee’s blunder can be spread around the world in milliseconds.
The Importance of Transparency
The third theme of the conference is good advice if you encounter the situation above. The need for transparency in social media communications becomes very obvious. Cover-ups, side-stepping issues, and being vague doesn’t cut it in the world of social media as it’s too easy for stakeholders to find or infer the information and then spread it like wildfire, true or not. Presenter after presenter emphasized the need to be ethical, to tell the truth, to be accountable. If you do, the relationships you have developed may survive and thrive after a crises, if you don’t, they most certainly won’t. I talk a little about transparency in a previous post. Click here to read.
Overall, the presentations and presenters were very optimistic and upbeat about the future of social media as a tool for public relations and marketing. Opening doors to relationships that would not have been possible before. A media where true two-way communication between an organization and its stakeholders can take place. And although it can seem complicated, I think it can be made simple by following Kevin Vine’s (Dunkin Brands) advice and “listen, learn, engage and celebrate” our customers and followers. If we do that, I don’t think we can go wrong.