Lessons from Social Media Leaders at the 2016 World Economic Forum

Four Takeaways from Brands That Led the Social Conversation at WEF

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In 2014 and 2015 I had the pleasure of leading the planning for both my clients' and my firm's social media efforts at the World Economic Forum. The cherry on top was being in Davos to oversee the execution. There, a group of incredible clients, colleagues and I brought to life a set very engaging strategies that were meant to educate our audiences on the value of the event, as well as capture the "zeitgeist" of the conference.

I learned two important lessons very quickly:

  • Bigger is not better. At the WEF, it's more important to reach a small audience of important people than a large audience of nameless numbers.
  • Like it is at most events, social success is all about Twitter. A set of key hashtags and genuine, interesting content are the trick for delivering the right message to the people who are listening.

This year I did not have a client at the WEF. Though sad to miss it, I was happy to be able to observe what was taking place as an outsider by following the hard work of many of my friends and peers who were actively representing their brands and organizations online while at the event.

For the most part, I was happy to see that brands and notable attendees truly acted like publishers. Their social content competed directly with traditional media outlets for eyeballs and recognition, and many became the go-to source for updates and breaking news. These brands and individuals were also responsible for originating and driving key trending topics like gender parity, diversity and equality.

The professional services and consulting category certainly emerged as this year's leader. Accenture, KPMG, Marsh & McLennan and Deloitte broke new ground and had direct interaction with high quality audiences while spending very little on paid media.

Here are four takeaways:

1. Own the issues. The point of the event is to bring a group of elites together to solve key problems facing humanity -- a fairly lofty goal with a potentially endless number of topics. That said, not everything makes it onto the agenda. Companies like Accenture took this as an opportunity to show its commitment to a particular issue -- equality. The company used its presence at Davos to create news and bring attention to this important issue, talking about subjects like gay rights, diversity in the workplace and digital disruption.

2. Contribute to the conversation. As the WEF becomes better known in the agency sphere, there continues to be a big push to make more clients visible. The downside is that many agencies are doing so for visibility's sake, without a larger strategy. In response, WEF has made efforts to steer the conversation in a meaningful way so we outsiders (as well as those present in Davos) can both track and contribute to the important conversations.

WEFlive.com, an experience created by KPMG, captures the core of the social media conversation around the event and allows followers to track and export key moments and stories, important influencers and general trends. The site served as a go-to source for individuals looking to keep up-to-date on the event and contribute to its conversations when appropriate.

3. People connect with people. The brands that performed best on social clearly leaned on their employees to help spread the word about what their companies were doing at the WEF. Marsh & McLennan Global and its network of companies, including Mercer, exemplified this effort by engaging its global workforce to share key moments during the conference. The firm's mix of original, highly relevant content, elegant aggregation environment and well-orchestrated participation from key employees drove engagement with an audience of WEF attendees, executives, journalists and thought leaders.

4. Relevancy does not equal authenticity. Some brands use the WEF as an opportunity to advertise products they deem relevant to topics covered at the event, rather than connect with important audiences about ideas. These companies tend to back their efforts with big media spends meant to reach the masses. This misses the entire point of WEF. But some brands effectively demonstrated that authenticity is the most important goal for which to strive for through social at an important event like WEF. Deloitte decided on a key topic -- millennials -- and formed a partnership with One Young World, to bring together a group of important attendees and followers and co-create a live, engaging experience.

I look forward to seeing how each of the companies mentioned continue the work they started during the World Economic Forum and what impact it has. And as anyone who's attended the event will tell you, on the last day you're already thinking about the following year. Stay tuned for #WEF17.

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