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SXSW 2015: Buzzwords and storytelling drive social media

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By Brian T. Horowitz, Editor and Contributing Writer

When it comes to spreading a message, it’s more about the trust and bonding with a customer than what’s really in the message. That was a key takeaway at a “#Social360 Unconference” event on March 13 on the first day of the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas.

The event was hosted by Bryan E. Jones, Dell’s vice president for North America commercial marketing, and emceed by Ryan Garcia, the company’s social media ***.

The event was called an “unconference” because it engaged the audience in a two-way conversation allowing them to pick topics for discussion through text messages. They included “Creating your own brand” and “How customers are influenced online.”

Buzzwords and data-driven selling

In the world of social business, several buzzwords play a role in trying to sell a message, suggested Ari Lightman, CEO of content marketing agency PureMatter.

“Social data is jargon; it’s skewed,” Lightman said.

Lightman joked about the use of the word “gamification” in social channels and how people often gamify a process that’s outdated.

Another popular buzzword in social circles is “big data,” he said.

“We have structured data we cultivate and grow, and we have unstructured data from social channels,” Lightman said. “As we get more and more data, the gulf between data people can analyze and cannot gets larger and the ability to misrepresent data gets more apparent.”

Companies should also think about truncation and simplification for data-driven selling to work in the future, he added.

Trust vs. traffic

The speakers addressed the role of content and social media in spreading the message of a brand.

“The real economic value of social media and content marketing isn’t really in the content, it isn’t really in the audience, it’s in the transmission and sharing,” Mark Schaefer, author of “The Content Code,” said.

He also cited information from the Content Marketing Institute, which reported that the amount of information in the next five years is expected to increase by 500 percent.

In addition, 83 percent of chief marketing officers say the No. 1 value they get from content marketing is sharing, Schaefer noted.

Although businesses look for people to share content for economic reasons, they share for “emotional and intrinsic reasons,” Schaefer said.

In fact, the emotional aspect of content leads people, especially public relations professionals, to share content before reading it, he noted.

According to Schaefer, it’s the trust in content that should drive sharing rather than an interest in traffic.

“If the power and economic value are coming through social transmission, shouldn’t we be spending our resources on trust rather than traffic?” he asked. “We need to focus on the alpha audience, the bedrock of the business. Who are these people that love us and trust us? How are they raising their hands out there? We need to reward them and cherish them in every way we can.”

The human-to-human effect

To gain a following in social media, you need to have a human element, said Bryan Kramer, author of “There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human: #H2H.”

Being human involves “empathy, imperfection and simplification,” Kramer said.

“When you tie those three things together, it gives you the most human approach about anything, whether it’s your brand or a person,” Kramer said.

Storytelling: the engine behind social media

Storytelling helps companies “connect with their audiences in a meaningful way,” said Natalie Zfat, founder of The Social Co., a social media management organization.

She founded her company to get more people connected to her audience and to follow the storytelling style of Rolling Stone.

In the same manner, for fashion label Elie Tahari, Zfat used content marketing to tell the story of a woman named Uman, who came back from the Army and felt uncomfortable wearing clothes other than camouflage. Elie Tahari then designed a dress for her and called it Uma, naming it after her, Zfat said.

Social media and content are areas that work together closely and offer key opportunities for enormous reach.

“Content is really the fuel that makes social media go,” Schaefer said. “Content is the engine.”

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