My Big Fat Web Summit Experience: Days 1 & 2

Nov 04, 2015

Last week I spent two mornings at what may be the last ever Dublin Web Summit. I was gifted a ticket by Pauline Sargent for my work on DigiWomen. I didn’t know I was going until last week so I didn’t have or need to have a specific objective to fulfil while there. Last year when we were there Pauline and I, with our DigiWomen hats on, had a very specific agenda around raising awareness about gender balance at tech conferences. As we were working the floor, getting as many responses as possible to our survey we suffered terribly from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This year we didn’t have a particular objective, although Pauline had some “responsibilities” as a Pub Crawl host, so we were able to just enjoy the spectacle.

And it is spectacular. The stage sets are eyecatching, the volume of beards and dark glasses is at times overwhelming, the variety of companies with brilliant, unusual, bonkers products and services is mind-boggling. While the Web Summit might not attract quite the same crowds as next week’s Knitting and Stitching Show at the same venue the numbers are impressive.

There is so much to see, so many presentations taking place concurrently, that anyone who attends will tell you that it is impossible to access even half the Summit. Therefore I focussed on my area of interest (dubbed marketing, society and content (or so I thought) and got along to as many as I could fit in in the two mornings available to me. Here follows some of my key takeaways and comments from Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

I kicked off each morning with a wander around the exhibition stands. The stand out service for me on Day 1 was which is a platform for collaboration and promotion of apps. I had a very brief chat with one of the team but I could see a lot of potential here for new and seasoned app developers looking for projects as well as artists of all kinds and project managers.

With my DigiWomen hat on I sauntered over to the Society stage to hear Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman and I managed to catch the end of the “fireside chat” between Kevin O’Malley, US Ambassador to Ireland and Dearbhail McDonald from Independent News and Media. He was speaking about the US Embassy’s Creative Minds programme and this was the first of a number of talks I would catch on Tuesday that put an emphasis on creativity.

Emily O’Reilly was impressive but unfortunately not hugely on topic for this blog. However she paraphrased her “colleague” Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission who said that “the path to European success is paved by smartphones and tablets.” Part of her remit is to ensure the transparency of European Institutions including a registry of lobbying organisations which is big business in EU bureaucracy. Technology is the second largest lobbying portfolio, after climate and energy. And yet there are still companies out there who don’t have any technology strategies… You really begin to wonder when you couple this with the earlier factoid from Jason Musante over on the marketing stage who spoke about “Making Technology Influence People”:

On the marketing stage I  also heard Thomas Crampton from Ogilvy talk about “Where’s social content going…” whose main message was:

This is significant for SME companies in particular and ties the aforementioned creativity with familiarity with your own customer. You must remain culturally relevant to your own community. Meanwhile on the content stage Jim Lanzone of CBS Interactive was speaking with Kate Linendoll about (amongst other topics) niche services they have created for superfans. I think SMEs should consider their customers as superfans and be culturally relevant to them in the culture of their relationship, of their niche community. Creative use of your unique understanding of your community will help you match and exceed their expectations in your communications. Lanzone also spoke about premium content on their network but don’t forget that premium content can be content that has no ostensible advertising. (And, cough, my experience at Day Two of the Web Summit made me realise that the organisers would do well to remind some of the speakers of this!)

I then caught a very interesting panel with Mike Krieger from Instagram (who may have suffered because of my exposure to Instagram the previous week at DigiWomen’s Be Better At… Facebook for Business event) and Anna Dickson, Photo Lead at Google who I think was among my favourite speakers at the Summit. The talk was entitled “The Power of the Pixel”. Readers of this blog knows I’m a die hard Instagram fan but I was entranced by Anna’s engaging and intelligent responses. She came to Google from, among other places, Huffington Post, where they realised early on that “stories [could be]built from visuals” This should be borne in mind no matter what your work. If you are responsible for creating content, it is key to think visually when planning your posts. Read my post on DigiWomen for a few great tips on how to capture a good photo to use across your networks.

One of the reasons Anna accounts for the rise of the era of the photo is because visuals are a universal language. Mike shared an interesting statistic that 75% of Instagram users are outside the US. Anna also commented, when talking about her top tip for online photography, that “the best camera is the one you have with you” so make the most of those pixel rich phone cameras to “tell the story” When asked what the next big thing will be in online photography Mike half-jokingly said the 360 VR OR Selfie (VR= Virtual Reality, OR= Oculus Rift). He chortled but I swear I saw this in action at Web Summit. Of course I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the company who are doing it… Anna said that search needs to be improved on images: all hail to that plan!

Then I had a total fangrrrl moment and hung around at the Content Stage to hear Liam Cunningham talk about “The Golden Age of TV” and his role in HBO’s Game of Thrones. I don’t quite know what any of this had to do with web beyond one question about illegal downloads that Liam kind of wobbled around and finally made the point that illegal downloading could kill the industry. Well the argument could be made that the networks sticking their head in the sand and not coming up with a solution or revenue model that makes everyone happy will kill the industry. But I digress…

I lashed into the Centre Stage briefly to catch Mike Schroepfer from Facebook talking about Connecting the World where he outlined some of Facebook plans to make the internet accessible even in the most inaccessible places using lasers. And like Anna Dickson’s prediction for the future of photography lying in better search there is emphasis in Facebook on developing machine reading of images.

I then rushed back to the Marketing Stage in the hope of catching Alex Bard, CEO of Campaign Monitor, talking about “Is Email Really Dead?” Sadly I’ll never know :) The audio system had been beset by gremlins and the stage was way behind. I ended up catching Neil Vogel discussing the resuscitation of I had actually been planning to avoid this talk, thinking it would just be a 15 minute long ad about However it was actually one of the more inspiring presentations. I could see why this man was able to turn around the whole company. He was dynamic and convincing. One of his slides underlined one of the principles they adhered to when undertaking the risky venture:

“Redefine risk: no failure, only data points.”

As mentioned I was unable to stay for Alex Bard’s interview but I did catch him pointing out that email is not dead because:

          • For every $1 spent on email marketing there is a return of $44.



          • Email marketing has been measured as being 40 times more effective than social for conversions.



          • No I don’t have a source beyond Alex Bard’s interview at Web Summit – sorry. Why would he make it up….?


While I managed to miss all of the talks Slack were involved in I heard via Alex Bard’s interviewer, Steve Dempsey, that Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO, had called email “the cockroach of the internet” on the main stage earlier that day. I’m a big fan of both email and slack for very different reasons. If you ever work on a project with me, chances are we’ll be using Slack! That was my first morning done so I hopped on my bike to my other job to return fresh the next morning.


Helen Mullarkey, NWCI, Pauline Sargent, DigiWomen and me

Helen Mullarkey, NWCI, Pauline Sargent, DigiWomen and me


Day 2

Day 2 of Web Summit was definitely less useful, especially in terms of helping my own clients and increasing my knowledge, expertise and understanding. It certainly gave me lots to think about but not much by way of online marketing food for thought. More later about food but not what you think!   My first stop was the Marketing Stage again where Tim Kendall, GM of Monetization at Pinterest was billed to be talking about “Monetizing Social” I was hoping against hope for case studies, even ones about enormous corporation using Pinterest like a boss but all we got was a What is Pinterest followed by Tim telling us how wonderful it is. To be unreasonably fair to Tim I got a strong sense that his interviewer Jonathan Weber of Reuters may never have used Pinterest. He certainly seemed to think that all the folk assembled at the MARKETING stage had no clue what it is.   This was the frustrating thing about the Marketing Stage for me. If I was curating that stage I would be constantly underlining to my speakers, panellists, interviewees and interviewers that their audience are folk who are interested in marketing in 2015; folk who are looking for the edge and in most cases (admittedly not mine!) are willing to shell out the cost of a Web Summit ticket at least to hear the best and brightest share their experience and expertise that gives them or their users the edge. Ditto to Nicola Mendelsohn, the most senior person in Facebook outside the US who told us that it was the Ice Bucket Challenge that really helped Facebook turn a corner in terms of video. Really? Wow. News to me. NOT. Anyway some takeaways from their interviews:

      • Pinterest is not a social network; it’s a life planner and a discovery tool.



    • Actions taken are discover, save, do which match marketers’ objectives to drive awareness, consideration and conversion.



    •  Therefore it is a great fit to allow marketers to fulfil those objectives. It is objective based advertising and therefore more measurable.



    •  Mendelsohn shared the fact that there are 4 billion video views a day on Facebook meaning it’s a viable platform for your video.


A panel with David Rusenko from Weebly and Mollie Spilman from Criteo advised us to embrace mobile because 50% of all traffic happens on mobile and 35% of all transactions. I’m sure I mentioned that at least 6 months ago. Following that I attended an inspiring talk entitled “The Ultimate Selfie: what we leave behind in a digital world” by Jacki Ford Morie which considered the prospect of creating avatars that could learn and that could develop empathy and go on to outlive us. This was followed by an energising (all female!!) panel discussion on the topic of “Is Humanity a digial construction? On an emotive techspace.” which expanded and explored some of Ford Morie’s ideas. I was particulary taken with Nell Watson and Andra Keay. However, most of the lightbulbs that were switched on there will illuminate my future science fiction novel. At the rate I’m working on it, my avatar will be finishing it long after I’ve passed.     Lastly, about food. No I’m not going to whinge about the Food Summit. I’ve never even seen the Food Summit because lunch is for losers or people who don’t have time like me. I always pack a few high energy bits and bobs and drink too much coffee at Web Summit. However this year Pauline and I had the good luck to bump into Shane Ryan of who shared little sample pots of his delicious superfood salads with us.

This was definitely the service of the day for me: you can order a superfood salad for €5.50 from his website and for every “feed” ordered they donate a meal to one of the world’s poorest children. Currently they only deliver to Dublin 1 (on their delivery bike, pictured!) but I really hope they will eventually slog up the canal to us!


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