The Online Influence Conference 2015 attracted some of the world’s biggest brands, including Google, YouTube, Coral, Just Eat and Hootsuite to discuss how social media is impacting reputations online.

We sent head of digital Anthony Bullick to investigate and report back with key findings. Here’s what he had to say:

Overall

Big names, bigger brands and even bigger discussion points. Topics ranged from the future of digital, the importance of research and data, the value of relevant content and how to analyse your digital activity.

Now comes the hard part and picking just five takeaways from an amazing conference filled with innovation, expertise, insight and, well, common sense!

  1. Identify your audience and build a community

The first speaker was Steve Bartlett, as 22-year-old entrepreneur and CEO of Social Chain. As well as being an incredibly good storyteller, and kicking off the day by getting the 300-strong audience to laugh multiple times, he fully understands what it takes to win online.

And by win I mean build a community, identify influencers, be an influencer where possible, and share content that the community ACTUALLY wants.

What started as a student web page has quickly grown to a respected brand, which counts Haribo, Virgin, ASOS, and BetFred among its enviable client list.

And the reason for that is Steve and his team know who to communicate with, when where and how, and what content to share. Check out this Buzfeed article for more about Social Chain.

  1. Hootsuite and advocates

Dan Spicer, head of community, EMEA, at Hootsuite stayed on topic with communities and looked at how to find, build and utilise brand advocates.

Brand advocates are incredibly powerful for your business: they will have a positive opinion about you, be likely to recommend you and talk about you, and are also more likely to listen to you during an issue or crisis. Brand advocates can be employees, customers and influencers such as media outlets and bloggers.

Influence and reinforce people’s opinions about you and position your brand as an expert by sharing your knowledge through valuable content and telling your business’ story.

  1. Story telling

Which brings me nicely onto the third takeaway: tell a story. I may be slightly biased due to my journalism and PR roots, but bear with me and you will be nodding in agreement by the time you get to point four.

The speaker was Christine Cawthorne, a former BBC journalist (the bias will stop soon) who owns Crocstar, which is based close to my place of birth, Nottingham (the bias stops now, I promise!).

The big question: what does story telling have to do with growing a business?

Humans remember stories because they engage a part of the brain the way facts don’t.

Think about a story you read at school or university as part of your studies (for me the first one that comes to mind is Of Mice and Men). Chances are you can roughly remember the content and have an opinion about the characters or the storyline.

Now think about the last TV quiz show you watched. Did you get many right? It’s likely you were once told the answer to each of the questions at some point in your life such as in education, on a previous quiz show or by Jonny-know-it-all with the random facts every time you bump into him at the water cooler.

Want people to remember you and what you do? Constantly tell and update your own company’s story through press releases, social media and other marketing channels.

(Remember, I predicted you would nod. Was I right? Be honest!)

  1. Rise above the noise

Log on to your social media channels right now. Have a look at your news feed (but make sure you come back to this blog post!). There’s a lot of content, right?

More and more brands are heading online to have conversations, which is increasing the noise. Find a way to elevate above the norm. Be creative. Do something your competitors aren’t.

Hold a Google+ hangout to share your expertise and talk about topics. Turn a ‘how to’ blog post into a video. Test new ways of communicating. For example, Periscope is a live streaming app and the Wales Air Ambulance used it to great effect to share fascinating content with its community.

  1. The future – skills gap

It is estimated that there will be 1.4 million jobs for coders over the next 10 years, yet just 400,000 people will be suitably qualified. (That noise you now hear? It’s the sound of parents pushing their children to do coding, or professionals Googling “how to re-train to be a coder”).

It’s a big problem for digital agencies and departments, and it also spreads far beyond coding. Many SMEs are still handing business social media accounts to the (and I am generalising here) ‘young person in the office because they have Facebook’, or the ‘person in the office who we perceive has the time to look after it’.

Marketing the business through social media communication is a completely different skill set to updating a personal Facebook or Twitter account. Businesses’ in-house personnel should be appropriately managed, trained and educated to reap the benefits of social media marketing (find out more about digital training).