3 takeaways from Social Media Week Chicago

This week, I came to Chicago, where I heard my favorite ClickZ Live keynote so far, as well as Doug Busk of Coca-Cola’s fantastic Obama impression.

The conference ended Wednesday, but since my best friend Jon, my college roommate and the guy who once antiqued me on my birthday, lives in Chicago, I decided to stay through the weekend. But first, I hung around downtown for another day to check out Social Media Week.

I spent Thursday jumping from session to session, and came away with some new perspectives. I knew that your ads should always be “relevant,” but it had never occurred to me that relevance is something you can measure, for instance.


1. Relevance is quantifiable

“Relevant” is one of those terms, much like “authentic,” that gets thrown around a lot but is ultimately pretty vague. For your social media marketing to be relevant, it should appeal to who you know your audience to be. What many people don’t realize is that it’s also measurable.

Social metrics serve as proxies for relevance. Things like impressions and video views let you know what resonates with people, though not as much as the more active metrics such as who clicked the link to your product page and who filled something out.

Those give you what Kyle Psaty, product marketing director at Brand Networks, calls “deeper permission to continue the conversation.” They also give you an insight into the probability of action, a formulaic way of looking at just how relevant your paid social is.

“All social networks deliver ads based on an auction,” explains Psaty. “The fundamental relevance of these ads go into the decision-making process on what ad gets served and at what price.”

In other words, social networks have algorithms just like Google. And if you treat your ad like your content, trying to make it as valuable as possible, your “rank” will improve.

2. Not all influencers are “influencers”

It’s very popular right now for brands to work with influencers. But if you think about it, a lot of brands are influencers.

Brands like JBL and Hefty have done campaigns with Logan Paul, a wildly-popular Viner with 8.8 million followers. The idea is, working with social media influencers can fuel brand lifts because they’re so popular that they can inspire actions.

But the brands have that power, as well. Look at how people took it upon themselves rushed out to defend Starbucks against the accusations that it’s minimalistic red cups are a slam against Christianity. By employing people who genuinely like the brand, brands can become their own advocates.

“We are the consumer. Everyone at our company was the fan before they got the job,” says Jillian Davis, digital marketing manager for Pabst Blue Ribbon.

That enthusiasm starts from within. Like Starbucks, PBR has a loyal following to the point that the brand has a section of its site filled with art made by fans. And PBR works maintains that loyalty, fueling its own influencer status.


“We don’t do paid ads or TV commercials. We use our marketing budget to pay for the rights to the art,” says Davis. “We really do focus on our fans, and amplifying their names and what they’re doing. And by having these limited edition art packages [on our packaging] we are increasing sales.”

3. Rebranding is a long, gradual process

Getting in shape is a process; you can’t lose 50 pounds in a week because you didn’t gain those 50 pounds in a week. The same is true for rebranding.

That sounds kind of obvious. But don’t people tend to think of a brand reboot in a reflective way, recognizing a success story after the fact? Denny’s comes to mind. How much press did the brand get when it first launched its offbeat Tumblr, versus after it had built its audience back up?

Burberry was a luxury brand whose mystique was tarnished by “chavs,” as Johnny Vance, area director for North America East at Meltwater, said it. If you’re an American and don’t know that awesome word, the cast of Jersey Shore are kind of our version of it. Over the past few years, Burberry has had a comeback, one that undoubtedly started with internal conversations about the brand’s identity.

“You have to get the brand statement right and crystallize its essence, and really establish what it is you’re trying to achieve and what your company stands for,” says Vance. “Once you crystallize it down the essence of what it should be, it’s about bring to define that brand personality and what you want to project moving forward.”

Burberry started its turnaround by scaling back on its signature checkmarks, dissociating itself with the lowbrow image they had come to represent. The brand updated its offerings and worked with celebrities with classier images, such as Emma Watson. The rebranding was long, but successful.

The trick is in gradual implementation. Going from zero to 60 in your rebranding efforts, you risk coming off as inauthentic and trying too hard.


I left Social Media Week with three main takeaways. Here are the Reader’s Digest versions of them:

  • Treat your paid social like your social content, and make your ads as valuable and relevant to your audience as possible. That relevance can be measured – and is measured by the platforms’ auctions.
  • An influencer doesn’t have to be a person. Does your brand inspire people to do things unprompted? If so, work to maintain that loyalty because your brand is also something of an influencer.
  • If you want to rebrand, do it gradually. If you change up too much too quick, you won’t be recognizable.

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