Social Media Week took over Toronto last week. The citywide event featured lectures and workshops hosted by a bevy of advertising agencies and digital service providers.

But Toronto isn’t alone. Cities across the globe, from Hong Kong to New York have organized their own versions of the event.

Wherever Social Media Week took place, young professionals rubbed shoulders with industry leaders as they attended sessions led by social media managers, marketing analysts, creative directors and web developers.

And the best part? It was free for everyone.

Your online identity crisis is over

Remember when it was the norm to create false identities online? You could be a 40-year-old professional mountain climber living on a vineyard on your MySpace page, while over at your MSN account, you were an aspiring poet studying philosophy at Berkeley.

Jennifer Rossini, associate creative director at Y&R, calls this the “Online Disinhibition Effect.” In the past, websites like MySpace made it easy for us to loosen our social inhibitions and abuse our online anonymity by saying and doing whatever we pleased.

But now, says Rossini, “the recent popularity of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts sparked a shift in identity, where we’ve begun to use our real names and attached them to our online identity, where being faceless and anonymous is now a negative thing.”

Say goodbye to the days of online make-believe. Whatever you say or do on social media is permanent and traceable. Not even your alter ego, Henry, the 35-year-old FBI secret agent, can save you.

Miranda Voth and Meg Button presenting at the Grip Limited office on February 15.

Switch up your event invite list

The good people at Grip Limited, a multiplatform ad agency with a slew of international clients, hosted a session on the dos and don’ts of planning branded events.

Turns out the same groups of people are getting invited to the same industry events, which in turn makes these events repetitive and boring (#firstworldproblems).

Meg Button, associate art director at Totem, and Miranda Voth, Grip’s community engagement manager, made it clear that when it comes to spreading the word about a party, it’s best to use brand influencers instead of social media celebrities.

Thanks to their numerous Twitter followers and Facebook friends, social media celebrities have the power to change a brand’s reputation. But brand influencers are passionate about the brands they love, making them more suited (and willing) to trumpet a brand’s message.

Ads and content go hand in hand

Let’s face it: online ads can be annoying. Pop-ups and embedded ads that play during streamed shows drives people nuts. They’re also often useless because they don’t relate to the content. But there’s good news, folks: Advertisers are noticing.

Panelists at the AgilityCMS presentation, for example, suggested that as long as the ads are relevant, audiences won’t mind.

The consensus among the panel of web designers, user experience experts and content producers was that the future of online advertising depends on the respect it earns from the industry as a whole. Because it’s so new, it has yet to prove itself. This is a great opportunity for ad agencies and marketers to find innovative ways to stay ahead of their competitors.

Israel Diaz, COO of Y&R Canada

Selling a story > Selling a product

On the same panel, Laura Baxter, President of MitreBox Media, argued that there’s a difference between copywriters and content marketers. The former sell products, the latter sell stories.

This difference was emphasized throughout SMW. Josh Muirhead, founder of Socialmark Media, for example, thinks that in the future, advertising content will be created by editorial and writing teams. That’s because journalists and screenwriters are trained to tell stories, and stories sell.

Sometimes you have to piss people off

Lindsay Renwick, social media manager at Critical Mass, hosted a discussion about the power of social storytelling and the strategies that make it work. Renwick claimed that typically, 25 percent of a company’s marketing budget is devoted to content.

During his presentation, John Muirhead argued that content is designed “to inspire people and at the same time piss people off.” In other words, content is successful if it elicits an emotional response –  whether it’s inspiration or frustration.

In sum, Social Media Week provides a great opportunity for folks across industries and disciplines to share ideas, strategies and stories. Too bad it’s only a week.