6 Things to Avoid in Your Social Media Conference Presentation
Over the last year, I have attended quite a few social media conferences, and I have been alarmed that many presenters seem not to have updated their talking points, examples and messaging since Facebook had 500 million active users. (July 2010, to be specific.) Perhaps they are worried about speaking over audiences' heads, or maybe it is time for some social media speakers to update their shtick. Either way, I feel many of the conference presenters I have seen in the past twelve months could have done much more to enhance their reputation and educate the audience.
If you are planning to present at a social media conference in the future, I challenge you to challenge yourself and your audience. Don't merely brush the dust off the same deck you have been using for years--say something new, something your audience has never heard from anyone else. Shock them. Surprise them. Inspire them. Leave them eager to hear more or to jump out of their seats ready to adopt new practices or strategies. (I may not always achieve this lofty goal, but those are my objectives every time I present at a conference.)
Many presenters have fallen into ruts, it seems. To help, I am proposing six things you might strive to avoid when presenting at a social media conference. I believe if you (and I) can sidestep these traps, our presentations will be more informative and memorable. I welcome your feedback, additions and criticisms to my list:
Tired Analogies to Describe Social Networks
At one time while speaking to an audience, I intoned, "Twitter is like a cocktail party." That was in 2009, so I can be forgiven, but we can now declare a moratorium on any metaphor that declares a social network to be a cocktail party, golf course, bar, coffee shop, scrapbook, "like dating," or akin to anything other than a powerful business tool.
People who attend social media conferences (not to mention most of the developed world) have adopted these platforms and thus no longer need to have social networking simplified with glib analogies. Simple metaphors were fine when no one understood microblogging or status updates, but using this sort of shorthand today misleads audiences and diminishes the complexity and importance of social networks. Twitter and Facebook are not like a cocktail party--they are powerful enterprise platforms for communication, customer service, reputation management, sales, collaboration and marketing.
Not only are the rudimentary analogies unnecessary in 2013, they can even be counterproductive. As social continues to struggle for attention and budget within companies, the last thing senior executives need to hear is that one of their enterprise social platforms is a "cocktail party." Your peers in other departments don't reduce their procurement, sales and accounting processes to ridiculously basic analogies ("tax accounting is like playing marbles"?!?), and it is time social media speakers stick to business language when defining and explaining social networks to audiences.
Old Examples (Unless You're Saying Something New and Unexpected)
United Breaks Guitars goes viral! Dell Outlet sells $2 million of merchandise on Twitter! A YouTube video of a Comcast technician asleep in a customer's home gets millions of views! These are just a few of the well-known (and too-often repeated) social media examples that can be retired. By now, everyone employed in social media does (or should) know these case studies. These tired examples, all from the early days of social media, have collected cobwebs.
If you are a presenter, the time has come to find case studies that haven't already appeared in thousands of presentation decks and blog posts. They are not hard to find--even a minimal bit of monitoring of Mashable Social, Social Media Explorer, Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today or dozens of other blogs and news sites can furnish a flow a recent examples. Want to get an audience to look up from their tablets and smartphones and pay attention? "Here's a case study you may not have heard of" works every time.
I offer one important caveat to this suggestion: Feel free to cite an old, tired example if you intend to violate expectations and help people to see it in a new light. For example, I still cite United Breaks Guitars, not because it is an example of a "social media crisis" but because, despite what everyone "knows" about the situation, it did not hurt the airline's business. In the six months following the release of the "United Breaks Guitars" video, the company's stock outperformed competitors by more than 150%. I find most people assume United's bottom line took a hit, so they are surprised to hear "the rest of the story." That is one example of how to turn an old case study into something new for a social media presentation.
Social Media 101
For some reason, speakers at several social media conferences I have attended recently felt it necessary to take the audience's time to explain basic mechanics of social networks. Last week, speakers from Twitter spent 30 minutes on stage to--I kid you not!--explain retweets, hashtags and replies to social media professionals attending a social media conference. This makes as much as sense as telling an audience at an email marketing event what the "reply all" button does.
Does every attendee at a social media conference understand the basics? No, some are still new to the space and need education, but that doesn't mean speakers at social media events should furnish those lessons. Conference speakers are under no obligation to bore 90% of the audience in order to make sure the remaining 10% are not left behind; in fact, they diminish their attention and reputation by doing so.
It is 2013, and by focusing on Social Media 101 lessons rather than advanced social strategies, conference speakers not only insult many in the audience, they also miss an opportunity to raise their reputation, expand listeners' knowledge and leave attendees with new ideas and inspiration.
Social Media Results, Not Business Results
Social media has become social business, and that means the case studies shared at conferences should furnish business results, not merely social media outcomes. Too often, case studies presented at social media events end with a slide listing new fans, new followers or number of engagements as the payoff. By now, social media professionals realize that these are not an end but the means to end--so share the end!
I am not suggesting every social media case study must have a financial ROI as an outcome, but it is not too much to ask that those bragging about success at social media conferences tell us how the business (and not just the fan page) was improved. Don't tell us that you generated new fans (that failed to increase attention or enhance business); instead, tell us how your social media efforts saved money, increased inbound traffic, enhanced awareness, generated new ideas, improved Net Promoter Score, solved customer problems, improved retention or generated new customers. A good business case study needs a business outcome, and I continue to see far too many case studies presented at social media events that fail to tell an entire and compelling story.
This is a special pet peeve of mine: The use of data without citation. I recently saw a presentation that included a number of bold data points, such as that 17% of social media users have purchased a financial service product because of a social media interaction. Unfortunately, the speaker failed to give the source of this statistic, and now that I am back at my desk and searching for the origin, I cannot find where the speaker got his data. (In fact, the top search result on Google is the tweet I made from the event!)
Citing the source of data in your decks not only adds credibility to your presentation, it also furnishes a way for those in the audience to seek out more information and validate the data. In addition, citing the source is the fair thing to do; if a study or survey is interesting enough for you to share in your deck, then you owe credit to those who invested in and conducted the research.
Examples that Violate FTC Disclosure Regulations
If some habits of social media presenters annoy me, this one amazes me--I have seen people on stage admit to violating FTC disclosure guidelines with either no awareness or no shame. Some speakers share programs that involve the distribution of free merchandise or social sweepstakes, but the tweets and posts they include in their decks are devoid of any required disclosure. In addition, I have heard influencers admit on stage that they hype clients' products without acknowledging the material relationship.
Of course, if the FTC is going to sleep on the job and if consumers show little concern that earned media is not, in fact, earned, there is little risk in these sorts of non-compliant programs. Still, I would hope that speakers at social media conferences might strive for greater ethics in the industry and at least nod to the well-established FTC disclosure guidelines.
So, what say you? Do these presentation habits annoy you? Think I am wrong on any of these? Am I missing something from my list? Please share your thoughts, and perhaps we can help make each other better speakers and presenters.
(6 conference mistakes to avoid / shutterstock)
My background includes more than 15 years of experience in digital and social media, including time covering social media for Forrester, managing a large and diverse team in a digital agency, and leading social business at two Fortune 500 financial services firms. I am focused on how social media is changing not just the way we market but the way we create, maintain and enhance the ...
Other Posts by Augie Ray
Social Media Today