Top 10 Lessons Learned from SXSW Interactive
This year the Social Media Link team headed to Austin for the crazed week of sessions, panels, parties and BBQ that is South by Southwest Interactive. The ten-day festival gave our team the opportunity to learn about cutting edge products, services and ideas from some of today’s most exciting industry — and world — leaders.
Anyone who has ever attended “South By” knows that for every session you attend, you’re probably missing seven other great sessions happening at that exact time. Fortunately, we were able to catch some of the most sought-after discussions and panels. Here are our ten biggest takeaways from this year’s conference.
1. A shift from mass communications to a mass of communicators.
At our first stop at SXSW, OMMA Social’s session with Jeff Dachis of the Dachis Group says social media has caused the most significant shift in the power of communication and a “democratization of the tools of self expression.”Translation: that advertising and media companies no longer control the message to the masses, but rather it’s anyone with a social media voice. Because of this shift, brand marketing has transformed and brands must use authentic engagement to impact the purchase funnel.
Still, the most common challenge marketers face is the topic of scale. How do you scale engagement across an audience of millions? Dachis urges brands to mobilize their constituents. The best way to achieve engagement at scale is to use your employees, your partners and your advocates to share coordinated brand messages. They are more trusted than your advertising message!
2. When considering what to buy, consumers would rather trust a complete stranger online than your advertising copy.
Another great message from Dachis: trust is a key factor in decision-making, and brands need to understand how to leverage their own consumers to drive purchase intent. 78% of Internet users consider consumer recommendations to be the most credible form of advertising* and 67% of shoppers spend more online after recommendations from online community of friends*. Brands need to understand that their consumers are better marketers of their products than they are. Read more from Dachis’s presentation.
3. The 360-Degree Omni-Consumer.
This particular topic frequented many sessions throughout the entire conference, and the spotlight was well deserved. No longer can you be Customer A on one platform, and Customer B on another. Brands and platforms alike need to understand how to adapt to every channel in which their customer engages and know exactly who the customer is on every platform, in order to deliver the most tailored message.
As marketers, this is no easy feat. For companies with many departments addressing various customer needs, it takes multiple stakeholders working together with LOTS of data to provide a seamless experience for the consumer. As the social, mobile and geo movements push forward, a seamless experience will no longer be an option, but a requirement from consumers.
4. Brands need to stop looking for a “voice.” Create a personality where you can be a lot of different things.
At one of our favorite sessions, TMZ’s high-energy creator and executive producer Harvey Levin shared his thoughts about the convergence between television and Internet experiences. Referring to it as “intervision,” Levin urges companies to learn how to display a personality on whatever channel the consumer may be on. “You need to take a step back, figure out what is the story they want to craft, and then use the assets (TV, social, website, offline) to execute that story.”
Restricting your brand to a certain “voice” or a certain asset (like TV) limits your ability to grow and be different. Whether or not you’re an avid TMZer, you have to admit Levin’s business intelligence. He delivered sound advice that any company can follow about finding a niche and growing it. “Don’t try to conquer the world, be good at one thing and look for steady growth.”
5. Crowdsourcing is not new. How brands are using crowdsourcing with today’s different technologies is what matters.
A panel with PepsiCo’s Global Head of Digital, Shiv Singh; Frito Lay’s Senior Brand Marketing Director, Jen Saenz; and Facebook Creative Strategist, Kevin Knight discussed how brands need to depend on their fans as a serious business strategy. Singh says traditional advertising works, but it’s not as effective as it once was. The more screens you can get your message on, the greater the amplification your brand will achieve.
Lay’s Do Us a Flavor was the most discussed example on the panel and demonstrated the campaign’s massive influx of comments, votes and conversations – and sales! — that showed how the brand was able to become a part of the customer’s culture. This, according to the panel, should be every brand’s goal. From Kevin Knight, “On Facebook, the best brands are the ultimate conversationalists; the ones that get consumers talking, not just liking a post.”
6. Influencer vs Advocate. Is there a difference?
At OMMA Social’s panel “The Power of Social Advocacy: Moving Beyond Likes, Tweets and Pins,” panelists from companies like Victoria’s Secret, EDGE Collective, AARP, Hearst Digital, Spredfast and Resource discussed the difference between the two commonly used labels of “influencer” and “advocate.” In the end, it’s not so simple to distinguish a consumer as one or the other. As Lora Schaeffer, Executive Director Social Media and Marketing at Resource argued, “Everyone is an influencer. It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.” Whether it’s the biggest and most popular blogger, or the suburban mom whom everyone goes to about the best household products, brands need to understand what kind of consumers are going to push the needle most, and develop the most impactful strategy around them.
7. Google and Mobile: Consumers will demand more information, more accuracy and more automation from search engines.
SVP and “Google Fellow,” Amit Singhal spoke with Guy Kawasaki in SXSW’s Keynote session about the future of Google Search. Throughout the interview, Singhal often compared Google in the future as the Star Trek Computer – the perfect assistant, right by your side guiding you on the information you seek and the information you probably didn’t know you needed, but really do. Singhal says people expect search engines to work and questions from users are getting harder. Interestingly he noted that even during lunch and dinner hours when desktop search goes down, mobile search goes up. The lesson? Everyone is searching, all the time. His advice to improve your ranking? Simple. Build high-quality content that adds value for your audiences, and you shouldn’t have to worry about SEO.
8. Using passive geo-data to create personalized messaging for users and brands alike.
At one of our favorite keynotes, Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley spoke about the enormous amount of data Foursquare has been able to gather from its 30 million users. The site has gone way beyond badges, points and gamification, and can truly be used to help users understand their world, and for brands and merchants to understand their customers. Take a look at the awesome data visualization to which Crowley referred in his interview depicting New York City during Hurricane Sandy. As Crawly says it “people are crawling the world for Foursquare like Google spiders are crawling the web.”
As Foursquare utilizes the data, consumers can expect more personalized messaging based on the context of location (tourist, local, sporadic visitor). Conversely, merchants can gain more insight about their customers. Questions like “Who are my best customers? Who are lapsed customers? Who are the people most likely to be customers?” can be answered through the mounds of data Foursquare gathers every day.
9. Don’t look for the $1billion Instagram sale to Facebook as a guide on startup acquisitions.
One of the most insightful sessions we attended was Geoff Lewis of Founders Found presentation about the acquisition and selling of startups. Many don’t realize how many attendees and sessions focus around startups at SXSW. After all, it was where Twitter launched in 2007 and Foursquare launched in 2009. We often hear in the press about the monster acquisitions like Instagram’s $1 billion sale to Facebook, but Lewis urges companies not to focus on this “black swan” situation. What about the thousands of startups that are operating everyday? Lewis provided great insight into this challenging world and provided excellent advice to entrepreneurs, explaining that selling a startup requires some serious multi-tasking (in addition of running the day-to-day of a business) and a keen poker face. His other advice to entrepreneurs? “The best startups don’t sell,” and “companies don’t buy companies. People buy companies run by people they like.”
10. Ah the future: 3D Printing.
While it might not directly fall within the realm of social media and influencer marketing, we tried to sneak in a couple “that’s so cool!” sessions about products and services we could see growing drastically in the near future. As Dennis Crowley puts it, “SXSW is where you experience the future for a few days before you have to go home and live in the present.” Although 3D printing has been around as long as the Internet, it clearly has not seen the same widespread adoption…yet. As 3D printing grows, one can wonder what kind of implications it will have on products and retailers. Peter Weijmarshausen, Co-Founder and CEO of 3D printing marketplace Shapeways calls 3D printing the Industrial Revolution 3.0. The sessions sparked many questions like what will happen when on-demand products meet mass customization? Why go to a retailer when you can print a perfectly fitted outfit at home? What will happen to the manufacturing world when basic concepts like inventory and volume areno longer an issue?
Overall, the conference was a great success. While there wasn’t the “breakout star” like a Twitter or Foursquare this year, there were themes throughout the conference that stood bigger than any one startup. As for the Social Media Link team, we enjoyed listening to industry experts speak about how consumers will continue to share more about themselves, and will demand platforms to align with their interests and history and ultimately, provide relevant information without asking for it.
As marketers, this means two important things: we can’t ignore “big data” and trust is everything. In the future, data will be intertwined with our everyday as an invisible layer to our lives, and it is only trust that will help consumers guide the decisions they make. This is exciting for the Social Media Link team as we push forward with our Smiley influencer community – using data to deliver the best products to consumers, driving consumers to advocate for brands and delivering key information back to brands in order to tailor and scale their message.