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Learnings from SAScon 2014 – Day Two (6th June)

Posted on June 9, 2014

After a very useful first day at SAScon, I arrived in Manchester eager to enjoy another stretch at this exciting modern event. That keenness was certainly one reason for my early arrival, with the other being my own poor sense of direction and tendency to get lost in Manchester. Later in the day, Paul Gailey from Droiders would talk about shoes with built-in GPS, which made most people laugh, but had me wondering “can you get them in size 14?”

As well as being funny and entertaining, the tone of the seminars remained user-friendly without being patronising, with most speakers explaining any abbreviations or jargon they were using. Here are three more things I learned from the day:

1. Social media can help avert crises

Twitter and Facebook have made it easier than ever for people to complain, and something that previously could have been smoothed over quietly can now snowball into an awful stink. This might explain why some companies see social media as a nuisance, and just another thing to keep an eye on, but several anecdotes on the Friday showed that it is possible to use social media to quell public concerns and come out of ugly issues looking professional.

Andy Thompson from Iceland Foods explained how issues like the horsemeat scandal, ‘Skipgate’ (an incident in which three people were accused of stealing from one of the supermarket’s skips), and the ongoing controversy over halal meat all cropped up on social media, but the company made sure it was present and active on social media and strived to show it was listening and responding to concerns. Even cheap put-downs like “why has my mum gone to Iceland when M&S is better?” can be cleverly countered with responses that keep the company’s values in mind, such as “by going to Iceland, your mum will save enough money to take you on a nice holiday!”

Meanwhile, Ian Pollard and Jim Haysom from Autotrader talked about recognising a crisis and assessing its importance. In 2014, issues are most likely to break first on social media, so it’s worth having a process in place for dealing with potential problems. The duo also advocated weighing up the importance of complaints and issues, suggesting that it is often more important to respond correctly than to bash out an answer quickly.

I’d like to think I have the wit to deal with any keyboard warriors, and the communication skills to control any genuine complaints, so it was interesting to see how many companies have come out all the stronger for having handled issues well online.

2. Get personal

Other stories about social media gave examples of how genuinely connecting with just one or two people could make a real difference. Pollard and Haysom gave an example of how one of their clients had caught the attention of a potential customer by tweeting a picture of a car with his name and Twitter handle on it. The Twitter user in question set the photo as his header image, giving the company great social media mileage for very little cost or effort.

In a very straight-talking presentation, Katy Howell from immediate future spoke of the importance of finding the crossover between what you want to say and what your customers (or potential customers) want to hear – meaning that using social channels purely for a hard sell is likely to be ineffective, but so is wading into conversations about general matters like what customers are doing at the weekend – unless it can be related to the product or service. I was a little concerned I may have come to the wrong presentation when Howell began by saying she hated the word “engagement” (and I sat there with a lanyard around my neck bearing our company’s name), but she went on to give some bullish and brilliant advice.

Interestingly, Andy Barr and Dave Naylor from PR company 10 Yetis talked about the value of being bold and grabbing attention, often with something shocking or outrageous. This went against what Danny Ashton from NeoMam Studios had advised on the previous day (I imagine he would have seen this as “reptilian content” that only satisfied one type of brain), but that only goes to show how important it is to consider the audience to which you are hoping to reach out. There are a million different ways to approach social media, and there is no real right or wrong.

3. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns

On the Thursday, the overall feel of the presentations was pretty utopian, with most speakers talking about the possibilities that advancing digital technology could give us. On the Friday, it seemed a little more hard-faced and not everything speakers said seemed overly positive.

Cindy Krum from MobileMoxie gave an interesting, stat-packed keynote speech, but not all of it was comfortable listening. Krum mentioned that there were American companies that held 1,500 data points on the average US citizen, and that the Data Protection Act has not really caught up with the speed at which available data has mushroomed in the last few years. She alluded to some of the positive aspects of this, such as multiple devices being able to communicate with one another and companies offering their customers more specific recommendations, but the follow-up questions from the audience suggested that they were more perturbed than impressed with such unregulated data collection.

Our Project Manager, Mark Black, went to a seminar in which a speaker from IrishWonder talked about the virtues of using spam, and that Google has yet to correctly identify what spam is and how to penalise for it. Panellists at a morning discussion on wearable media mentioned that digital glasses and cameras were likely to become more and more discrete, which raised concern among some listeners. It all showed that, as exciting a time as this is, we are reaching a stage where technology could interfere with privacy and ethics if laws do not move in sync with it.

On the whole, I thought SAScon was a great experience. It’s informal and approachable enough so that even a complete social media novice would gain something from it, yet thorough and advanced enough to give experts something to think about too. Well worth the trip if you ever get the chance.

John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.

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Posted by John Murray

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