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SAScon 2015


SAScon 2015

This year, Engage Web took its largest ever contingent to the search, analytics and social media conference that is SAScon. We always like to bring as many people as we can to the Manchester-based event, so we can take full advantage of the panels and seminars on offer by having at least one representative in every room.

With our senior editor, Richard, writing his own account of what he saw and learned, I’ll just focus on an overview of the two days and what I personally took from it. As I’ve been in the online marketing world for some 15 years already, you might think there’s not much left to learn. That, however, is one of the things I most love about this industry. It changes constantly and, without keeping abreast of the changes, you can very easily get left behind.

This, in actual fact, was a big part of one of the keynote talks from Martin MacDonald from Orbitz Worldwide. Martin has been in the online marketing industry even longer than I have (since before Google) and has seen a lot of changes over the years. He divided up his time in the industry into three distinct eras, the first of which being the spam years where pretty much anything goes. Back in those heady days, you could invest liberally in link buying and achieve almost instant results within Google.

What is truly worrying is that some SEO companies still do this. They haven’t moved on and are effectively risking their clients’ websites and reputations.

Martin looked back fondly on those days, as online marketing was much easier then. Now, however, it has evolved so that it’s less about rankings, keywords and links, and more about conversions, social engagement and citations.

Martin also used to work in the gambling sector, the most competitive industry there is – so his experience of a crowded online marketplace was second to none.

As enlightening as his talk was, it wasn’t my favourite keynote of the two days. That accolade had to go to Yossi Erdman, of ao.com. On a first glance at the itinerary, you could be forgiven for thinking that a keynote from someone who works in social media for a white goods retailer wouldn’t be the most interesting of talks – but that’s just the point. Yossi showed that, no matter how uninspiring your business may seem, there is always something truly engaging you can do on social media to grow your brand, engage with customers and bring in more business.


Yossi’s enthusiasm for his business, for his job and for his customers was infectious – and he had everyone in the room completely enthused by what he was saying. Some of the examples of ao.com’s social media work were true genius as well, letting the customers produce much of their content for them. If you don’t follow ao.com on Facebook, I suggest you do that now. It’s a lesson in social media management.

ao.com doesn’t just restrict its social media expertise to the online world either, as it carries it through to the delivery drivers. It’s fine for a company to be great online, but it’s the delivery drivers who have the face-to-face customer contact. They’re the ones who can make or break a customer relationship, and ao.com ensures top performances from its delivery staff with its weekly printed magazines that are delivered to employees’ homes, containing feedback for the week from customers – both good and bad. Staff are incentivised to receive good customer feedback via social media, and are called out if they receive complaints.

A lot of companies I know well could benefit from a similar scheme.

My favourite talk of the two days was, without question, Jon Burkhart’s ginger balls session. After handing out a number of ginger balls, he encouraged the audience to throw them whenever they liked, or disliked, anything in particular with regards to the social media content he was discussing. Jon showed us some of the most famous examples of social media masterstrokes, and social media disasters, of the last few years – and how the brands themselves survived some of those lapses of judgement.

Jon Burkhart

While this seemed quite light-hearted, and it was, there were still some campaigns that companies thought were a good idea at the time that everyone in the room could see were painfully ill-conceived. One of them, featuring a cartoon character superimposed on a horrific war photo, drew silence from the room. File that one under ‘what were they thinking’.

While all of this was very entertaining, the main purpose for heading to SAScon is to learn what is new in the industry, what others are up to and what the future may hold for Google (and other search engines, I’m sure). In fact, one of the panels I attended was titled ‘Search Marketing Beyond Google’, yet mentioned Google more than most of the other talks during the two days. The takeaway from this was pretty much ‘use Google’.

It was Larry Kim’s keynote, however, where I felt the most inspired, the most pumped up and the most determined to get back to the office and have a play. While the general theme of SAScon this year was ‘engaging content’ (which is nice, as that’s what we’re about) the theme of Larry’s keynote was very much ‘content remarketing’.

If you’ve not heard of that, don’t worry. Larry says he’s made it up anyway. Content remarketing refers to what you can do to further promote your content once you have it – as promoting your content is just as, if not more, important than creating it. Larry talked the enthralled room through using influencer lists on Facebook and Twitter to promote your content to, and showed us case studies of how he’d picked up some very high-profile citations and links as a result of content he’d written, using just a few dollars’ investment in sponsored Tweets.

This was Larry’s first trip to the UK from Canada, and we hope he comes back again soon.

As a final note, one of the sponsors of SAScon, ao.com, ran a photo competition to win a TV. They asked people to Tweet photos of themselves with ao.com’s logo, and the best would be selected for a 50” TV. Naturally, considering ourselves quite creative, we felt we were in with a great chance of winning this and myself, Tom and Rich all had a go.

Out of all of the online marketers, social media experts and brand gurus at SAScon – Richard won.

Go us!

Darren Jamieson

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