In a venue set within walking distance of Big Ben, Le Web London was a huge gathering of the great and good driving Web evolution today. A dizzying array of companies, services, brands and personalities vied with snake oil salesmen and people from big firms tasked with “getting their head around the social media thing”.
The social media thing. While topics and discussions at the event differed, so many conversations (as perhaps you might expect) devolved into social media in the end. What were people saying?
Other than witnessing the evolution of the question: “So, how many Twitter followers do you have?” being used as a put-down, the one eternal facet to all the chatter seemed to be content: analysing it, monitoring it, managing it, creating, distributing it. Ultimately, no matter how you dress any of this up, no matter how vertical your market, the online business is all about content.
Google product manager, Bradley Horowitz clambered onstage to praise the search giant’s attempt at a social media service, Google Plus. He talked about its “millions” of users and invited a gaggle of vBloggers to virtually join him onstage to engage in a group video discussion using Google Hangouts, proving this a pretty good service, though quality of service and security concerns will continue to drive enterprise users elsewhere.
Horowitz invited Kraft Foods to join him onstage in a segment of his presentation regarding “brand engagement” on social media services, specifically, Google Plus.
All Kraft’s advertising, TV, radio, print, is driving people to its social media feeds. The Kraft reps seemed to know what they were talking about, and suggested some good practise for other businesses seeking to build their social media connection:
“It’s not just about shifting budget, it’s about shifting the mindset. For us to make TV work better for us we need to have social channels around that. All our different marketing efforts now are driving toward social engagement," said Bonin Bough, Kraft's vice president of global digital and consumer engagement.
flicking through the channels
“I think there’s a renaissance of creativity about to happen....what we’re seeing now is nothing in contrast to what we’ll see in future. We’re going to be big on connected TV, big on mobile, I also think print will go digital and you’ll see different experiences than before,” he added.
Well-known UK TV chef, Jamie Oliver also turned up to speak at the show, telling attendees that he’s seen a 45 percent reduction in broadcast TV funding in recent years, he admitted: “I don’t know if television will be around in ten year’s time, I’m excited about this...”
With an industry defined by and about content, what’s the special sauce to make one person or firm’s social media matrix hum like the well-oiled machine stakeholders hope for from their social media experiments?
Oliver thinks he knows, and it’s not rocket science: quality, originality and emotion count. He thinks firms and individuals need to be honest and passionate in what they are saying when they engage in social media channels.
“It’s not just about selling stuff. Companies need to get people working for them who get it and who are passionate about what they’re doing.”
the creative spark
Things are in a state of flux: “The truth is we’re all novices at this really. Content is key. The stuff I do that works is all about emotions or my recipes, which are really popular," he said. Observing the risk of your content being grabbed for free, he added, “The Internet is about being generous, and I think if you are good enough to people or you touch people they will respond to you.
Of course, even original content isn’t the whole picture. “It’s like trying to create a hit song,” said Oliver. “You don’t always know what will work.”
And that’s what’s coming out of Le Web London that should interest decision makers looking to extract value from their business online. Content counts, passionate content counts more. Traditional broadcast and communication models are melting down to be replaced by a multiplicity of user-controlled channels. Everything is a channel: BBC, Facebook, Instagram...with all these channels competing for attention and time then Oliver’s argument that quality content is what matters seems hard to ignore.
Le Web saw a plethora of tools to manage all these channels, but the other side of the challenge for any big firm looking to exploit social media channels and to become its own engaging destination for customers in the digital age will be content, and that's a place where a customer focus, passion and integrity count.
“When you give the public good solid information they can make better decisions,” said Oliver.
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Jon Evans is highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men’s interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.