What I Learned from Gary Vaynerchuk at the Westchester Digital Summit

Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk

Despite people being tired from a long days event, they sure got re-energized when Gary Vaynerchuk got on stage to close off a wonderful event filled with brilliant speakers from a diverse bunch of companies. Gary’s presence lit up the stage and his enthusiasm and spunk made everyone laugh. You could tell if you looked around that the audience got another whiff of energy and paid close attention to his insights.

Gary’s presentation included informative and insightful knowledge and advice. He was very engaging and took a poll of the audience. More than half of the crowd voted that they get annoyed when others call them and have to speak to them on the phone. Gary’s point was proven correct – people expect everyone to be on their own time. They don’t like it when others call us and interrupt our time.

Gary’s energy continued to keep everyone fully engaged in his presentation. Furthermore, he spoke about how in today’s day and age, you need to be involved in the media. Companies have to change the way they are marketing and adjust their needs and market in the age we are living in. If they can’t find that market, then they need to react to it and change to keep up with the times, especially in this constantly ever-changing world of technology.

To close off the presentation, Gary emphasized that we are all battling for attention when we sell something. We are constantly trying to sell and promote our product or brands, whether it is through a hidden message or in a more obvious way. However, technology is battling this struggle with us. With the technology and the world we are living in, Amazon will eventually take over big box stores. Gary hypothesized and believes that in the far future brands will go directly to consumers.  Smart technology will eventually take over Amazon.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s lively presentation was a perfect way to end the second Westchester Digital Summit. There were many insightful speakers and conversations that made everyone take away something from the conference.

By Talia Zapinsky

Intern, Silverback Social

Talia Zapinsky

Talia Zapinsky




Silverback Social’s Favorite Moments from the Westchester Digital Summit

Westchester Digital Summit

What an incredible few weeks it’s been here at Silverback Social. You see, we produce an event called the Westchester Digital Summit. This year we were named by Forbes as one of the “Must-Attend Marketing Conferences For Leaders in 2014.” Each year we curate the brightest minds in tech, media, and entertainment. This year’s event, held on May 15th lived up to that moniker.

There were many highlights throughout the course of the day – here they are as told by the Silverback Social team:

Idia Ogala:

Undoubtedly – the Vaynerchuk keynote. As a marketing student, hearing that marketing principles that I was currently being exposed to instantly becoming obsolete was inspiring on so many levels; after the initial disappointment from a financial standpoint, of course lol. It was an eye opener that really challenged my understanding of marketing. It compelled me to try and use education and personal creativity to attempt to solve some of our industry’s problem through innovation. Challenge accepted.

John Zanzarella:

Mine came from our youngest participant, Josh Orton. Josh made waves at WDS1 when he was 12 (estimating) and heard a hyped up Gary V drop a digital smackdown on Westchester. This year Josh was prepared for Gary and when Q&A began Josh’ hand shot up. “What is ROI?” – at first I thought there was more to the question but then I realized that there didn’t need to be. There was something so innocent and brilliant about Josh’s question in a day and age where most businesses are more worried about ROI numbers than providing value with their marketing dollars.

Gary Vaynerchuk answering Josh’s question about ROI.

What happened next was a thing of beauty. Gary took a simple question, which most of the room knew the answer to, and answered it in a way that added value to everyone. Simple is difficult. Gary takes a complicated world of digital and social marketing and he makes it simple. That to me is his greatest strength and what helps make his keynotes so compelling.

Brian Funicelli:

Getting the chance to chat with some of the speakers after the event. I wasn’t expecting to have such casual, relaxed, down-to-earth conversations with executives from big-name companies like IBM, Mashable, and Fox Sports. I was able to talk to Adam Ostrow from Mashable about a mutual friend we have, and I was surprised at how much he and I had in common. Not only are this year’s summit participants incredibly smart, but they’re also super friendly. I’m looking forward to connecting with many of them again in the future!

Brian Levine:

Seeing all the speakers interacting and exchanging information behind the scenes. It’s great to have a lot of smart people in the same room, but when they start sharing and riffing off each other, that’s when the real magic happens. Helping facilitate the Q&A sessions with Chris and some of the speakers after their segments was fun and informative. During one of the Q&A’s, Adam Ostrow from Mashable recounted his inspiring story about how he became employee #2, which started by simply emailing the Founder when it was a one-man operation. Stories like these can inspire entrepreneurs at any
level. It was a great way for me to gain a deeper context to what they were talking about on the stage. WDS2 was a great day of learning and connecting with smart folks, which, at the end of the day, is what
social media is all about.

Tesla Motors at the Westchester Digital Summit

Josh Fenster:

Having the Telsa model s car at the event. At an event that last 9 hours it’s always a good idea to take a break. What a better way to spend your down time than to test drive one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world. As much as the summit was about information sharing and learning it was also about the experience. I didn’t get to test drive the Tesla because I was running around all day but I did take a peak inside. I was amazed how simple the design of the car looked yet how complex the technology that powered the car was. Between the Tesla, the chocolate delight buffet and the cocktail hour, the summit experience was one I’ll cherish forever!

Daniela Raciti:

My favorite moment, as everyone knows, was when I met Chris Hansen. Having watched him for years on TV, I was star struck when I found myself standing a few feet away from him. When he finished a conversation, I approached him with a huge smile on my face and said, with arm out, “Mr. Hansen, it’s so nice to meet you. I’m a huge fan, I just love you” to which he responded, (something to the effect of) “Too bad I’m not 30 years younger!” After speaking with him (and taking a picture, and wishing he was 30 years younger), I thought how cool it was that he was attending WDS2 to discuss how social media has changed the landscape of modern journalism. I hope that one day (soon) our paths cross again!

Westchester Digital Summit

Chris Dessi 

A highlight for me was the moment when Gregg Weiss VP Social Media at Mastercard was explaining to the audience how Mastercard keeps “Priceless” fresh – by offering their fans “priceless surprises.” The way he pulled this off in a room of 300 digital marketing executives was a thing of beauty. Let me explain:

Gregg Weiss of Mastercard turned to the crowd and posed the question:

What are you passionate about?

To which an audience member blurted out;

“the Mets”

Gregg replied

“Do you have a Mastercard?”

Audience member:


Gregg turned to the other side of the room:

“What are you passionate about?”

Another audience member shouted

“The Yankees”

Gregg replied

“Do YOU have a Mastercard?”

Audience member:


Great said Gregg (now standing up and reaching into his pocket:

“you just won a $50 Mastercard gift card.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

Greg sat back down in his chair and explained why that exchange was important and a great real life representation of how Mastercard engages with their community via social media. He started by saying that Mastercard is interested in their community – so they ask questions and engage with them. He also created something he referred to as “card envy.” The first audience member didn’t have a Mastercard, and missed out on the “priceless surprise” of a $50 gift card. Envy ensues. Brilliant. I’m certain that some in the audience were upset that they hadn’t chimed in as well. He trained them to always be on the lookout for “priceless surprises” guaranteeing future engagement.

The final maraschino cherry on top was that after Gregg sat back down at his seat and began explaining what he’d just done an audience member shouted:

“Can I get an application for a Mastercard?”

If that’s not ROI, I’m not sure what is.

Photo Credits: Pinksy Studios

Were you at the Westchester Digital Summit?

What was your favorite moment?  Share in the comments below.

Social Media Nirvana Equals Gary Vaynerchuk, Vayner Media, Silverback Social & Panera Cinnamon Buns

Silverback enjoying Gary’s Buns

If you know anything about Silverback Social, you know that we’re all  huge fans of Gary Vaynerchuk. Our love affair with Gary started when I first saw Gary speak in 2008 at the Web 2.0 conference.  I took that love, and parlayed it into an epic introduction of the entrepreneurial minds when I introduced Gary to Mike Lazerow (my boss at the time) at Buddy Media.  I even dedicated a chapter of my book Your World is Exploding to Gary.

My team here at Silverback all have a similar love for Gary Vaynerchuk  because he keynoted our event we produce: Westchester Digital Summit.  He’s also returning to keynote the second Westchester Digital Summit next year.


Gary Keynotes the Westchester Digital Summit.

So we pay attention to what Gary is doing, and we enjoy supporting everything that he does.  In short, Gary is the man. He has a way about him that transcends social media.  But maybe that’s the point. He’s so good at social media because he’s such a good dude and he’s an amazing businessman.  Gary preaches basic human tenants in social media. He encourages brands to grasp onto the human side of their brand, and to push themselves to connect with their customers at this human level.  He preaches this, but he also practices it.

Let me explain:

This morning Gary Tweeted the following:

“If u live in NYC – what are u craving right now in this rainy weather”To which one of our star employees Josh Fenster while manning our Twitter account at Silverback Social spotted and Tweeted back:

“Cinnamon buns”


We forgot about this brief tweet exchange, until about 4 hours later we received a box of warm, sweet, and delicious Panera Cinnamon buns!

We’re also in the suburbs of New York City (about 35 minutes north of the city). So this means that Gary and his team at Vayner Media had to find a place near our offices, see if they had yummy cinnamon buns and then order them for us.


The power of social media to spread joy.  What a novel idea …and we love him for it …and we’ll love him forever for it.  We are Gary brand advocates.  All because he sent us Cinnamon buns.

So when you’re thinking of cool social media ideas for your brand.  Start here – “what can I do for my clients”….”how can I help”….”how can I say thank you”

Gary recently posted a video about how he got out of a taxi early so he could pay it forward to someone standing on the side of the street. The result was magic.

Thank you Gary Vaynerchuk for practicing what you preach. We can’t wait to see you live  at the Westchester Digital Summit May 15th at the Ritz Carlton here in White Plains, NewYork.  Until then, we’ll leave you with some parting social media love:




Three Things Every Millennial Must Know Before They Work at a Start-Up

When I graduated from the University of Arizona in May 2011, I never would have thought I would be working for a startup company. I had this idea in my head that startups were centered around an idea that had a cool chic logo, and eventually got bought out for millions of dollars. 

I guess I didn’t realize that startups depend on sweat equity.  Without hard work the whole business fails.  Now you may be rolling your eyes saying,

“tell me something I don’t know”

But what people don’t realize is that going the extra mile is a requirement in the startup environment.  You can’t show up at 9am and leave at 5pm on the dot everyday. I realized pretty quickly that if I didn’t put all of my effort into a project I was not only hurting myself, but the whole company as well. If I don’t do the best possible job, I’m only creating more work for my

co-workers when they can be doing 100 other things that can help the business flourish and grow.

Here are three things that every millenial should know before you accept a role at a start-up.

1. All hands on deck!  

At Silverback Social we have 5 employees.  If one person does not come to work, his or her absence is felt tenfold because each employee is an integral part of every project. To do the best work possible participation, feedback and constructive criticism are essential. I can’t even begin to tell you how many things we’ve discovered through an open dialogue.

2. Be patient.   

You have to see the big picture when working at a startup. The startup ride will be bumpy, tedious and arduous.  There are so many things to work on when starting a company from scratch, whether it be writing the company handbook that outlines rules and procedures for employees or creating a document on how to successfully on-board a client. At Silverback Social it took us some time to understand who was good at what, but we all eventually found our roles, which allows us to do client work as well as produce the Westchester Digital Summit.

3. Company culture is important.

I believe that a positive company culture at any business spurs creativitys and passion. The culture at Silverback Social is fun, energetic and extremely focused.  Any and all ideas are listened to and discussed.  This is what makes my experience so unique.  All of my ideas are heard and the good ones are executed on behalf of our clients.  We are challenged to create blog posts, hop on a podcast and think outside the box.  When I wasn’t satisfied with doing community management I was open about it and created a new role for myself, Social Engagement manager.  The company culture and environment made me feel comfortable enough to be that open without being confrontational.


 What’s your experience been? Are you a millennial at a start-up too? Are you loving it or hating it?  Comment below, and let us know! 




Richard Hargrave, Internet Marketing Consultant & Sales Executive at HIBU, spoke at this year’s Westchester Digital Summit

Richard Hargrave, Internet Marketing Consultant & Sales Executive at HIBU, spoke at this year’s Westchester Digital Summit with high hopes to make connections with global business owners in the Westchester County area.

“We were looking to make new connections, build new connections with local business owners who are also looking to network and educate through our workshop/breakout session with local business owners,” he said, “That was the initial goal, and we thought it was a good branding opportunity as well.”

Does he feel that these expectations were met?


Hargrave believes that his preparation for the Summit completely paid off, as the succession of his presentation and interaction with the audience were better than he envisioned.

Hargrave’s company promoted the event through about 25,000 direct mail postcards that wee sent out to the local market – targeting local business owners.

They also had Elmsford, New York circulate the invitations for the event, thus promoting the event with HIBU’s customer base in the Westchester market.

“We were definitely just trying to get the word out,” he said.

For Hargrave, two moments during the Westchester Digital Summit stood out to him. -The first being the enthusiasm and level of participation from his Breakout Session.

“The room was packed, there was standing room only so I was thrilled with that,” he said.

Aside from his own personal accomplishment, Hargrave was overjoyed to speak with business expert and fellow Summit speaker, Brandon Steiner.

“I got to spend a lot of fun time with him,” said Hargrave,  “He signed a copy of his book for me and we got a picture, so that was pretty cool!”

As for next year’s Summit, Hargrave envisions a more targeted approach, with slightly less emphasis on social media and a broader position of online media and Internet marketing.

“Social is obviously a major component, but there’s a lot of commercially related services, solutions, and opportunities that should be included as well,” he said.

Along with this idea, Hargrave also hopes future Summits include the highest possible level of involvement with the local business community.

‘I’d like to see a higher level of participation of local business owners and marketing directors and people who control the budgets,” said Hargrave, “You know, let’s bring them in and educate them.”

Hargrave’s company HIBU is a rapidly evolving business, moving from traditional media to digital media at a very high rate. It is a one and a half billion dollar company, with 1.3 million customers, consisting of mostly small medium sized business owners. Going from digital revenue representing 5% of their entire profit to almost 50% in almost five years, Hargrave believes that in another five years, the digital will be an excessive 90% of their overall revenue globally.

The Inaugural Westchester Digital Summit Through the Eyes of Silverback Social’s Online Reputation Manager Alex Yae

The Westchester Digital Summit  was truly an enlightening and unrivaled opportunity. Coming from a self-taught digital marketing background, I knew there was a lot to learn from the speakers.  Although I spent a lot of time running around making sure all the breakout sessions were running smoothly, I was able to catch interesting bits and pieces from some of the speakers.

Specifically, Dan Merritts  taught me how important context was in advertisements. Chances are, no one is going to click on an advertisement for a violent video game when they are browsing a website related to baby products. In fact, this might anger the viewers and can lead to some serious backlash.

The other speaker that I felt was most compelling was the keynote speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk.  Aside from being extremely engaging, Gary taught me how to look at social media from a business mindset versus a consumer mindset. Businesses who use social media should be focused on providing great content and value to their consumers, who are looking to absorb content and seek value.

The Inaugural Westchester Digital Summit Through the Eyes of Silverback Social’s Social Community Manager Brian Funicelli

The inaugural Westchester Digital Summit  was a huge project. A national event, the summit hosted over 700 attendees, more than 30 booth displays, and a couple dozen speakers, panelists, and presenters. It’s incredible to think that it all started with a handful of people brainstorming in a small, brightly colored room.

While I knew the summit was going to be a unique event, I had no idea what to expect. What I experienced was both comforting and inspiring. As I helped registrants sign in, directed participants to their booths, and escorted panelists and presenters to their prep area, I felt a deep connection with everyone involved in the summit. The presenters were excited to share their ideas and get feedback from the audience. Attendees were enthusiastic about learning more and joining in on the conversations taking place throughout the day. Everyone came together to help each other educate themselves and engage in all the new information being made available. The enthusiasm was contagious, and everybody seemed to feed off of everybody else’s positive energy.

And as I realized this, Gary Vaynerchuk  took the stage, harnessed that energy, and instilled it right back into every single person in the room. The positivity was overwhelming. With the knowledge that an event with such positive influence could have come from only a handful of people brainstorming in a room, I’m confident that the next Westchester Digital Summit will be an even greater success.