Lessons From Digital DNA 2015

Today I attended the Digital DNA Conference at Titanic Belfast, my second year at the event, but this time around it really was one of the best events I’ve been to lately. That could be because I haven’t ‘suffered’ a conference in a while, or perhaps because I’m now a Freelancer so I knew many more industry folk in the room, but mostly I think it was for the content, quality of speakers and slick set-up of this year’s offering.

I was also sat beside the UniBaggage guys which is always going to be fun!

Now that I’m writing a lot of content for local companies (mostly startups and small businesses, mixed with some sub-contract work for PR and Digital Agencies) it was great to hear from Tech and Digital leaders about how important content is and how better to curate and create it, as well as how consumers are, well consuming it, online.

Jane White from Twitter told us about “The Power of Everyday” and how marketers are learning that engaging with people in the mundanity of everyday life is proving to have more impact than the traditional seasonal/large event campaign planning of times gone by. And how in a typical week, the average Fortune 500 company sends out 10 organic tweets and 3 promoted tweets.

LESSON: Social media engagement these days needs to be more reactive. MINE conversations. Plan repeatable EVERGREEN content. TARGET to deliver receptively.

Michael O’Hara from GSMA was also a great speaker on the topic of mobile development; from advancements like mobile stethoscopes in the Third World to highlighting some revolutionary local companies like See.Sense and Brewbot.

LESSON: We need to improve 4G services in Northern Ireland so that we can keep pace with the rest of the world, offering our key public and private services via mobile devices.

Jeremiah Grossman had travelled from Hawaii to “give us the fear!” (He owns a company that hacks corporations to help protect their online systems). I love hearing from people who are innovating through disruption. Add to that a man who has invested in a local team whose praises he sings, as well as teaching us a basic online auction hack we could all use (but shouldn’t, obviously) and you end up with a really engaging 10 minute presentation!

LESSON: Companies need to buck the trend of investing in insurance against hacking and instead invest in improving their systems to protect against it.

We then heard from the students of Dominican College who had just the day before been crowned winners of Digital DNA’s Digital Futures competition with their app Employapple to aid staff rotas and wages calculations for employers. Their prize was a trip to Silicon Valley - pretty cool for any 14 year old with Tech ambitions! Fair play to them for standing up with little preparation time, they were really funny and we could have listened to them for longer had schedules allowed for it.

LESSON: 14 year olds with balls to stand in front of a crowded room will go far in life. Learn from them. Take risks.

I also enjoyed hearing from Kevin Mcelroy who formally launched his company’s programme to enable Social Commerce for small business - Publishd live in front of us. Their Beta test with a Ballymena beauty salon had brought the local business an extra £500 sales in a matter of days. Pretty promising statistics. When you work in content and social media you know that the key challenge can be positively affecting the bottom line in terms of sales.

LESSON: Find innovative ways to utilise your social audience to convert them into customers who purchase.

Opal Perry from AllState then took us through her “Perspectives on Innovation” from the story of the American Insurance company itself, which was pitched to an investor at the height of the 1930s Depression. It helped that, as a company employing over 2,000 people in their Northern Irish team, she praised highly the discipline, education and innovative minds here!

LESSON: Look for trends in industry that you can prepare and build a business for, trends that may override any short-term, temporary economic factors. Innovate for the future, not just today.

Last of the speakers, Eleanor McEvoy, gave a down-to-Earth reality check for all of us in the room, whether we were Digital people, Entrepreneurs, or both. As an award-winning woman who has set-up three successful businesses now, she was the perfect person to deliver the message - “do what you do best and outsource the rest.”

LESSON: If you can’t explain what you do, if you can’t pitch it, you can’t expect businesses to invest in it or buy it.

In terms of the workshops available it was difficult to choose but I opted for the SEO/PPC one because I had failed numerous times to hear Barry Adams of Polemic Digital speak. He was as concise, engaging and on the button as expected. And decidedly less profanity-filled than he had warned! Barry took us briefly through the 3 pillars of Search Engine Optimisation - (1) Technology, (2) Relevance and (3) Authority.

LESSON: Content Marketing (like blog posts) will help with 2 and 3, and 3 (Authority through linking domains) remains one of the cornerstones of Google Ranking algorithms. It’s basically PR for SEO. But remember to write for humans, not robots!

I was impressed by his co-hosts too, Mark Haslam of Loud Mouth Media, who had the bright idea of letting one of his clients do the talking to share an actual customer experience. Dutifully, Ellie from Belfast City Airport’s Marketing Department sang the praises of her second encounter with PPC ads. With a 700% increase in pre-booked car parking, you can understand why.

LESSON: Potential customers only spend 21% of their time online searching for things. It may be worthwhile maximising that window with Remarketing, Google Shopping, Customer Matching, Gmail Promotions, etc.

A last mention should go to sponsors MCS Group - a recruitment agency specialising in the Tech industry, whom I have personal experience with and can vouch for their knowledge of this sector. Their cool gift in the form of branded portable Power Banks was right on the money. All wrapped up with a branded orange ribbon and card. So handy for constant event-Tweeters like us!

I was gutted to have to leave the event after lunch and I know from following the hashtag discussions online that the Data/Retail workshop in the afternoon was equally informative and engaging. I think most people will have felt it was a great use of their time today and I would highly recommend you go next year, when no doubt it will be bigger and better!

*Special thanks to the Digital DNA team who allowed me to swap my ticket to the Business Event today when I was no longer able to attend the evening event I’d bought a ticket for!

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