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SuperBowl XLV = Social Super Bowl I

What do you get when you combine the biggest TV event in American culture with emerging media and advertising? Sunday will mark what might end up being remembered as the first-ever Social Super Bowl.

While there’s been a digital component to the Big Game over the last decade, with the explosion of media attention surrounding Facebook, Twitter and digital media in the mainstream media over the past 12-18 months, this year’s tilt is poised to be the biggest social media event in the medium’s nascent history.

As it is already, sports and social media dovetail nicely, and Facebook and Twitter owe much of their success to their natural fit with the affinity-laden brands of the sports world. And when it comes to second-screen experiences, the NFL’s game progression, emphasis on statistics and overall pace makes it the ideal second-screen sport.

Volkswagon - Star Wars Commerical

The Volkswagon/Star Wars Commercial may have ben the most memorable spot of SuperBowl XLV.

But perhaps most important is this marriage: advertising goes hand-in-hand with the NFL’s showcase event, and this year it’s expected that more brands will look to activate viewers by driving them to their social channels than ever before. And they’ll look to do it in unique ways, whether it’s by driving football fans to their Facebook page or labeling their 60-second spots with a Twitter hash tag. Making an impression isn’t enough this year; brands are looking for social media’s biggest buzzword: “engagement.”

A quirky, memorable commercial is only half the battle this time around. Talking babies, Geico Cavemen, and “Wazzzup??” won’t be enough. Provocative Go Daddy commercials from a few years ago that directed fans back to the website to see the “uncensored” version of their commercial may have preyed on males’ base and unrefined instincts, but they were certainly ahead of their time with the idea of driving consumers to their website to convert business.

And for those brands who want to generate buzz, will they go the route of dialing up YouTube stars like Ted Williams and Antoine Dodson, or the Double Rainbow guy, to get your attention? I’d bet you may hear from all of them. And Volkswagon already took the YouTube spoiler approach, earning 10 million views on a Star Wars themed ad that could get more exposure on your friends’ Facebook wall than it will get on your flat screen on Sunday.

I don’t have any stats to back this up, but let’s assume that while the men at your Super Bowl party will be using commercials as an excuse to grab another beer, snack or take a bathroom break, the women in the room will be dialed into the commercials. Stereotypical? Perhaps, but advertisers will likely zero in on this concept, and given that statistically, women are spending more of their online time on Facebook than are men – and will likely be doing so while the Steelers and Packers are colliding on the field – it’s a huge opportunity for brands to drive customers to their social presence.

It will be interesting to see which brands look to push fans to their own website, and which go the facebook.com/brand route. And as a social media observer whose Patriots collapsed a few weeks back, for the first time, I may truly have more interest in the ads than the football this time around.

Sad but true.

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Social Media Insiders Summit Brings the Goods

It seems like everywhere you turn there’s a new digital marketing or social media conference popping up, and it’s hard to tell what you’re getting into when choose to participate in one until it actually starts and you’re in a large room with a bunch of strangers and vendors talking shop.

I just returned from the Media Post Social Media Insiders Summit (check hashtag #MPSMIS on Twitter for complete coverage) and was pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of content, the format for the event, and sharp and personable people I met over the course of the last three days in Key Biscayne, Florida.

The tropical setting didn’t hurt — especially considering the blizzard back home in Boston that I dodged — and I found this to be the most enjoyable conference I’ve ever attended. Resort quality amenities at the Ritz Carlton made things comfortable, but most importantly, the discussions, panels and roundtables were on topic, and well thought out.

I had the pleasure of leading a roundtable discussion entitled, “Seriously, Do Consumers Like Being Targeted?”, where we talked about everything from what Google knows about you to email segmenting and everything in between. At times it veered off topic, but I erred on the side of letting the conversation flow and keeping everyone involved, and I think everyone who participated walked away smarter for it.

Even the lunchtime sponsor presentations, which at most conferences are brutal sales pitches traded for a dry meal, were far more geared toward providing information, value and analysis than they were aimed at pimping out their services. And the food was top drawer to boot.

Representing a pretty unique and well-known brand myself, I had prepared to be accosted by vendors and sales guys at every turn. And sure, I exchanged a bunch of business cards, picked up plenty of Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections, but there was far more of a networking vibe than I might have expected. Maybe the onslaught is yet to come, but I feel like I made some very valuable connections with some of the smartest people working in the social media space today.

No conference is ever perfectly executed. The #MPSMIS hashtag wasn’t well publicized (although it did catch on by the end of Day 1), and there were no breaks between presentations and panels, which left you with no choice but to walk out mid-presentation for a bathroom break or just some fresh air. A few presenters need to work on their Power Point skills (littering slides with small text doesn’t work in big room) but that’s a minor complaint.

Over three days, topics like data privacy, Facebook advertising, social commerce, user generated content, Twitter analytics, location-based services/check-ins, “engagement” (by far the most overused bailout buzzword of the conference), Mommy Bloggers and niche social networks were all covered in-depth. I tweeted out over 50 notes, quotes, stats and observations and could have easily doubled that if I wasn’t worried about overwhelming people’s timelines.

All in all, it was a solid experience and perhaps the best conference I’ve been to date. I hope to return to next year’s Social Media Insiders Summit.