Stories are necessary (but not sufficient)

During one panel, Zach Behrens, editor of LAist.com, said the following: Stories have a point, conversations don’t always, and that’s why social media needs stories to be successful.

It’s a nice quote that can be easily repeated – not to mention tweeted. If social media only consisted of conversations, it would turn into a customer service platform or just plain noise. Brands need a coherent narrative to connect with their customers.

At the same time, social media can’t only be about stories because in that case the brand is talking at – not with – their audience. Social media must be a combination of the two with the end goals always in mind.

You must improvise

This was a key theme of Mike Bonifer, cofounder of GameChanges, LLC, an improvisation-based learning platform that helps businesses communicate better. Social media does not work as push advertising.

Brands must continue to change and tweak their strategies based on where users take the conversation. Rigidity, such as refusing to discuss unplanned topics or only engaging on specific channels, cannot exist in social media.

To successfully connect and share with customers, brands must be open to new conversations and willing to move in new directions. Bonifer introduced this idea by having the audience control a portion of his presentation. He had approximately 15 slides that covered his upbringing, schooling and professional experience.

Bonifer would begin discussing a slide; when the audience wanted him to move on they would shout “AND…” he had to immediately switch slides and topics, adapting his presentation on the fly. Improvisation in action.

The medium doesn’t matter

You could rattle off a list of social networks for days on end and still never cover them all. How is a business supposed to learn strategies for connecting with customers on each network? The short answer: They don’t have to.

This point was made in some way at nearly every session I attended. Engaging with the public is the same no matter what tools or channels you use. And that will never change, regardless of which social network is hot next week, month or year.

“ROI of Social Media” panel at CoLoft in Santa Monica.

Everyone is still learning

No one has the magic answer to social media success. The session “ROI in Social Media” was lead by four smart and fun panelists, including digital marketing expert Stacey Soleil, SEO guru Constantine Roussos and technology analyst Dan Benyamin.

The panelists reeled off numerous ways to track the performance and prove the success of digital campaigns. Some methods I knew about, including using Google Analytics to evaluate social media referrals. Other services, like social media analytics software ViralHeat, I’d never heard of.

Some I agreed with, such as recording the increase in engagement on individual channels across all social networks. Some I didn’t, like viewing the raw number of “mentions” in isolation. But the key takeaway was that even social media professionals are constantly learning about the industry and how to work within it.

There are no facts in social media

This point ties in with the previous one, but I thought it important enough to separate. During the event, I was engaged in a brief Twitter conversation regarding the necessity of stories.

The gentleman I was tweeting with disagreed with the speaker’s premise and tweeted, “it’s fact that you won’t achieve marketing goals via social media unless you engage your audience in conversation.”

While I agree with this statement, all I could think about was his use of the word “fact” and how there are no facts in social media. That’s what makes it fun and challenging and exciting. And that’s why the second lesson – the need for flexibility – is so important.

I appreciated the variety of topics, venues and speakers at Social Media Week LA, and enjoyed meeting so many smart, talented and motivated people. When the majority of your social interactions are done online like mine are, it’s always nice to meet other social media enthusiasts in person and communicate in sentences that are longer than 140 characters.