MOCIAL Studies: ICSC’s Social Media Push

The popularity of a social-media space at its annual meeting led the International Council of Shopping Centers to develop a conference for mobile, social, and local marketing technology.

It started with a social-media pavilion at RECon, the annual meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), in 2011 — a boxy, open space on the show floor offering 20-minute crash courses for various platforms and apps, tweet-ups, and live blogging. “It was kind of like throwing a party,” said Sarah Malcolm, ICSC’s director of new media. “We didn’t know if anyone was going to show up.”

But they did — in droves. The pavilion was “one of the hottest things” at the 30,000-plus-attendee show, Malcolm said, which made ICSC realize “there’s a serious audience for this.” So the following year, the organization launched MOCIAL, a two-day conference focused on the technology of shopping-center marketing — mobile, social, and local. ICSC’s second annual MOCIAL conference was held this year, on Sept. 24-25, at the JW Marriott Washington, D.C.

“Social was really, really new a few years ago, and it’s still changing every day,” Malcolm said. “But now it’s broader. Now it’s not just about social. It’s how do you integrate your social, mobile, and digital strategy as a holistic view? That’s really how we came up with this.”

From the beginning, the idea was to look for the latest in digital engagement — inside and outside ICSC’s industry. “It was really talking about, what’s the new technology out there?” Malcolm said. “What are the agencies doing? What are the property owners and developers doing?”

At this year’s MOCIAL conference, that meant everything from a keynote from the managing partner of North Atlantic Properties about how the company used social media to spur community involvement in a failing mixed-use development in Midtown Atlanta; to a general session on “New Rules for Consumer Engagement in the SoLoMo Revolution,” featuring a vice president for national specialty retail with Coca-Cola North America; to a closing general session with Peter Shank-man, founder and CEO of The Geek Factory and author of the book Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over — and Collaboration Is In. There were 30-minute “power sessions” that honed in on topics such as “The Importance of Video in Retail Real Estate,” “The Changing Face of Face-book,” and “Email Strategy: The Tried and True Digital Tactic.” There was a Wi-Fi Lounge open throughout the conference, and free exhibit space for social-media and technology companies.

“We had a lot of feedback that [attendees] said that they loved having these non-traditional speakers,” Malcolm said, “as well as the speakers that they could relate to. They really loved the balance of the two.”

The staging was simple. The entire conference, which drew about 150 attendees, took place in one large room at the JW Marriott, presenters and exhibitors together, with a relaxed assortment of couches and chairs. Malcolm got the idea for the room set when she attended South by Southwest Interactive a few years ago. “It didn’t feel like you had to go to a separate location” to see different parts of the program, Malcom said. “Everyone was together all at once — one big, happy family.”

Does MOCIAL mean that ICSC won’t be offering social-media programming at RECon and its other meetings and conferences? Not at all. In fact, MOCIAL likely will influence and inform content presented at other ICSC events. “This is basically a microcosm for what we do at ICSC,” said Jesse Tron, the organization’s manager of communications and media relations. “The idea behind it is that we have to try and identify new areas that our members need to have more information about. And we have to be the industry leader in those areas.

“That’s why we leverage people like Sarah [Malcolm], whose job is not necessarily to plan meetings, but to come up with some of this content in an area where she has expertise…. That’s really the big takeaway here — trying to grow these meetings organically within the organization and trying to find out what our members need and how we can best make that happen for them.”

Watch a Magisto video that ICSC’s Sarah Malcolm assembled during MOCIAL:

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.