The Motherhood shares takeaways from Social Media Week Chicago on how brands can better understand and leverage consumer behavior on social media.

The Motherhood recently had the opportunity to participate virtually in Social Media Week Chicago 2016, where industry leaders shared trends, best practices and insights for online marketing. Read on for the final installment of our multi-part series on takeaways from the event! 

For any brand to be successful, they must key into how their consumers or target audiences are using social media – and how their brand is being discussed on social. During Social Media Week Chicago 2016, we observed a few recurring themes when it comes to understanding consumer behavior on social media.

Have one-on-one conversations: Whether brands like it or not, honest conversation happens in real time on social media. Brands can use the reciprocal nature of social media to their advantage instead of being intimidated by it.

More and more, brand content is about responding to people – not talking at them, according to Chris Kerns, VP of Research & Insights at Spredfast. Kerns shared that in a sample of 25 brands, 93 percent of content was one-to-one (with customers reaching out about questions, complaints, etc.) – and that percentage is rising every quarter as customer expectations change.

Havas Chicago made this analogy during a session: “Not answering comments is like being at a party, having everyone yelling at you and not talking back to them.” By showing that you’re listening and addressing even the most biting comments within your brand’s tone, you can change a customer’s sentiment toward the company.

What’s more, Kerns explained that customers engaged in social media spent 20-40 percent more money, and that word-of-mouth marketing drives $2 trillion in U.S. sales alone.

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Show how your brand’s values align with consumer values: Patrick Mulford, Chief Creative Officer of theAudience, offered an anthropological take on how we consume social media. By nature, humans are social animals, and if we hear a good story, we’ll remember it. When it comes to social media, any post we share can be considered a story. Mulford explained that posting is a selfish act: we are seeking likes, comments and shares on every post we make for validation of our ideas and values.

How does this apply to brands? When brands demonstrate that their values align with those of their consumers, that’s when they see consumers caring. Mulford stated that 74 of brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care, and that “the top brands sell feelings, not products.”

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Joshua Neckes (President of Simon Data), Dana Griffin (Chief Revenue Officer, Knotch) and Jesse St. Charles (Head of Data, frame.ai) reiterated that networks form based on shared beliefs, values, social norms, unwritten rules and rituals that guide behaviors. Categorizing people by demographics (e.g., millennials or moms) is just hype. It’s those who are most influential to us who ultimately help shape our values and ideas.
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Use the power of influencers: Brand ambassadors can be huge assets to a company – if that brand knows how to work with influencers. Consumers can sniff out an inauthentic partnership from miles away, so building up loyalty and trust with influencers should be a brand’s main priority when it comes to social media, according to the team at Havas Chicago.

When a brand is overly prescriptive in its guidelines for influencers, that content can come across as too corporate and will stick out like a sore thumb in the influencer’s online channels, so it’s important for brands to trust the influencers with whom they align so they can provide authentic, relatable content for their followers. Check out our post on building online consumer trust for more on this topic.

Don’t lose the human element: When it comes to marketing, Neckes, Griffin and St. Charles explained that more and more brands rely on predictive models or machine learning to help create efficiencies.

While machine-to-human tactics have their role in marketing, when it comes to relationship building, brands should maintain human-to-human interaction to help capture and understand consumer feedback, especially since a marketer’s intuition can get lost when using predictive models.

Are there any takeaways from Social Media Week Chicago 2016 that surprised you? Tell us in the comments!