When thousands of social media geeks and brands head to South by Southwest Interactive and we are face to face with one another, the question I wanted to know is: Are they who we think they are? Did their marketing stunts work? And did anyone look up from their mobile devices long enough to acknowledge what was going on? (I’m iffy on that one.)
With 20,000 attendees and more than 500,000 social media mentions, I’m prepared to believe that SXSW may be getting too big to make sense of it. So I’ll try to help you make sense of it with a list of apps, brands, and people at SXSW—and a “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” review.
Apps: Love the one you’re with
GroupMe (Thumbs Up) — OK, group messaging is so 2011. But, GroupMe was invaluable for the Deutsch team on the ground as a way to be in touch while everyone was scattered in a dozen different places. GroupMe, which was a 2011 SXSW darling, started a big push prior to SXSW this year. I saw numerous people using the app (PR people seem to have an affinity for it). It had a straightforward purpose that didn’t disappoint.
Highlight (Thumbs Down)—While location-based service Highlight was the talk of the town, people didn’t seem ready to jump on the bandwagon. One reason it wasn’t a break out, says TechCrunch, was relevance—or lack thereof. Message to marketers: be relevant or go home. Highlight’s only physical presence was a pushcart manned by a few people. I must have walked by it a hundred times and never once was approached. While focused on location, they should be social too.
Skype (Thumbs Up) — I love Skype. And I love that at SXSW, Skype had a “Town Crier”—dressed in colonial garb reading aloud tweets that were hashtagged #sxsw #skype. His ringing bell attracted people wherever he went, the tweets were funny, and the juxtaposition between very old media and new media was priceless. Here is a great blog that goes more in depth on Skype’s antics.
Brands: Take advantage of face-to-face
Nike (Thumbs Up)—Nike recently launched its Fuelband — a sleek, cool-looking rubber band (bracelet) that lets you track your performance. Sure the wristband is cool, but even cooler was how Nike+ created an experience demonstrating the purpose of the Fuelband. At a huge outdoor ‘park,’ wristband wearers were invited to skateboard, play soccer, or basketball, etc. Outside on a huge LED wall, Nike displayed band wearers’ information, along with other cool imagery. Just what I expect from the Nike brand.
BBH (Thumbs Down) — Working with Austin nonprofit Front Steps, BBH equipped a dozen or so homeless people with wireless 4G cards that turned them into human Wi-Fi hot spots. Essentially, Homeless Hotspots. Everyone had a point of view on if this was good or bad, but I put it in the Thumbs Down category, believing that while calling attention to the issue was important, it was disrespectful to the homeless recruits.
Chevy (Thumbs Up)—Did we mention the horrible weather the first two days of the conference? Chevy offered free rides through the rain in its Volt model. I didn’t catch a ride—I’m a loyalist to our VW client—but many people did. Chevy brought value to participants by helping them navigate Austin.
Ogilvy and Unified Social (Thumbs Up)—Both Ogilvy and Unified summarized a number of panels/talks by hiring illustrators. Value? You bet. Especially for Ogilvy, who had prime real estate at the front of the main conference room in full view of the audience. Though with two firms out there doing the same thing, it lost some of its originality.
Bugs (Thumbs Down) — Four people dressed in bug costumes. I have no idea what they were hawking, but I did get a picture of me with them. Why? Why not? Austin is weird.
Deutsch (Thumbs Up)— Our Deutsch-branded screen cleaner (designed by Robert Fraze) was a great icebreaker. The Deutsch team was charged with handing out screen cleaners and engaging with people. Sounds awkward, right? It was, but it also led to great introductions and conversations that let us learn about others, while also discussing Deutsch.
Nothing can replace face-to-face interactions (positive ones, beer brawls are a no-no) to help build a brand.
(L-R: Catherine Conners of Babble.com, @GuyKawasaki, and Ken Denmeade @WireGeekDad)
People: Real life meets perception
@edwardboches (Thumbs Up)—I’ve followed him on twitter for years and his wit in 140-characters or fewer has always kept me looking forward to his next tweet. Seeing him on a panel titled “How to Harvest Consumer Intent from the Social Web” confirmed his smarts and that he knows his stuff.
@gretchenrubin (Thumbs Up)—Author of The Happiness Project, a book I happen to be reading right now, Gretchen lived up to everything I have seen her tweet and blog about, and seemed to live by her “12 Personal Commandments.” You could feel her energy and her desire to share her learnings. She engaged and was engaging. And yeah, she made me happy.
Dennis Crowley (Thumbs Down)— A Q&A with MG Siegler of TechCrunch and Crowley titled “Making the Real World Easier to Use” was, sadly, disappointing. I didn’t walk away with any new morsels, just dusty old info.
Take-away? Know what your brand stands for, make sure all branding and social media efforts back it up, and nothing can replace good old-fashioned face-to-face interactions.