Top 5 Takeaways from Social Media Week NYC 2021

Carly @ Relly

Keeping up with social media trends has never been more important as algorithms, platforms and technologies continue to rapidly evolve. Boasting unique access to seasoned digital marketing professionals, global leaders, and accomplished media practitioners, Social Media Week NYC 2021 was the perfect resource to help you do just that. The four-day virtual conference, originally held May 4 through 7, featured advice, case studies, and predictions pertaining to the future of social from countless global media giants, including Hootsuite, Publicis, MTV, and so many more. 

We get it – not everyone has four extra days on their hands. Don’t worry, we attended so you didn’t have to! Read on for our top five takeaways from Social Media Week NYC 2021.

Influencer Marketing

It’s no secret that influencer marketing is kind of a big deal on social media these days, and that’s not changing anytime soon. However, perfectly curated Instagram influencers with millions of followers aren’t the only ones getting attention anymore. The influencer space has evolved dramatically over the past year, and it’s up to business owners and marketing professionals to direct their social strategies accordingly in order to build an authentic brand.

Nadja Bellan-White, Global Chief Marketing Officer at VICE Media, spoke on the importance of building community through authentic relationships in order to navigate this new era. Forcing your way into cultural relevance with flashy advertisements and random endorsements isn’t going to fly anymore. Bellan-White advised business owners and marketers to avoid pushing their way into culture from the outside. From this point forward, it’s no longer about the biggest social following. He explained it’s all about working from the inside out by highlighting everyday people that are representative of the communities you’re creating for in an effort to build brand awareness and credibility.

In the same vein, Ricky Ray Butler, Chief Executive Officer of BEN Group, stressed the pivotal role of artists in marketing moving forward, along with the rapid spread of decentralization across social platforms. In layman’s terms, artists are taking over the media landscape and it’s our responsibility to support them in any way we can. Brands need to learn to lead with empowerment and consensus as opposed to authority and control. Butler explained that viewership on the largest platforms is derived from influencer content. Specifically, 82% of views on YouTube and 85% of views on Instagram come from influencers. Centralized institutions no longer hold all the power. Everyday people do. Rather than trying to disrupt the industry, he encouraged marketers to adopt a new perspective by championing individual creatives in their future strategies. 

Social Listening

Social listening was at the forefront of nearly every presentation throughout the four-day conference, and for good reason. Tuning into your audience’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, and complaints has never been more essential in the midst of such a disjointed media landscape. 

Shortly after COVID-19 vaccines became available, Katy Tenerovich, Director of Brand Strategy at Fitzco, was tasked with creating an advertising campaign to encourage the apprehensive residents of Fulton County in Georgia to get vaccinated. Tenerovich ultimately credits data and social listening for the success of the campaign. After researching common areas of concern on social media, her team addressed pain points surrounding the vaccine on the platforms that made the most sense for each specific target segment. Tackling such an emotionally charged issue came with added challenges, and Tenerovich warned against distraction. 

It would have been impossible to address each and every concern they came across. However, by honing in on popular forum discussions and social posts regarding vaccine doubt, her team was able to provide science-backed answers to the most common questions. Tenerovich emphasized the importance of uncovering, understanding, and utilizing the “why” behind consumers’ wants, needs, and desires in order to play a meaningful role in their lives. 

Listening to and understanding your audience leads to valuable content creation and stronger connections. The role of a brand on social media has changed, and leaning into a more personal approach based on research and data analytics will help you reach a level of customer care that’s come to be expected. Tom Keiser, CEO at Hootsuite, spoke to the importance of creating more intimate connections by leveraging social media to stay updated on cultural themes. He also advised brands to actively participate in conversations surrounding their industry or audience – not just lead them.

Social Media Strategy 

Building a brand that truly matters is your new social media strategy. You might be thinking to yourself, “well duh…”, but consumers’ opinions on what matters have changed a lot over the past year. Businesses now need to approach their social media strategy from a standpoint of “What am I going to contribute?” as opposed to “How do I look?”. People care a whole heck of a lot more about who you are and what you stand for today than they did a year ago. 

Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer at Red Antler Emily Heyward spoke on the vital role of projecting core values in the fight to stand out on social. Let’s face it, it’s never been easier to start a business and create a pretty decent presence online, but “pretty decent” isn’t going to attract an audience. Heyward explained that a brand is so much more than a logo, name, or color scheme. It’s what a business stands for at its core, and it’s why people should care. It’s the living, breathing driver of the entire consumer experience – which starts on social media. She encouraged businesses to speak to the values and beliefs of their target audience on social over other demographics like age, gender, or location (although those certainly have their place!). When your brand aligns with someone’s values, they feel an intimate connection that’s not easily broken.   

Ocean Spray is a fantastic example of what it looks like to incorporate core values into a social media strategy. Who could forget the Idaho potato worker who sent Ocean Spray sales into the stratosphere after his TikTok went viral

After his truck broke down on the side of the highway on his way to work, Nathan Apodaca grabbed a skateboard he had on hand and continued his commute. He captured the scene on video, playing the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams” and drinking (you guessed it) a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. The clip of happy-go-lucky Apodaca went viral at the height of the pandemic. The story could have ended there, but Ocean Spray saw an opportunity to act on its values. 

President and CEO Tom Hayes explained how important it was to come from a place of authenticity when crafting a response. As easy as it would have been to take center stage and try to totally own the moment after the video blew up, Ocean Spray took a different approach. They bought Apodaca a brand new cranberry red truck, filled to the brim with the brand’s juice of course. Ocean Spray’s mission statement says they are “committed to the power of good”, and that couldn’t be more evident in this heart-warming story. We’re not saying you have to buy someone a car, but using social media as a means of contribution as opposed to promotion goes a long way. Hayes said Ocean Spray saw a 600% growth on social media.

Want to revamp your social strategy, but don’t know where to start? Text us at (918) 262-5345 for 30 free social prompts and caption templates to get you up and running! 

The Role of Digital Marketing

The function of marketing hasn’t always been valued as much as it should be, but with the increasing demand for digital advertising, that’s about to change. Whether you’re an established business owner or launching a startup, factoring marketing into your budget and strategy is vital moving forward. 

According to Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard, Chief Marketing Officers have been experiencing an existential crisis. More than 70% of CEOs claim they aren’t confident in their CMOs, or marketing departments, to drive growth. The role of marketing has been fragmented, but Rajamannar predicts a renaissance is on its way. 

He began his presentation by outlining the four major paradigms of marketing, marking trends in the industry throughout history:

  1. Product Marketing: the notion that the product is kind and consumers make logical purchase decisions
  2. Emotional Marketing: the realization that people are more driven by psychology and don’t always make rational purchase decisions
  3. Data-driven Marketing: the rise of the internet and data-driven marketing techniques, bringing an entirely new layer of understanding and depth
  4. Digital and Social Marketing (where we are now): mobile devices totally changed the game by introducing endless marketing opportunities, ushering in the era of the connected consumer

Rajamannar anticipates an entirely new world of technology to emerge in the next paradigm that we can’t even begin to imagine. He named this fifth paradigm “quantum marketing” and defines the term as an extreme or abrupt change in the industry. As a result of these drastic changes, marketing needs to, and will, become a more valued aspect of businesses. 

Hootsuite CEO Tom Keiser aligned with Rajamannar in his presentation and noted that the role of a digital marketer isn’t an entry-level position anymore. He cautioned that we can’t just go by what’s worked before to direct what will work in the future. Digital media is constantly and rapidly evolving, leading to an increase in demand for highly qualified marketers. Keiser pleaded with business owners to recognize the necessity of digital marketing. He referred to it as “the lifeblood of any organization”, and said functions like social media management should be a significant focus of marketing efforts – not just a subsection like it used to be.

This new era might sound overwhelming, and if you’re a newbie to the marketing world, you may be wondering what you’re supposed to do to remedy all of these changes. Don’t worry, even if you don’t have a degree in marketing or years of experience in graphic design, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and your business! As Keiser mentioned, make sure you’re factoring marketing into your budget. And guess what? It doesn’t have to break the bank! We’re big believers that a little goes a long way, and for just $14.99/month, we can provide you with marketing fundamentals that will empower you to take the reigns yourself! Aside from budgeting, being in a constant state of learning is our best piece of advice when tackling the digital revolution coming our way. Read on for actionable tips from the experts themselves.

Keep Learning and Experimenting

If we had to identify one theme for the entire conference, it would be this. Without fail, nearly every speaker emphasized the importance of learning and experimenting when it comes to social media. 

Putting yourself out there in new and different ways on new and different platforms can be scary. We all inherently want to put our best foot forward and present the very best version of ourselves and our business. Thankfully, standards have changed. It’s ok to mess up. It’s ok to drop the act. It’s ok to not be perfect. When it’s all said and done, you have to be willing to put yourself out there to get the results you want so badly. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

Take it from Steven Bartlett, Founder and former CEO of Social Chain. By the ripe age of 21, Bartlett created the world-leading social media company that would eventually generate annual revenue of $220 million by the time he was just 27 years old. Bartlett was faced with a host of adversities throughout his life, including growing up in poverty, experiencing racial inequality, dropping out of school, and more. Success wasn’t handed to him on a silver platter. He had to earn it the hard way. How did he do it? Experimentation. When asked what his best piece of advice was for creating a successful social media strategy, he simply said “experiment”. He chuckled and continued to explain how people are constantly prying for the secret formula behind his wildly prosperous Social Chain strategy. He said experimenting was his strategy.

So many other digital marketing experts echoed Bartlett’s sentiment in regards to their success. Vice President of Marketing and Social Media at MTV Ann Lamore admitted that unfortunately, “there’s no special sauce”. She added that the biggest lesson she’s learned over the past year is to continue pivoting with the algorithm and to always be the first to test out a new platform, even if your efforts fall flat. 

Similarly, Co-founder and CEO of Liquid Death Mike Cessario touched on the value of casting a wide net by putting as much content out there as you can in order to see what people are reacting to. 

As far as learning goes, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard Raja Rajamannar provided some great actionable takeaways through his own personal regimen. He said he dedicates at least five hours each week to educating himself, whether that’s through research, taking an online course, or reading. He also reads one book per week and listens to audiobooks whenever possible in order to monetize every moment he can. 

Former Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Rishad Tobaccowala also encouraged us to carve out at least an hour each day to learn. 

Maybe you don’t have time to read a book every week or an extra five hours laying around but start where you are, with what you have. Maybe that’s a page a day or 30 minutes dedicated to education each morning. Small steps lead to big results!

Wanting to keep up with emerging trends like these? Stay tuned. We’ll also be attending Social Media Week Los Angeles, taking place June 29 through July 1! The global gathering is sure to offer even more insight into the future of digital media, featuring leaders from REVOLVE, Hulu, Uber, and PepsiCo – to name a few.  

In the meantime, join Relly for the foundational tips and tricks you need to give your marketing strategy a boost. For as little as $14.99/mo., get access to on-demand marketing courses, access to experts for marketing advice, and more!


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