Social Brand Forum offers advice

By Ashley Levitt

Social media is a whole other world. Like any world, it has its own language, laws and leaders – all of which are in a constant state of evolution.

The Social Brand Forum, hosted by the digital marketing firm Brand Driven Digital, is a yearly conference dedicated to discussing all things branding and social media – think the UN General Assembly, but with hashtags.

This year’s event was held Sept. 25-26 at the Coralville Marriott and brought together 300 marketers in the name of better branding. If you were unable to attend (or didn’t follow #SocialBrand14 religiously), here are some of the highlights:


“‘It [writing] is part of our culture and our DNA’ —Writing and copy should be part of who your company is. ‪#SocialBrand14@agkmay

Ann Handley, of MarketingProfs, kicked off the conference with a discussion on the importance of content.

“The top challenge for the last five years is creating engaging content,” Ms. Handley said. As Forbes’ most influential woman in social media, she should know.

Ms. Handley went on to advise companies not to use social media as a means of broadcasting everything they are doing, but to tell a story and make the customer the hero of that story. How? When writing, ask yourself “So what?” repeatedly until you boil your content down to what the customer cares about. Then cater to it.


“Story 3: Most human moment of the ‪#SocialBrand14. You cannot write the intangible, you have to experience it.” –@MommyMishMash

This tweet was in reference to SideraWorks CEO Matt Ridings’ personal, emotional story. He asked conference attendees not to repeat his story because taken out of context it wouldn’t have the same meaning. The following 15 minutes were probably the longest time in the history of Twitter that a room filled with 300 individuals on their laptops didn’t tweet.

The point? “Culture is living content,” Mr. Ridings said. Marketing is most effective when it creates an experience for customers, and in order to do that, customers have to trust you.

“Transparency is not a choice … Everybody is a voice inside your organization,” he said.


“If you’re waiting for a ‪#SocialBrand14 Oprah ‪@pancheros moment on stage (YOU GET A BURRITO! YOU GET A BURRITO!), don’t get your hopes up…” – @BrandDrivenTeam

Reid Travis, director of marketing at Pancheros Mexican Grill, addressed attendees alongside Kary Delaria, social media manager for Allianz Life, during a special live taping of “The Work Talk Show.”

According to Mr. Travis, Pancheros has two hidden “Easter eggs” in its restaurants. Easter egg No. 1: “La Cucaracha” will sporadically play throughout the restaurant. Easter egg No. 2: The drink menu doesn’t list which beers the restaurant offers. Instead, the menu includes “Good Beer” and “Bad Beer,” both of which cost the same.

Pancheros could (and used to) just play today’s popular music and list the beers they offer like any other restaurant, but these unique touches get customers talking and creating content for the marketing team.

“A few people have kind of commented, ‘Are these supposed to be a different price? What did I just order?’” Mr. Travis said. “We don’t really acknowledge it, we kind of let it be this ongoing thing.”


“#SocialBrand14 ‪#someoldgeezer I found my brand at this conference!” @Sogwac

Amy Schmittauer, founder of, began her presentation with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Ms. Schmittauer admitted she uses a Nikon camera to record videos for her video blog (vlog), but she started out using a cell phone. She went on to advise marketers to avoid using poor quality equipment as a reason not to incorporate video into a marketing strategy. After all, YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world.

Sometimes it’s just about getting over that initial hurdle and remembering that you’re the expert of your own business.

Jason Falls, of Elasticity, concurred in a blunt but effective talk.

“We [marketers] are looking for someone to come along with a different answer, an easy button,” Mr. Falls said. “There is no easy button … All you need to be successful at social media is the confidence and wherewithal to start.”

#WishIWasThere? Social Brand Forum 2015, #SocialBrand15, is set for Oct. 15-16.