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Highlights from Social Media Week Los Angeles

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From stop motion tutorials to social strategy panels to Vine competitions, Social Media Week Los Angeles explored emerging social media trends from a variety of angles. However, I couldn’t help but notice that every #SMWLA event I attended addressed a unifying theme: How do brands use social media not just to communicate with consumers, but to form personal, authentic connections with them?

It certainly isn’t a new question, nor is it specific to social media. But whether it was Microsoft sharing its rules of social disruption or theAudience presenting insights on why we “like,” speakers emphasized the need to cut through the content clutter by engaging audiences in a deeper, more meaningful way. Here are three key takeaways from the week’s events that any social media practitioner can use to support this goal.

1. Good social is driven by good storytelling

If you’ve ever asked yourself how to make content go viral, you’re asking the wrong question. And we’ve all been there. In the drive to publish timely content, we often forget that audiences engage with stories, not social posts.

But as SMWLA panelists pointed out, “viral” is a result, not a strategy—and if you’ve ever seen a social media campaign that felt forced and irrelevant, chances are it didn’t have an interesting story behind it. Good social storytelling begins with a strong brand identity—a strategic framework, supported by audience insights, that ladders up to an overall communications architecture.

I’ve heard the concern from clients and colleagues that putting a structure in place might stifle the creativity and nimbleness social media requires. But I share the conviction that the opposite is true: social media provides an opportunity to support a brand’s overall strategy adaptively, making it easier for brands to stay true to themselves. And only then does content feel personal, relevant and engaging for consumers.

2. Social media is humanity expressed through technology

For every brand that succeeds on social media, there are many that don’t. The problem has a number of symptoms. There’s often a bland, detached tone consumers can’t relate to. Ad-like content that feels inauthentic. The inability to connect emotionally with audiences.

In other words, a lack of humanity.

It’s true that good storytelling involves a complex alchemy of science and art, but brands can succeed by keeping in mind deeper human truths that drive social behavior—both online and offline.

Social media enables us to define who we are by affiliating ourselves with friends, brands, influencers and cultural values. A brand can succeed on social media by embodying values shared by its audience—and, in my experience, audiences relate best to the brands that have a strong point of view and a distinct way of seeing the world. (Think GE’s blend of emotion and innovation or Patagonia’s inspiring approach to adventure and environmental action.)

3. Big data enables us to experience the world in highly adaptive, personal ways

For me, creative inspiration was the last thing that came to mind when I thought about big data—but not for Microsoft and DreamWorks.

Their new gaming experience, Dragons Adventure World Explorer, uses data such as maps, traffic reports, weather reports, and Foursquare check-ins to build a game world that corresponds to the real world. The game updates in real time, so a child playing in the backseat of a car can watch surrounding streets, buildings and other landmarks become integrated into the game.

This new, unexpected use for big data enables an unprecedented level of customizability, creating a social, mobile, and incredibly personal gaming experience. Microsoft and DreamWorks not only gain access to social data, but they also deliver value through a branded game. Perhaps most interestingly, the collaboration produced not only a game, but a platform that can be made available to the public—which likely means we’ve only just begun to unlock the potential of big data to enhance the way we experience social media and mobile technology.

In between the nearly 100 official events, SMWLA attendees took advantage of food trucks, comfy onsite hammocks, and ironically antisocial (but also really cool) Skype Pods. Did you attend Social Media Week in Los Angeles or elsewhere? If so, what was your favorite event?

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