• Tiffany

The Best of Social Media Week NY 2021: Top Case Study + Key Learnings on How to Build Your Brand



This year's Social Media Week NY conference (May 4-7, 2021) was 100% virtual and having been to the last few in-person, I think this one was the best yet. The content was timely and spoke to a more elite social media audience in comparison to those just dipping their toe into social marketing like in past years.

It also was nice to enjoy from the comfort of my couch and not stand in lines to enter huge rooms, just saying. Let me be the first to vote for a hybrid option in the future. I might split my time between in-person and viewing from the comfort of home.... or a nice coffee house in WeHo next year.


Three trends that I noticed specifically at this year's event include:

1) Emphasis on a Global Business Audience: Even though it was a SMWNY event, being virtual meant they could include sessions from and for audiences in APAC, EMEA and LATAM. Speakers from the different regions could join and provide examples from brands in their regions as well. In addition, the recommendation on many panels was to think globally in how you grow your brand.

2) Diversity focused with female and male speakers from different race, global regions and companies highlighting different topics within the industry. The emphasis was also around reaching the customer that finds your product as a solution vs a specific demographic.

3) Audio content strategies were top of mind. With newcomers like Clubhouse and a rise in podcasting in the past year, brands learning how to own that space in the right way was often discussed.


My favorite brand case study, shared during the conference was Gayitri Budhraja's (Vice President, Brand, e.l.f. Beauty) highlight of e.l.f cosmetics' approach to lean into bigger brand moments and a sophisticated always-on campaign.


The company did a brand/social audit and leveraged TikTok to align their company goals and culture with the platform's similar audience. They found success in:

  • A dedicated hashtag challenge for discovery on the platform

  • Updating their brand profile page to align with their true brand goals

  • Launching a reality show within the gaming space on TikTok, partnering with top female gamers to challenge what girl gamers look like. Boasted 9B+ views in 1 week

  • Partnering with the top brand on TikTok, Chipotle to create a collab like no other. A Chipotle themed makeup palette that garnered 4B+ impressions in 10 days

  • Collaborating with TikTok creators for content that their audience would appreciate and want to share

  • Ensuring they were creating evergreen content that lives past a moment


e.l.f cosmetics highlighted the top go-to strategy that has helped them as a brand, dominate in a new social space. Key beats include Keeping Your Feet on The Ground


Owning that it's OK to Have Your Head in the Stars


and moving quickly, adapting at "e.l.f. speed"


Kudos to the e.l.f social team. I have added them to my list of brands to watch to see how they continue to lead and adapt in social media.


Also as part of the conference, there were a few panels that shared tips on brand building but the one that I identified with most and enjoyed was "Love It or Leave It: How to Build Brands That Matter", presented by Emily Heyward, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer, Red Antler


Emily's top tips to build a better brand include:


1. Be Problem Oriented

  • Identify what problems you are solving for. This can create an even stronger customer appreciation then marketing the solution because you identify with why your consumer needs the solution they are looking for.

  • Be sure to solve for a real problem.

" Everyone doesn’t really want a cereal with raisins, but most want a solution to get energy in the morning." - Emily Heyward

2. Offer it All but Do Not Be Everything to Everyone

  • Brands needs to solve for the emotional as well as the rational that their customers require

  • Tap into the Psychographic vs just Demographic to ensure your brand aligns with the right audience.

"Aiming to have your brand align with Gen Z may not allow for sustainable growth, like targeting an audience that finds your brand as a solution" - by Emily Heyward

3. Prioritize Community

Community is more then just likes and comments. Enough said!


4. Redefine Expectations

Find ways to help people live better

Brand example - Topicals specializes in treating skin hyperpigmentation and scaring (very targeted female audience)




Their success strategy included:

  • Showing unfiltered images on their social channels while other skin care companies and influencers use filters and photoshop to create a clear skin look.

  • Being active + building community on Twitter (where most skin care brands do not have an active community). This resulted in a spike in sales from Twitter and a dedicated, engaged community on the platform



Another SMW in the books. Great experience this year engaging virtually through chat and with high impact presentations and creative content.

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Photo source: socialmediaweek.org, topicals.com