Monday 12 September, 2016
social media

Social Media Week (SMW) is taking place across four cities on four continents around the world, with events between September 12-16 in London, Miami, Mumbai and Sao Paolo. 

The worldwide conference aims to share the best ideas, innovations and insights into how social media and technology are changing society and culture around the globe.

How we communicate and interact has been completely reimagined, and SMW aims to comprehend how humans and technology will come together to change the ways we live for the better.

Ahead of the conference, Social Media Week founder and Executive Director Toby Daniels, and our Head of Social, EMEA, Danny Whatmough discussed what this year’s Social Media Week has to offer.

Q: Why is Social Media Week now such an important event?

Danny: I remember Social Media Week London all those years ago, when it was a grassroots community event where people wanted to get together to discuss this emerging thing called social media. The growth of the event since then underlines the increasing importance of social media, and Social Media Week is always a great opportunity to get together and hear from the best thinkers in the communications industry.

Toby: Today, there are 1.5 billion people on Facebook and almost 3 billion people are connected through mobile and tech. That’s a profound impact on culture, society and the way we communicate. As an industry and a society we are still only starting to scratch the surface of understanding the role and significance of technology in changing the way we communicate – as human beings as well as marketers. As both a conference and publishing news site Social Media Week is in its eighth year now and is firmly established as one of the most important platforms for professionals looking to access emerging trends, insights and best practices in social media. We capture perspectives from 28 cities in 16 countries, on six continents; no other conference has this breadth and depth.

Q: What are the big themes this year?

Toby: Our global theme this year is The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology (and How We Can Harness it for Good). In each market, we’re exploring how mobile technology, networked connectivity, data and machine learning, and other behind-the-scenes technologies are changing how we connect, consume and communicate. In London, Facebook’s Creative Shop team will lead the opening event on the future of video in social media, and a lot of other sessions are looking at visual formats as a powerful new way of communicating. Another big emerging theme is the hugely complex topic of how to leverage data.

Danny: Which leads us nicely into a discussion about Weber Shandwick’s session this year, which is all about data. We often talk about social media entering a more mature phase; what this means is that we’re seeing clients move away from simply thinking about how they fill a weekly or monthly conversation calendar to taking a step back and asking how social media can be used to really drive their business forward, compete in the market, and even drive or contribute to conversions and sales. Data lies at the heart of all of that. Led by the social networks and the feature upgrades they’ve made in recent years, marketers can now use data to segment and target audiences and prospects in ways they’ve never been able to do before, and that requires us to think and plan in new ways.

Q: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities of social media for brands right now?

Toby: The technology and social media space is constantly shifting, with new challenges every day for marketers to try and wrap their heads around. This will only become more complex as technology creates new languages and ways of communicating that didn’t exist before. There’s never going to be a status quo: we’re never again going to be able to completely figure it all out. So the modern marketer has to be someone who can adapt, who can be dynamic and agile. And clients need to be willing to take risks and make mistakes, based on the understanding that everything is in constant flux.

Danny: I agree: the constant state of evolution and reinvention is exciting and a huge opportunity but for many brands it can also can feel a bit overwhelming. The biggest challenge with this is trying to shift clients out of their comfort zone, and persuading them to go beyond repurposing content from one channel to another, such as simply putting TV ads on Facebook.

We see time and time again that the brands that do well on social media are thinking with a social-first mentality: looking at their channels through fresh eyes, and creating innovative content and video that reaches their audiences in more engaging ways. Social Media Week allows us to put all that change and development in context and hear directly from the networks and other brands about innovative ways of using all these new tools and initiatives.


Q: How will brands’ use of technology and social media evolve in the future?

Toby: I don’t like to make grand predictions. But we can extrapolate from what’s happening today as the role of technology changes the way humans communicate with humans, humans with machines, and machines with machines. Chatbots, for instance, are profoundly important because they are the start of AI replacing a method of communication that used to be purely human-to-human. The extrapolation of that is a point where machines are handling communications that used to be human, and that will transform brand marketing, customer service and PR.

The second point is around visual communication. One of the reasons Instagram is so successful is because imagery – still or video – is a communications medium that transcends language or cultural barriers. Newer elements, such as emojis, gifs and filters that enhance and manipulate give us a new language to express ourselves creatively. We can extrapolate this towards a point in time where communication is visual rather written or verbal. VR is such a hot topic now, for instance, because it represents a visual dimension in which we have never existed before, as human beings or marketers. It’s a fascinating time to be in communications.

Danny: As Toby says, the one sure bet is that the future will contain things that we can’t even imagine. The pace of change is so fast that staying ahead of the curve and being in a state of perpetual agility is crucial.

However, I always go back to something that Jeff Bezos once said: he often gets asked what’s going to change in the next five years, but he never gets asked what’s going to stay the same. And that’s actually a much more interesting question and something that we can really build strategies around. When it comes to social media, the one thing that we know will always be true is that there will be a need to create amazing, engaging and thumb-stopping content. That might be delivered through chatbots, video, VR, AR or something we haven’t even seen, but true engagement and great storytelling will always lie at the heart.

Social Media Week London runs from 13-16 September at BFI Southbank. Weber Shandwick’s panel session, “Taking it to the Next Level: Using Data and Mobile to Build the Business Case for Social”, is at 9.45-10.30am on Wednesday 14 September.