Three Top Talks from Social Media Week, Chicago

Last week I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in Chicago for Social Media Week. Personally, this was a two-birds-with-one-stone trip, as I got to experience a conference I’d heard so much about in a city I’ve been told to visit countless times— both are top notch by the way. Here’s my highlight reel of the top three talks, and why they rocked.

#1: Havas WW Chicago — Stop being socially awkward


Why it rocked: “Go out there and do stuff instead of talking about it” is bang on.

After some serious travel delays getting into with Windy City (which should be renamed the Foggy City) I nearly missed this session and am super pumped I didn’t. I love it when you go into an event or experience expecting one thing and get something totally different — it was a pretty anti-Agency Agency chat and showed the true understanding this team has when it comes to social.

One of Havas’ key suggestions was to stop overthinking and start acting. They broke down a few examples of getting their clients on Snapchat, and it was the opposite process to what you’d imagine from some of the biggest companies in the world. The common perception is months of approvals around content plans and a long-term strategy set in stone before clients will dip so much as a toe into the dark art of Snapchat. Instead, Havas put one of their team on a plane to New York for the day with an idea for a Snapchat Story and just did it. I believe a passing comment to the client before doing it was “we’re starting your Snapchat, you need to be on here.”

This is obviously testament to the relationship (read: trust) they have with their clients but the key takeout applies across the board: Don’t overthink and over plan, just start doing. Their panel consisted of Jason Peterson, Anna Russett and Danny Mota, so if this sentiment strikes a chord, follow them for more wisdom (and epic content).

#2: Nat Geo -  The power of Storytelling: How National Geographic dominates a fragmented media landscape.


Why it rocked: They understand how to appeal to their audiences and that each channel is different to the next.

Nat Geo has amassed one of the largest followings of anyone across their social media channels and it’s not (just) because they share pretty pictures. Claudia Malley (Chief: Marketing/Brand) gave a great breakdown of what works in the social space, boiling it down to these key points:

  • Focus on sharing content that makes you stop scrolling (or tapping). That’s when you win.
  • Capitalise on the strengths of each platform and create unique content specific to each 
  • Add timely and relevant content - people relate to what’s happening around them right now.
  • Utilise your biggest assets - field staff, for example. Trust and empower them to help build your brand.

Another parallel with Havas’ presentation was the notion of having trust in your people, and getting them to actively be the reason why you’re the best. Breaking down the bureaucratic walls and making content real, authentic and timely was a major key to success for Nat Geo, and will continue to be. 

#3: Anna Russett - Pics these days: How Snapchat is redefining traditional media

Why it rocked: it was one of those major career moments where you go “we’re building a very valuable product” — and that’s an awesome feeling.

Anna Russett was one of the panellists from Havas Chicago earlier in the week but beyond her agency gig she’s also an (awesome) influencer  using her powers for good. Anna has built a significant following across social media through engaging around millennial focused themes and empowering young women to become more critical and educated when it comes to (social) media. 

Her entire presentation was incredibly powerful, with a personally gratifying moment during the QA. Toby from Crowdcentric posed the question: Is there anything specifically you wish Snapchat had, or feel Snapchat is missing? Instantly, Anna’s answer was: I wish I could reshare some of the amazing content that my followers send me on my own Story.

Re-posting user-generated content is something that we’ve seen drive great results for our clients time and time again. Additionally, this approach is made possible by Mish Guru software, so having its virtues extolled by a living legend was an affirming experience.


Final thoughts:

While I've only mentioned my top three highlights, there were so many great speakers, topics and people - I highly recommend giving Social Media Week a look next year, wherever you may live. Lastly, it’s a little known fact that Chicago wasn’t dubbed the Windy City for the weather, but rather, because “of the wind of its full-of-hot-air politicians.” You learn something new every day.