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Digital World Series event at The Studio

Last month I attended the Digital World Series event, held as part of the Greater Birmingham Digital Academy series, in conjunction with Digital Birmingham (I know, how many times can I use ‘digital’ in one sentence).

IMG_5856The event was loosely billed as a way for small/medium businesses to learn from leaders (and experts) to gain a greater understanding of digital technologies. The line up looked impressive, with speakers from internationally recognised digital leaders like Twitter, Facebook and Uber, as well as some local speakers like Simon Jenner, one of the founders of Urban Coffee Company and Justice Williams.  Having been involved in digital communications for a while now, it’s always interesting to hear how other organisations are making the best of the internet, and new emerging trends.

The day kicked off with an introduction to the day from Raj Mack, head of Digital Birmingham, followed by Neil Morgan from Sage, the accountant software organisation.  He give a frank and interesting presentation about how through acquisition and general enthusiasm, the organisation had ended up with a fragmented approach to social media, and how they aligned the digital strategy to that of the business ones.  Neil spoke about the importance of getting buy-in from the CEO but also from staff to encourage them to share online, and also forming a community of people who follow and engage with your business.

Next up was Fouzan Ali from Uber, who spoke about his journey on getting to work at Uber and how the organisation works between local teams with local decisions making and accountability, and centralised departments.

IMG_5867 Video was something which became a bit of a theme, started by Sophie Rayers, director of marketing at Brightcove.  She spoke about the benefits of utilising video, how to make them more engaging, using user generated content and how businesses like clothing companies and financial services are using video differently.  Video was something Paul McCrudden from Twitter also spoke about, talking about the company’s live streaming Periscope app and how its authenticity means it doesn’t need to be glossy, keeping costs down, which is particularly useful for smaller businesses.  He also spoke about linking into social media influencers;

“Most celebrities are household names; we are handheld names. People take their phones everywhere” – Simone Shepherd.

One of my favourite talks was from Amy Hobson, partner at Social B.  Amy’s talk was realistic and practical and gave some really good insights for smaller organisations that might not be able to do it all.  She started off explaining how social media relates to and links back to traditional marketing, something which I think is often confusing for people not confident with digital communications.  Asking people what “success looks like for you” she was able to explain simple but effective ways to manage and collect useful information from social media interactions.

IMG_5874 Simon Jenner, founder of Urban Coffee Company spoke about the evolution of coffee companies in Birmingham but how Urban had experimented with technology to drive forward their business.  He spoke about how they had been prepared to experiment with a number of ideas, some of which worked and some of which didn’t, but the importance of realising that some experiments might seem like a failure but that they might be a case of wrong timing.  He also spoke about how Urban would like to use data to help drive forward the business and whilst a number of the other organisation are large national or international businesses, it was good to hear how smaller businesses could utilise digital communication innovations.  Another local speaker, Justice Williams, also spoke about the importance of authenticity, looking at how a number of women are leveraging digital to create successful businesses that give them the freedom to work for themselves whilst utilising their content and retaining their authenticity.

IMG_5878Big data is something that seems to be everywhere and another stand out talk of the day was from Ian West, VP Analytics & Information at Cognizant, an international consultancy.  He spoke about the vast amount of data being produced, and the importance of collecting the right sort of data and analysing it to improve the customer experience.  Ian’s talk was funny but informative and gave some important insights into people’s fears of data, but how lots of well known businesses are using it to their advantage.

The final talk belonged to Greg Russell of Facebook, who nicely managed to knit together a lot of the threads from the other speakers, talking about the increase in photos and video being shared and how competitive everything is, so the importance of personal relevance – and having a mobile strategy.

And with that the day was done.  There was time for networking afterwards, but my brain was full of the day’s insights and I wanted some time to digest them.  I’d come away fascinated by what some organisations were doing and how well the speakers had done at translating how that could be applicable to other organisations to positively increase their digital footprint.

Interestingly it wasn’t always the big ‘star’ names that were the most inspiring; the more hands-on approaches from Amy at Social B, Simon at Urban Coffee Company and Ian at Cognizant provided practical applications which could easily be implemented, even in smaller teams.  That said, Greg from Facebook and Paul from Twitter presented a really positive outlook to the digital landscape and how businesses, both big and small, could utilise some of these exciting new developments.

Themes which are mentioned a lot in digital communications…big data, the importance of authenticity and the increasing popularity of video were all touched on and explored.  With a good mix of big names with large internationally recognised brands and smaller more local organisations, on the whole the speakers did a good job of breaking down the big ideas and wins for their organisations into ways that might work, or inspire, some of the smaller businesses in the room to develop their approaches. I’d been a bit wary, given the price of the ticket, but felt that I’d gained some valuable insights into some really exciting businesses and some practical ideas on digital communications.

The Digital World Series are organising a second event, being held in Birmingham on 27th October and tickets are available at their website;  http://digitalworldseries.com/

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