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Learnings from SAScon 2014 – Day One (5th June)

Learnings from SAScon 2014 – Day One (5th June)

My role in the Content Team at Engage Web means I know what sort of content we need to produce and why we do it, but not so much about how it converts into website hits, return visits and, ultimately, sales. As a writer and editor, I love media and communication, but this is often directed towards the tangible aspects of books, atlases, globes and even quirkier formats like typewriters and vinyl. I’ll never be a techie, but I’m always keen to improve my understanding of modern media.

I was therefore looking forward to SAScon 2014, held at Manchester Metropolitan University yesterday and today, but approached it with a degree of uncertainty. I expected much of it to be over my head or not relevant to my role, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got out of it.

While a ‘dad’ joke kept circling in my head about the irony of an event to do with being social involving so many people immersed in their own mobile phones and tablets, I definitely left the day a little more digital savvy than I was before it. Here are the three main things I learned:

1. Twitter won’t bite

I will confess to being something of a Twitterphobe. It’s taken me a long time to get used to the way people talk on there. Unless you’ve got the hang of it, looking at somebody’s Twitter feed can seem like entering a noisy room midway through several conservations. There are peculiar symbols all over the place – what exactly did we use the # sign for before Twitter and touch-tone phones? Z-list celebrities prattle on about themselves, footballers tell you what they had to eat at Nando’s last night and Katy Hopkins just won’t shut up. It’s not hard to see why some people find Twitter off-putting.

Hashtags have always been a bit of challenge for me, but Simon Banoub from Opta Sports explained how his company has launched a highly successful Twitter strategy while barely even using them. He confirmed what I’d long suspected – that a lot of people don’t know how to use hashtags and are just jumping on the bandwagon, and that factors like tone of voice, developing a consistent style and engaging with your followers are more important.

There’s no getting away from Twitter, and there’s no reason why it has to be moronic drivel. Being interesting, relevant and engaging within 140 characters is something I should relish as part of a content team.

2. Brain beats brute force

For a convention in which so much emphasis was on matters like automation, algorithms and analytics, one word was cropping up surprisingly often – ‘human’. The aim of digital technology is to get as close to mimicking our own behaviour as possible.

Bully-boy SEO tactics are still out there, but it’s more fruitful to produce high-quality content that connects with consumers on a human level. Two seminars on the first day of the event talked about the human brain and subconscious, and how content and strategies can be used to appeal to it.

A fascinating talk by Danny Ashton from NeoMan Studios addressed the Triune Brain Theory and how it forms the backbone of his company’s approach to content provision. Ashton admitted he held nothing more than an amateur interest in neuroscience, but discussed how content needs to appeal to three different ‘brains’ – one responding to primitive impulse, another that engages emotion, and a third that will scrutinise and consciously assess material. Chris Bunyan from Kantar Media also talked about the conscious and subconscious, and how companies can seek out the demographics that might be interested in their product or service through asking direct and indirect questions, then tailor their content around this.

In the surroundings of a university lecture room, it all seemed fittingly deep and intellectual, but it also made perfect sense.

3. We can make the future exciting or terrifying

Keynote speakers Brett Tabke (Pubcon) and Jeff Coghlan (Matmi) both talked with great enthusiasm and excitement about the future of the Internet and the digital world, but also with a note of caution – particularly Coghlan. Indeed, he concluded his talk with a stark warning about growing privacy and security concerns on the web, and urged everyone present to do their bit for Reset the Net Day, which was marked yesterday.

As a company at the sharp end of the digital world, the likes of us at Engage Web have a key responsibility here. As we change and evolve with the web, we must also remember that the Internet is a blackboard with no eraser.

So, a very worthwhile visit so far. I’ll be impressed if I glean anything like the same amount today.

John Murray

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