“We can buy eyeballs but we can’t buy attention” – Facebook

Each year social media enthusiasts, brands and agencies alike, flock to London for a week-long conference featuring the industry’s leading names.

This year Social Media Week London was held at the British Film Institute, welcoming marketers from far and wide to discuss the hot topics of this ever-evolving business.

The theme was Language and the Machine: Algorithms and the Future of Communication. They had me at the title…super-geek future-scoping of social media? Sign me up!

“Not doing short-form is not an option” – Facebook

Who better to kick off preceding’s than social media giant, Facebook. Their session ‘Speed of the Feed’ presented a new model of developed to understand the varying phases of content consumption throughout the day.

The key message here was that around 70% of the day we’re in ‘on-the-go’ mode where our attention span is just 3 seconds. We know the challenges of capturing attention but this model creates space for times in the day where people can consume and engage content slightly differently, albeit only 30% of the time!

During our ‘lean forward’ phase (20% of the day) we’re more interactive and willing to engage with brands. We then move in ‘lean back’ (the remaining 10% of the day) where we will consume long-form content.

This essentially means that all is not lost for brands needing to share a multi-layered message, creative is as important as ever but we can’t forget the importance of short-form…being necessary for that huge 70% proportion of the day.

“The power of wow and wonder” – National Geographic

Next up was social media power-house National Geographic. Each year they deliver an insight to how they harness the power of social against a backdrop of some of the most visually stunning content to be seen online.

You may be thinking “yeah but they’re National Geographic, they have the whole world to play with”, and you’re right. But doesn’t every brand have the whole world to play with to some extent?

Nat Geo’s success lies in their innate ability to reinvent the wheel and take the brand out of their brand. They famously give ownership of their channels to their travel photographers, not their marketing department, and their message this year was no different – create thoughtful, streamline content.

In this case they spoke of harnessing social moments – events and awareness campaigns in which they’re creating streams of cause-based content to trigger interest at key times. They spoke of mini-series content which invite audiences to join the conversation, and that is the key to their success. They see the value of content contributors and place it at the heart of their strategy.

“Don’t be socially awkward” was the message from agencies

It saddened me a little that when some of the world’s largest marketing agencies took to the stage they were still urging brands to understand the natural behaviour and value social media. We’ve come a long way from the days of trying to explain what social media is all about, but brand teams are still seeing it as a platform to distribute existing content rather than taking a social-first approach.  This shift needs to be made where engaging and thoughtful content is being created and shared with purpose and relevance.

“We don’t want to interrupt the content people love, we want to be the content they love” – Buzzfeed

As day 1 drew to a close a reoccurring theme from all of the days speakers was clear – successful social media content was a combination of art and science.

Social listening isn’t anything new, but the dependence on it when creating content is increasing. The lesson was ‘don’t just create content that you, as a brand, want to share, but create content that your audience is receptive to’.

Buzzfeed talked of its growth through sub-brands like Tasty and Nifty and credited their success to testing new content and learning what works. It’s not one person’s job to decide what content is ‘right’ for the brand, it’s the audience’s.