Graduating from a small liberal arts college not too long ago, I understand the importance and benefit of being part of a community. Living in NYC, I have been able to establish some semblance of community for myself, but it was certainly not waiting for me when I moved after graduation.
One of the many reasons SXSWi has been such a positive experience for me is the community aspect. SXSWi brings together people who all share a passion for their respective and overlapping areas of interest and are excited to be exchanging ideas with others. It helps that many of those people are forerunners in their industry or brilliant entrepreneurs.
Despite the many celebrities from both the tech and Hollywood worlds, the festival is not overly hierarchical. I found it an inclusive event, no frats or secret societies at play -- the greatest barrier to entry being asked to download a new app by a branded ambassador.
The community element percolated throughout the five-day event. My editorial partner in crime/MRM colleague, Erin Hughes, and I were amazed at how agencies down here came together. We spent a significant amount of time with one of our competitors, with only a little pithy banter and talk of client work.
In addition to ad industry people giving us the time of day, as a junior person in the industry, I was surprised that higher ups in companies were willing to engage in conversation with a young buck. As a result, I was inspired and able to learn from those wise souls further along in their careers.
The term community is constantly thrown around with reference to social media and the digital world. Yes, online communities exist, but can your experiences and interactions through these communities have real meaning? An Atlantic article from 2012, summed it up perfectly.
It noted that the Internet is less successful in creating new relationships between people and more effective at sustaining existing relationships. SXSW interactive is ideal because it enables a community of like-focused people to establish relationships face-to-face, the online aspect just aids in enhancing that connection leading up to and after the event.
Having that online brand is important to maintain connections, however, a point that came up in conversation frequently with industry folk was how crucial that online brand was to your professional success.
The consensus: there is no harm in having astrong online presence but without the ability to back it up in person -- your high Klout score is for naught
Perhaps it was my tendency to gravitate toward certain panels, but the topics and technology presented had a community-minded theme to them as well. Keynote Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka Swiss Miss, demonstrated the innovation that stems from collaboration. She listed start-ups in the double digits that had all arose from creative people striking up conversations in her co-working space, Studiomates (click link for complete list), located in Brooklyn.
I caught Adobe’s “Marketing is B.S” panel, Christian Waitzinger, one of the panelists, highlighted his experience with an Oreo-sponsored pedicab. “I got to know this dude who was a drummer in a heavy metal band. I had a human connection with someone that was in some ways enabled by a brand.”
While there were panels about reaching your customers – what I found most helpful were thought leaders discussing how brands must relate and listen to their customers, rather than how to best sell them products.
Bob Garfield, whom we interviewed, said it best when describing how brands should interact with their customer, as well as how individuals should conduct themselves in life and work: “Don’t be a dick.” And thankfully I didn’t meet too many dicks this week.
After the panels, Erin and I wrote up summaries for our SOUTHxMRM blog, and shared them with the panelists via Twitter. The summaries were received with gratitude by the panelists and shared out to their various online communities. This type of information exchange is where the shift in social media is moving; resulting in a world where people can trust brands for information.
This was my second work-related conference, but what makes SXSWi different from other “marketing”-focused conferences is the spirit of innovation. It is not just about making money. The underlying and ultimate goal for most companies sponsoring SXSWi or people attending on behalf of their businesses at SXSWi is to increase revenue. But the environment is such that connections take precedence.
The trend of brands trying to be act more like people will work in our favor -- if those brands are powered by the people I met at SXSWi.