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Published March 29th 2017

Social Media Marketing World 2017: 26 Lessons We Learnt

Forget Paris, I love San Diego in the springtime. I particularly love the Social Media Marketing World event.

It is a great chance to catch up with friends in the sunshine and to learn from the best experts in the field of social media marketing.

I was furiously scribbling notes throughout the event and here are some of my top takeaways.

1. Facebook is the most important marketing platform

Mike Stelzner revealed the results of Social Media Examiner’s latest survey of 5,000 marketers. Two thirds of marketers say Facebook is their most important platform although they acknowledge reach has declined.

2. LinkedIn is still key for B2B marketers

The second most important platform in the SME study was LinkedIn. There are also signs that people are spending more time in their LinkedIn feed and sharing a lot more on LinkedIn. There are now 450m members on LinkedIn but importantly it is estimated there are 40m decision makers on the platform.

See Susan Moeller’s post on LinkedIn trends that all marketers should be aware of.

3. Twitter is still a great connecting tool

Whilst shares via Twitter appear to be in decline the platform remains a great tool for connecting people and driving traffic. Ian Anderson Grey said during his session that Twitter is still the main driver of traffic to his blog.

Madalyn Sklar’s secret sauce for Twitter[/caption]

Madalyn Sklar also talked to the power of Twitter and how many of her influencer relationships originally started on Twitter. However, both Ian and Madalyn emphasised the importance of engagement on Twitter and not simply broadcasting.

Madalyn focused on the power of Twitter chats as a way to connect and as a place to showcase your expertise and influence in a topic area. Participating in twitter chats allows you to:

  • Connect and engage with people
  • Learn valuable information
  • Share your expertise
  • Grow your visibility
  • Build your audience

You can join Madalyn’s #twittersmarter chat every Thursday at 1 p.m. EST.

4. The world of the algorithm

Mike Stelzner‘s opening keynote was all about the importance of the algorithm. What gets seen by your audience is determined to a large extent by the Facebook news feed algorithm and other algorithms such as Google’s.

In a world of algorithms Mike argued that less is more. On average marketers say they are posting 7 times a day to Facebook and 74% plan on increasing post frequency. However, Mike’s view is that frequency is not the answer to declining organic reach and this can actually decrease your reach in the feed. With algorithms, less can be more if you focus on community development and generate more engaging content.

5. Messenger and bots will be increasingly important

Mike was very bullish on messaging as a key future marketing platform. I think we are still in the early days, but there is no question bots are improving and being integrated with platforms as part of the marketing funnel.

On the right is just one example of a bot handling a customer query but these can equally be used for qualifying leads.

Venture Beat published a list of five bots you can check out now, including three available on Messenger.

6. Content writing bots are here and getting better

Chris Penn ran a great session on artificial intelligence and machine learning. He pointed out as we have previously done that the Associated Press and news services are already using robots to write articles. Automated Insights Wordsmith tool will create algorithms to write 1,000 articles a month from $250 (though minimum access pricing is $1,000 a month).

This doesn’t mean human writers will be replaced, far from it. However, if you are using a template today, a robot will probably do your job tomorrow.

7. We will need fewer marketers in the future

Chris Penn discussed how new forms of artificial intelligence are being used in marketing. These go beyond content writing and include:

Cognitive analysis – analysing types of content, for example picking out the most popular images for ads or content.

Cognitive distribution – for example programming and promoting ads using algorithms and machine learning.

These developments means we will need fewer humans to do marketing in the future.

Chris’s view was don’t teach kids how to code, machines will do it much better. Instead: teach them how to think about code. In the near term machines need to be supervised, so be a supervisor.

8. Social sharing is more powerful than you think

Mike Stelzner believes that when people share your content it is a major positive indicator that your article should be seen. This effectively helps you break the algorithm by providing strong indicators of value. Mark Schaefer reinforced this point when he said you can trick people into clicking a link but you can’t trick them into sharing your content.

Below are some of the articles being shared about Social Media Marketing World from BuzzSumo.

9. Influencer marketing is all about relationships

Lee Odden made some important points about influencer marketing. Fundamentally, Lee says “influencer marketing is about developing relationships with internal and industry experts who have active networks to co-create content and drive measurable business goals.”

Neilson has found that 82% of people will follow recommendations from experts and peers. Scott Monty made the point that “trust matters” because consumers today trust someone they know more than anyone else.

Despite this, influencer marketing is underfunded. Only 10% of budgets are going to influencer marketing. This could be a major mistake; what if your competition makes connections and signs up influencers?

The key is to stay engaged with your influencers over time, keep working with them, it is a long term relationship. Think about longer term programs not projects.

10. Breakthrough content is about thinking not writing

Ann Handley‘s session provided a good lift for writers depressed about content writing algorithms.

Ann made the point that the most important element in creating great content is not actually writing, it is the thinking, the reading and the preparation that goes into the writing.

In Ann’s view, 50% of great content comes from the preparation, 40% from the editing and just 10% from the writing.

So the takeaway is to find an issue and explore the daylights out if it. Ann’s approach is to find and hoard content from wherever you find it as part of your preparation.

This fits with Heidi Cohen’s view that people want expert knowledge. You have to be an expert if you are to write insightful and helpful content. Thus you should aim to create content where your expertise overlaps with your audience’s areas of interest.

By focusing on your main areas of expertise you can create the core foundational content for your blog.

11. We all write ugly first drafts

The great thing about Ann is her honesty. We all write ugly first drafts, but that is ok. You should give yourself permission to write badly. Think of it as not writing, but as making a list, writing an email, outlining an idea, or just dictating some thoughts.

I think I am the world’s expert at ugly first drafts.

12. Have pathological empathy for your audience

Before you start writing, think about what is in it for your audience. What will they value?

To me this goes back to Jay Baer‘s concept of Utility. How will your content help your audience? Are you addressing the questions they are asking. You can see the questions being asked on any topic by using Bloomberry.

Marcus Sheridan emphasised the importance of understanding your audience. “It doesn’t matter what we want to tell them, it matters what they want to know.” He added “the most powerful content marketing tool in the world is your ears”.

13. Your content headline is critical

Everyone knows about the importance of headlines. It has been said that you should spend 50% of your time on headline. That seems a lot, but Heidi Cohen made the point that only 1 in 5 people read your headline, and even less are motivated to read further. So, like it or not, you will lose most of your readers at the headline.

Thus, Heidi says you want a headline to create a sense of urgency, to intrigue the reader, to communicate benefits and to promise value. You can use BuzzSumo to see what headlines have been working in your industry and CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser.

Focus your content on one key point that is easily understood by the reader. This is the fixed point around which everything else turns and helps you create ideas for your headline.

14. But so is the introduction

Ann Handley actually spends spend more time on the first paragraph introduction than the headline. She says readers are looking for reasons not to read so don’t give them any. You have to hook them in. Your introduction needs to engage the reader, for example it might:

  • Put the reader into story
  • Set up problem
  • Quote crazy data
  • Ask a question

Heidi Cohen agrees and shared some great examples of introductions including this one from Aaron Orendorff.

“Let’s be honest, social media is a jungle.
What if you could ask today’s most influential online marketers one question: “What social media tool is your all-time, desert-island, can’t-live-without favorite?”
That’s exactly what I did.”

15. Tone of voice is your bravest asset

One of Ann Handley’s key messages was that your tone of voice is a key differentiator. It tells the reader:

  • Who you are
  • Why you do what you do
  • What you are like to deal with

How are you different? Can people recognise your content even if it doesn’t carry your name or brand logo?

16. Convert attention to value

Chris Brogan was clear that blogging for business is about converting attention to value. You not only have to earn attention, you then have to deliver that attention to a potential opportunity to drive value.

So what blog content helps drives sales? Chris poses a number of key questions in his related blog post, for example the data shows people are more likely to share longer form content on average but are you more likely to drive sales with short form content? For many people driving value comes from high value gated content to build email subscribers and a retargetable audience, more on this below. Personally, I am not a lover of gated content but I do think building an email subscriber list is one of the most valuable things you can do.

17. Create a retargetable audience

Neal Schaffer emphasised the importance of developing an audience you can retarget. Retargeting is one of the best ways is to build your email list. He pointed out that 98% of Copyblogger’s revenue comes from email subscribers. If you own your subscribers, you can build a relationship with them and retarget them.

18. Turn customers in advocates

Joey Coleman delivered a keynote on “Turning Customers into Life-Long Advocates in the First 100 Days”. He quoted research that shows between 20% and 70% of customers leave a business within the first 100 days. But if they stay until day 101, customers will remain loyal to the company for an average of 5 more years.

Your task is to provide a great client experience and turn them into life long advocates. Joey warned that if you don’t “someone else will.”

19. Use video, particularly live video

Facebook loves live content. If your page is live, it gets pushed up by the algorithm and more people see it. Live video effectively breaks the algorithm.

28% of marketers are now using live video, and people watch live video three times longer than non-live video.

Alex Khan recommended using BeLive.tv when you want to interview somebody and stream split-screen. He also recommended promoting your live streams before the event, so you’re not relying too much on your audience being online when you are.

Mari Smith reinforced the power of video on Facebook. The video ads that perform well are typically ones that empathise with the audience and tell a great story.

20. Organic Facebook audience reach continues to fall

In the dim and distant past, what you posted on your Facebook page was seen by the people who liked your page. Thus you worked to build the number of likes and your Page audience. This isn’t the case anymore, and Mike Stelzner highlighted this by sharing Social Media Examiner’s own data. In essence Page Likes up and Page traffic down.

21. Paid social is your Fast Pass

Mike Stelzner’s strong message was that organic reach in Facebook is dying and 92% of marketers now regularly use Facebook ads. The key is to use ads effectively.

Neal Schaffer referred to paid social as the equivalent of a fast pass at Disney. Organic can be slow, and if you want to jump the queue, you need to pay for the privilege.

22. Pay to promote unicorns not donkeys

Larry Kim also pointed out that paid social is scalable. However, you should not promote all your content equally. You should focus on promoting only your best content. Algorithms such as Facebook’s look at engagement rates, so promoting content that fails to get engagement may actually reduce your reach and increase your cost. By contrast if you promote content that gets higher engagement rates, it may actually cost you less. In Larry’s words promote your unicorns not your donkeys. No amount of promotion will turn a donkey into a unicorn.

Andrea Vahl agreed on the importance of boosting your Facebook posts that have high engagement rates. Engagement rates matter more than absolute numbers.

You also need to target your audience very precisely. For example, Larry promoted his medium posts to active medium users.

23. Split test

The single biggest mistake people make according to Andrea Vahl, is not doing any split testing with Facebook ads. This equally applies to other content. You should test and retest whether it is headlines, introductions or ads.

This advice sits well with Robert Bly who said in his session: “Do not rely on rules and best practices. Testing everything is the only way to find the truth.”

24. Set up your Google analytics for success

Andy Crestodina gave out so much practical advice in his session on the fundamentals of Google analytics that I would need another blog post, or two, or five, to do it justice.

What I can say is check out Andy’s short Google analytics videos on setting up:

  • Goals
  • Filters
  • Site Search
  • Webmaster Tools
  • Dashboards

25. There is no magic feather, be consistent and relentless

There are no shortcuts. This was said again and again at the event. Ann Handley made the point that there is no magic feather. Heidi Cohen reinforced the point that you have to be consistent as a blogger or marketer, and you must not give up too early. Content marketing and blogging is a long term game. Heidi shared a chart from Moz showing why bloggers should have grit and be relentless.

Mark Schaefer says it takes 30 months to get known in your field. So you must not expect immediate results. The last question Mark asked everyone he interviewed for his book was “If you could provide one piece of success advice to my readers, what would it be?” Nearly everyone said something about resilience, tenacity, and consistency. They told him that the biggest problem is that people quit too soon.

26. Remember, nobody is born an expert

So it takes hard work to build presence, reputation and authority. There is no quick fix. However, Mark Schaefer‘s analysis found that everyone does the same four things to become known.

  1. Place – They have a sustainable interest that they want to be known for. This is where you need an overlap with your expertise or passion and your audience’s interest.
  2. Space – They find a less contested space, a particular niche that matches their interest.
  3. Content fuel – They find a source of rich content to be known for, such as a blog, podcast or video. Choose your content.
  4. Audience – They find an actionable audience. This isn’t the same as a large audience.

Again I don’t have time to do justice to Mark’s session and suggest you buy a copy of his new book Known which provides a practical guide to building your personal brand and becoming known.

Apologies and hope to see you next year

I am just sorry I couldn’t attend all the sessions at SMMW17 and that I missed many of the great speakers below.

However, I will work my way through the videos and slides over the next few weeks. I love the way the SMMW team give you access to all the sessions online.

I hope to see you all in San Diego next year.

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