By Bradley Honan, CEO

I recently served as the Program Chairman of the Social Media and Web Analytics Innovation Summit (#SocialWeb17) in San Francisco.  We had many terrific conversations with executives from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Wired Magazine, MGM Grand Resorts, and A&W Root Beer, among others.

For those unable to attend, I wanted to call out 10 important insights and key trends that we discussed:

1)    The Rise of Social ROI

Everyone from large enterprise businesses to small mom and pop web storefronts are thinking about how they implement, measure, and utilize social media.  Everyone understands you need to “do” social, but is simply generating “engagement” enough?  These questions are being raised with increasing frequency.  David Lennie from Shopify cited a recent survey finding that 60% of small businesses are unable to track the ROI from their social media activities.  We are still very far from redirecting budgets, but expect more tire kicking about social media programs large and small.

2)    Target Your Social Outreach

Despite conventional wisdom, social media is hardly monolithic – different channels are used very differently by different types of people.  As Marc Smith from the Social Media Research Foundation pointed out, some sites are used more for sharing, some more for interacting with others, and others are used more for blogging.  Social media analytics are not void of humanity. Therefore it is important to understand relationships on social media and how users interact with each other when targeting your social outreach. You can’t just have a social strategy, you need a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram strategy – and each must be customized and targeted.

3)    Create a Culture of Testing

As Person’s Law states: “That which is measured improves.”  Speaker after speaker spoke about how vital it is in today’s marketing discipline to create a culture of testing, iterating, experimenting, and optimizing.  The feedback loop today is quick and easy – you can develop content (paid or organic), share it on social and quickly understand the reach and impact.  Not doing this is increasingly seen as malpractice.  This new ‘always on’ mantra means always learning, and not sticking with the status quo (‘set and forget’), even if it’s proven to work in the past.

4)    Move Beyond Vanity Metrics

Again, there was a continued discussion about the imperative to move beyond vanity metrics (page views, engagements, signups, etc.) – those that are “nice” to collect, but don’t help move the business forward in a meaningful manner.  Vanity metrics are not strategic, can’t help the business make a better decision, but take valuable time, effort, and resources to assemble and present.  If your data isn’t helping to make better decisions, it’s not valuable and you can probably stop collecting it.

5)    CMOs an Endangered Species?

With tough questions being asked – and not always answered – about ROI and performance, the average tenure of a CMO at large companies has plummeted.  An inability to cite or demonstrate clear ROI to the business from their work or that of their agency or technology partners is cited most often as the cause of their early demise.  CMOs are already pushing much harder for concrete goals and objectives from their teams and partners.  Expect more of that.

6)    Looking to Neural Networks to Understand Machine Learning

Lindsey Anderson from HireVue gave a fascinating presentation on machine learning in which she outlined how computer systems modeled on the neural networks of the human brain and nervous system can increasingly recognize (and be taught to recognize) photos and human facial expressions – they are even able to recreate photos as art in the genre of various artists.  By having the computer “learn” Van Gogh’s style by reviewing all his works, the computer can “paint” a new picture of the Golden Gate Bridge as Van Gogh would have – a bridge he was never alive to see!  Having people evaluate advertising, marketing and communications content and then having computers “read” their facial expressions may be the next leap forward in terms of content and message evaluation.

7)    Listen for Business Opportunities

Obviously brands and companies need to “listen” to what is being said about them, their competitors, and their category space.  But doing all of that is not enough.  There is real power in listening for new business opportunities.  What are customers/ clients in your category searching for and not finding?  What are their pain points that perhaps your organization could help them solve.  What new offers can you put into the content ecosystem to get near immediate reactions?  Social media data is the largest petri dish we have ever seen and not leveraging it for strategic business insights is a big missed opportunity.

8)    Early Warning Detection Systems

Marketers at large, medium, and small businesses are more time-stretched and time-fatigued than ever before.  It’s not realistic to expect their teams to sit in front of dashboards and monitor social conversation all day long.  That’s why we are starting to see the rise of early warning detection systems that use text or email to alert clients and agency partners when conversation and dialog is spiking about your brand, your competitors, or the category at large.  My prediction is that more of the day to day listening will become automated and human analysis will take place on a scheduled, but more periodic basis.

9)    Physicists

I was struck by how many speakers and those in the audience were physicists who are now working as Data Scientists – what Harvard Business Review calls the “Sexiest Profession” of the 21st Century!  I wouldn’t have thought that people who studied how nanoparticles interact with light would be working in our field, but it actually makes sense – physics is the study of how matter (content) moves through space and time.  I guess that’s actually a lot like social media!

10)   Silos are Killing Companies

Several speakers pointed out the irony that in a “social” era, big companies are way too siloed, so key information and insights are not being shared in real time, if at all. The imperative in today’s social media environment is to share, and companies internally need to get over the artificial lines between departments and share and coordinate much more frequently and with far greater ease.  Sharing data is a no-brainer.