Public Relations Tactics

Social Media Week New York Recap: National Geographic, Snapchat, Facebook and More on Digital Innovation

April 1, 2016

[amy jacques]
[amy jacques]

Social Media Week New York took place on Feb. 22-26 at The TimesCenter and the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Including more than 100 sessions, this year’s conference focused on a range of topics — from smart devices, networked connectivity, data and machine learning, to brand engagement, media consumption, project collaboration, productivity and more.

Here are some highlights from the event:

Storytelling in a Fragmented Media Environment With National Geographic

“National Geographic aims to access the people, places and stories that inspire people to think differently. Exploration is in our DNA,” said Claudia Malley, who serves as chief marketing brand officer for the company. “We look for the dreamers, the creatives and the explorers.”

Sixty percent of the company’s leaders are women, who are looking for ways to engage consumers to think differently, break through disruption and make a difference. The brand is currently reaching 730 million people, and it reinvests 27 percent of its proceeds back into science and photography.

“We give photographers the keys to the kingdom and trust them to tell the stories,” she said. “We have 100-plus photographers who have access to our Instagram account — it’s a trust relationship. Instagram is a little bit of wonder in the chaos.”

Malley stressed the power of storytelling in a fragmented media environment. “If an article doesn’t make you feel anything, then why read it? We want to inspire. If we can get back to the purpose, then we can really move the needle.”

Put your content where your consumers are, she said. “There’s nothing more powerful than a big, bold image that tells a story and gets you to stop and engage with content.”   

She shared five tips for telling a powerful story:

  1. Lead with visuals.
  2. Invest in storytellers and storytelling.
  3. Deliver content where, when and how consumers want it.
  4. Be flexible and adaptive.
  5. Lean into purpose.

The Best Brands on Snapchat

A panel of experts discussed how their companies are using Snapchat and shared tips on how brands can master the popular new platform. Here’s what they had to say:

Jeremy Skule, Nasdaq:

  • Snapchat has 100 million active users, 400 million active snaps a day and 1 billion stories viewed daily, and it was the fastest-growing platform in 2015.
  • 70 percent of users are women, 71 percent are 21 years or younger, the 18-35 demographic has grown the most and 6 percent of brands have an active presence on it.

Bridget Evans, VaynerMedia:

  • Snapchat is great for posting content in the moment and putting the user first.
  • Create strategies for exclusive or live footage, and user-focused partnerships with influencers.
  • Authenticity is key, and people are still trying to figure Snapchat out.

Aaron Wolfe, American Airlines:

  • Think about what your friends want to see.
  • Keep it as natural as possible, tell stories and have a unique voice.
  • It’s so organic and there’s not as much control as other channels.

Sarah Epler, MTV:

  • Our Snapchat content is based on fans and influencers. The audience is very vocal and says what they like and don’t like (similar to TV viewing).
  • They like to discover things in real time, and want to be the first to interact with the snaps.
  • We work with social talent a lot. So we need to make the content based on what fans what.Snapchat allows more freedom for us to do what we want to do and to repurpose content.

Carla Zanoni, The Wall Street Journal:

  • Find the sweet spot with storytelling — you want to speak to the Snapchat audience, know who you are, own it and go all in.
  • Snapchat is a storytelling platform like print. Use a lighter tone and more general language.
  • If you have an audience that’s native to Snapchat, then you need to invest in them as they’re growing.
  • It is a challenging platform and an exciting change for the newsroom — it’s a way to reach new audiences in a vertical format.
  • Polish your skills and find a new way to tell your stories. Being on there is an internal success.

The Evolution of the Iconic New York Times

“We must innovate and be creative, as the future is hurtling toward us. If a piece of media communication hasn’t changed yet, that’s a timing issue — it will,” said Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times. “We must deliver great content and journalism and maintain brand values” when moving a print icon into the digital era.

Thompson noted that people will pay for high-quality content, and that they’re concerned about more than unique views. “Data is not a substitute for fundamental strategic thinking,” he said, adding that he believes all New York Times content should be “worth paying for and feel like it’s got that specialness, whether we choose to make it free or not.”

People want the information and tools to make up their own mind — they want to be engaged, he said. “Those who understand the world use their gut, not data.”

Data scientists and analytics focus on habit metrics, and “we believe smartphones will help us find the deeply engaged users, and find the subscription relationship,” he said. “We must be a destination and start being a daily habit.”

It’s about telling a story and engaging people, so much of what we do is about starting a conversation, Thompson said. “The hygiene layer of data is what you can’t live without. We have to make our own future with digital innovation and experimenting.”

Thompson said the bravest pieces are also the ones that perform the best and get noticed. Branded pieces have also performed well, and native advertising hasn’t confused people as much as they thought it might, he said.

“In the end, ad-blocking is a problem for economics of high-quality content,” he said. “We want the freedom to respond.”

Today, The New York Times has more subscribers than it had when it was only in print. It’s global and reaching more people — and reaching them more quickly.

“We need to know what it means to speak to the world in the world’s own language,” said Thompson. “There’s incredible enthusiasm for this but a big shift in mindset.”

Facebook and the Future of Communications

“It’s all about utility, speed and entertainment — sensory experiences and communications,” said Michelle Klein, head of marketing for North America, Facebook. “We need to create experiences that put people first.”

She shared the following background stats: There are now 1.5 billion people on Facebook and 3 billion on social media. The average person checks their phone 25 times per day and uses 27 different apps per month. Six out of the 10 most-used apps globally are messaging-based: Facebook Messenger has 800 million users and WhatsApp has 900 million users.

Klein stated that “the best technology” has the following attributes:

  1. Makes what we’re already doing easier, better and faster
  2. Enables us to connect through storytellin
  3. Needs to be more immediate, expressive and immersive
  4. Continually adapts and changes

“Images give us a shortcut to navigate the world. We only need to see an image for 13 milliseconds to ID it. Focus on visual communications,” she said.

“Humans are unique in their desire to connect with a community. The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than words with visual communications,” which is what impacted the rise of Instagram, she said. “We are now super-human.”

Klein said that the future of communications will be around virtual reality and augmented reality, so pay attention to 360 video, Occulus, 3-D ads, enhanced video and Canvas. “People want to connect in an enhanced and immersive way,” she said, and they need the richest possible ad experience.

Although there are 4.4 billion people without Internet in the world, there are 8 billion video views on Facebook daily.

“We’re experiencing the next social media revolution and mobile is powering it,” Klein said. “Change will be the constant and it’s how you adapt that will show how you survive and succeed.”

Building a Media Company in the Age of Podcasting

“Audio is better at helping us understand each other,” said Gimlet Media CEO Alex Blumberg on the power of the podcast over video. “Audio craves understanding versus other types of media that crave conflict or disruption.”

Sometimes just telling people about your idea can be so much less powerful than actually showing people your idea, he said.

“We need to change the conversation around content marketing. Showing people what you do versus telling them is the essence of content marketing,” Blumberg said.

Blumberg wanted to own a piece of what he was creating, when he was pitching podcasts as a form of storytelling.

“In terms of entrepreneurship, good impulses feel like opportunity,” he said. “We can come up with an idea, but we still need someone to take it and run with it, to grow it. We need a vision at the outset.”

Blumberg believes that audio will play a major role in the future of marketing. “You need your narrative arch,” he said. “Active [character] creation in audio creates empathy.”

Pinterest: From Inspiration to Conversion

Pinterest has 100 million active users and is the second-largest source of social media traffic for e-commerce companies. A panel of experts weighed in on why the visual platform will continue to grow and how brands can make sure they are at the center of that discovery.

Sean O’Neal, president, Adaptly:

  • Consumer behavior is changing and people are finding content in entirely new ways.
  • 39 percent of pinners have replaced traditional search engines with Pinterest.
  • 87 percent of users make purchasing decisions based on what they discover on the site.
  • 72 percent of pinners find new brands on Pinterest — the promoted pins are native.
  • 67 percent of pinners have looked up pins in a store on their phones.
  • Pinterest is the second driver of traffic to over 500 retailers.
  • Men are the fastest growing audience.

Michael Akkerman, head of marketing developer partnerships, Pinterest:

  • Pinterest users are forward-looking, as the platform is personal, aspirational and the center for future discovery.
  • It is a catalog of ideas — 88 percent of users find new ideas and are able to discover, save and do.
  • Pinterest doesn’t see itself as a social media platform. Brand message is not only accepted, but is also highly welcome.
  • It has a huge earned media component with referrals — the average pin is repinned 11 times, brands see a 15 percent incremental lift in conversations and users can save content for later use.
  • 80 percent of Pinterest usage happens on mobile — it helps bridge the online and offline divide, and more mobile conversations are coming through Pinterest than other platforms.

Brian Magida, director of digital marketing, Warby Parker:

  • Warby Parker uses Pinterest to meet consumers where they are.
  • Keyword targeting is very important for Warby Parker’s success on Pinterest.
  • This platform is less crowded than the other search engines so it works for the brand.
  • The company uses a brand approach and sells values and the story behind them, instead of specific products.
Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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