Prague Diary: Spies, Skittles, and Joseph Beuys

Unlike President Donald Trump’s sometime attorney Michael Cohen, I can no longer say “I have never been to Prague.” That’s precisely where I am this week, and I am indeed scheduled to meet one or more Russians. But this isn’t a spy story, even though I am sporting a Bogart trench-coat against the mild spring rain. I’m here for Engage, the annual social media summit hosted by Socialbakers.

“The Power of Conversations” is the theme of the summit, and Prague is a very conversational city. Even in the quiet quarter where Socialbaker’s headquarters are located — up around the bend of the Vlatava River, about forty minutes’ walk from all the famous sights — taverns and restaurants are full on weekday evenings with young people socializing over tumblers of Pilsener Urquell and Staropromen.

Engage itself turns out to be highly social and conversational. Although there’s a full day of keynotes scheduled, mot of the engagement is happening in workshops at a series of sites scattered around the Forum Karlin complex where Socialbakers has its office; and in the lobby and bar of the nearby Penta Hotel. Bright young people in Socialbakers t-shirts are roaming the quiet, cobbled streets, offering idiosyncratic directions to guests: “It’s around the corner, there’s a backyard, and there’s an Audi A5 parked there, great car.”

As for Socialbakers offices, they’re a step beyond even the leisurely, open-plan, We Work-ish spaces seen in New York. Sure, there are the running buffets and the ping pong tables, but the lay-out would make any expressionist movie director happy. A single floor seems to have multiple levels, littered with steps, ramps, and ledges. The ambience is industrial. Iron containers, seemingly suspended from the ceiling, or wedged into improbable corners, are converted into meeting spaces or nap rooms. One contained a felt-like object which might have been on loan from a Joseph Beuys installation. If there isn’t a phrase for this look, I’d go with “luxe bunker.”

(Meeting room by Joseph Beuys)

It’s a perfect environment for young social media professionals — and this crowd does skew young (I saw one person skipping, yes skipping, across the office) — to scatter and work on their workshop projects. Make an Instagram story; shoot a promotional video; build a campaign around a big public event. At one point this morning, I came across a group of four people huddled around a cushion scattered with Skittles, busy taking iPhone photos. Well, they’d been told to find a product to promote from whatever was around them (and there are a lot of Skittles and Snicker bars in a Socialbakers office).

My takeaways so far:

  • Plan, activate, measure. Social campaigns are not “random acts of marketing”
  • You need not only compelling content, but you need to activate it at the right time for the right audience
  • “There is no perfect social media platform” (said a workshop speaker). They have different strengths: Spredfast, for example, for responding to breaking news; Socialbakers for deep analytics and benchmarking
  • Assets have different values for different audiences and different platforms
  • Influencers are important, but someone with 20 million followers who doesn’t reach your specific audience is not what you need

Oh, and Pilsener Urquell really is much better than Staropromen. I turn up my collar, I look over my shoulder, and I step out again onto these quiet, cobbled streets, to take a deeper dive into the social: More to come.

Socialbakers covered DMN’s expenses to attend Engage

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