As a commentator for businessinsider.com recently reported, “SXSW Is Officially A Must-Attend Event Now.” This year, we at the Council had the pleasure of discovering that first hand as we sponsored a jam-packed panel discussion on the first day, entitled: “Marketing Budgets Have gone Social - Is It Working.” With public relations increasingly at the forefront of social media marketing, we came to experience all that makes the event so popular: The new products, the face time, the parties. Most of all, we came to immerse ourselves in the cutting edge of trends in technology and media strategy.
Now that we’re back, we’re surprised not only at how much we learned, but at how much SXSW speakers and the conference as a whole challenged established notions. For this week’s blog posting, we’ve posted our Top Seven List of Amazing SXSW Discoveries, with contributions from public relations professionals also in attendance.
1) Don’t Fail: Conventional wisdom holds that in social media we should fail first or fail fast. Yet as we learned at one panel we attended, a better strategy seems to be, “Don’t fail at all!” Just a few weeks ago, Chrysler’s social media agency was fired after an agency employee let drop an F-bomb. Likewise, the longtime head of marketing for the Motrin brand was sacked after an offensive 2008 online ad about wearing babies in a sling or wrap. In business, failing is never advisable, and social media is no exception.
2) Don’t Always Listen to Consumers: Consumers may be in control, but as we learned at another panel, that doesn’t mean they’re right. CBS put its show Jericho back on the air because consumers demanded it. Result: Ratings even worse than they were initially. Austin Waste Management was looking for a new name to properly show the breadth of their services, yet the number one name voted on by consumers was “The Fred Durst Society of Humanities and the Arts.” Not terribly useful. The message: Stick with your judgment.
3) It’s not all about the technology: We’re used to thinking about SXSW in terms of new products and technologies. But as Paula Berg, Digital Media Leader at Linhart Public Relations noted, “the focus of this year’s event seemed less about a new tool, product or trend and more about the way social media is fundamentally changing the way we do business and how we can use these tools to solve practical problems and make the world a better place. Tim O’Reilly spoke about his Code for America project, which is enlisting some of the brightest minds to leverage the power of the internet to make government more efficient. Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes, discussed the business benefits and expansion of his One for One movement. Seth Priebatsch, founder of SCVNGR, talked about revolutionizing the way we structure education by incorporating gaming theories to motivate students to succeed. It was refreshing to look beyond the questions of immediate ROI and focus on the greater implications of these maturing technologies.”
4) Social Media Isn’t Everything: As tech savvy business people, we’re all immersed in the hot social media trends – Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Klout and GroupMe. But “that does not mean that all consumers are involved with these platforms,” observes Caitlin Melnick, Acount Supervisor at 360 Public Relations. “And not all brands should be either.” During a session on mascots in the digital age, Melnick also learned that “if a brand or mascot is on different social media platforms, it is imperative to know the persona of your brand and carry it out through Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc. Just because a brand is on a new social media platform does not mean it needs to suddenly have a “hip” tone.”
5) Online Can Enhance Offline: Rob Longert, Senior Digital Strategist at M Booth & Associates, was surprised to find how important good, old fashioned facetime remained at an event as tech-ed up as SXSW. “Even in a microcosm that is as digitally connected as Austin during SXSW, face time was at an all-time high. I noticed myself and many others using services like Foursquare, Twitter and Plancast to identify where our networks were so we could find them and spend time interacting with them, face to face. Social technology allowed us to find and have worthwhile in-person conversations that were both valuable and relevant.”
6) Social Media and Public Relations Are Getting Ever Closer: As Rob also noted, the line between these two fields was growing muddy indeed. “I went to SXSW as M Booth’s Senior Digital Media Strategists to help M Booth and our clients amplify social media presences on the ground, but my event and traditional PR background came in very handy when interfacing with journalists and acting on the fly. I’m surprised by how seamlessly connected PR and social media are.”
7) Social Media Is Not Social: As we discovered at another panel we attended, social media is really an outlet for broadcasting information rather than a means of engaging consumers and other stakeholders. People online often wait for content to react to; in fact, as Bob Pearson, Chief Technology & Media Officer at WCG points out in his book Pre-Commerce, 90% of people using social media are lurkers.
This is but a smattering of the intriguing ideas currently buzzing around the Council’s New York office. When it comes to such a competitive and evolving business like social media, we’re always going to go back to school to re-think our game. We still don’t know the best ways of doing social; there are no fixed, stable “best practices.” And that, more than anything, is why SXSW remains such a can’t-miss event.
Did you attend SXSW? What did you learn? We’d love to hear from you.