2008 UGC & Social Media Event Recap

David Doty kicks the day off

Consumers took center stage at the IAB Leadership Forum: User-Generated Content & Social Media on June 2 in New York. While some actually appeared onstage alongside industry leaders, others served as the predominate topic of conversation—their new demands and expectations being dissected by advertising industry leaders and driving the day’s learning. “The IAB is dedicated to the news you can use. Our goal is for everyone to go away with something they can use tomorrow,” said David Doty, Senior Vice President of Thought Leadership & Marketing with the IAB, as he opened the program. It quickly became clear to the more than 300 brand marketers, ad agency professionals and media company executives in attendance that social media is forever changing the way they reach audiences. Not participating is not an option.

Seth Goldstein, Keynote

Keynote speaker Seth Goldstein, CEO and co-founder , SocialMedia.com, supplied a taxonomy of the social media space hitting three building blocks, the platform—serving as the ground level, the application—enabling conversation and organization, and the ads which should inspire dialogue. He commanded the audience’s attention with one simple statement. “As a marketer, you can’t stand on the sidelines and put up a big banner that says CLICK ME,” he implored. You’ve got to find a quiet yet engaging way to get into the conversation.

Social media metrics were up next for discussion. Terri Walter, VP, Emerging Media, Avenue A | Razorfish, put measurement into perspective by explaining that social media is more about branding than direct response. It’s public relations with some advertising mixed in. Attitudes and people don’t equal on-the-fly decision making. Individual profiles built by users are expanding targeting possibilities, but that raises some questions as well. “A profile is who you want to be rather than who you are. Does that really matter?” asked Aaron Dignan, Founding Partner, Undercurrent, and panel moderator.

The room was packed!

Atypical presenters filled the chairs for “The Consumer is Always Right” panel and others participated online via proprietary software from Ideas To Go. The firm introduced and questioned five consumers onstage, each representing a different demographic group of social media users. They shared ideas, insights and expectations for online interactions with brands. Common themes included the desire for more “recommendations” rather than “advertising” and the need for relevant, targeting marketing. Privacy concerns were not top-of-mind to panelists, in fact they stressed the desire to receive advertising that was more in line with their own, unique interests and needs. It would help them be more efficient and engaged.

The future of the banner ad was placed under the microscope during the App-vertising discussion. Ro Choy, VP of Business Development, RockYou, assured the audience that the banner wouldn’t disappear because not every service fits into a social marketing application frame. But what you will see, explained several of the other panelists, are more interesting, social banners that allow combinations of data collection that increase interaction and value to the reader.

Tomorrow, next month and next year remained the timeframe for the next debate on what’s standing in the way of marketing through user-generated content and social media and where it’s ultimate potential lies. Chad Stoller, Executive Director, Emerging Platforms, Organic, reminded the industry as a whole that it’s only a small part of the population, meaning that not everyone is on twitter and using an iphone, so while the industry moves forward, it cannot abandon those consumers who are not moving as quickly. An evolution from using social networking as a revenue driver to using it as a customer relationship tool is what Ian Schafer, CEO, Deep Focus, expects to see. Experimentation, asking for feedback from users, and creating utility based on those results are all part of the plan.

Authenticity. Human. Openness. Humility. These words were all used to describe conversational marketing by members of the day’s closing panel. From engaging in dialogue with consumers or bloggers, conversational marketing is all about building relationships with brand advocates rather than advertising to them. Most brands are already being discussed online, so now it’s up to them to decide how, not if, they want to participate. And, they must be prepared to reap the rewards and deal with potential drawbacks. Jory Des Jardins, co-founder and President of Strategic Alliances, BlogHer, addressed advertising thought blogs and hyper-targeting as a valuable channel if done correctly. “Bloggers don’t diss brands that are just participating, but brands can’t push it—or that’s where they get in trouble.” Providing bloggers with information is acceptable, but crossing that line with a promotional spin can be risky business.

User-generated content and social media have created a new realm of possibility for the advertiser. The two-way discussion revolves around consumer needs and what each brand offers to fulfill those needs. The twist is that consumers have more control than ever before with the ability to decide who’s participating, who isn’t and what to participate in or what to ignore.