March 16th, 2010

SXSW: Day Three Recap

This post also appeared on Talk Business.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is known for the parties every night. It has been called “Spring Break for Geeks” on more than one occasion. On Sunday morning, the third day of SXSW, it was very quiet. The people that were vertical weren’t saying much. And the empty rooms indicated that there were many who were still sleeping off last night’s activity.

Of the almost 120 sessions offered today, I was able to attend the following four:

  • “Exploiting Chaos: How to Spark Innovation During Times of Change”
  • “Monkeys with Internet Access: Sharing Human Nature and Digital Data”
  • “Not Just for Obama: New Media Gets Local”
  • “Improving Social Media with Live Streaming Video”

“Exploiting Chaos: How to Spark Innovation During Times of Change” was a presentation given by Jeremy Gutsche, Chief Trend Hunter at Gutsche was a high-energy presenter, which was a good thing at 9:30 AM on a Sunday morning. He opened by talking about “popular” versus “cool.” Popular is not cool. Cool is unique, cutting edge and viral. We are on the lookout for cool because cool is what inspires a culture of revolution. Gutsche talked a lot about brand messaging: being concise, consistent and relevant to your target by speaking their language.

“Monkeys with Internet Access: Sharing, Human Nature and Digital Data” was a session led by Clay Shirky, a frequent and well-known speaker on emerging and social technologies. Shirky’s presentation focused on humans’ innate resistance to sharing when doing so takes something away from us, whether it is goods, services or time. But when sharing allows us to do so at no cost to ourselves there is no reason not to do it, so we do. This is the sharing of information.

To demonstrate this point, Shirky used music. When we listened to music on CD, we did not give our CDs to our friends, because then we would not have the CD anymore (sharing of goods). If we really wanted our friends to have our music, we would spend significant time and effort to make a mix tape (sharing of services). When Napster made it possible to share music as information, we had no reason not to share as it as easy and we didn’t have to give anything up.

The ability to share of information has become super abundant and abundances change the way the world operates: when things are abundant, they no longer have to managed carefully due to limited supply. Information is now being shared freely, so there is no reason to limit access to it. Wikipedia did not show up as a competitor to Encyclopedia Britannica; rather, it changed what it meant to be an encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica still exists as a resource, but one that no one uses as the information is out-of-date and requires registration for access. The Patients Like Me organization and website has the potential to change the American healthcare culture by turning the premise of privacy on its head with the sharing intimate health details in an effort to help find cures. Shirky called these actions positive deviance: deviating from social norms in positive ways. The sharing of information has continued to manifest on the social web and has changed definitions.

“Not Just for Obama: New Media Gets Local” was a conversation led by two young online political strategists with campaign experience. The attendees in the room skewed younger than many of the other groups and many had political campaign experience. While we had much discussion about the specific tools that can be used, the moderators talked about the importance of having a strategy in place before beginning use of the tools. As with any communications plan, strategy will be driven by the audience, or in this case, the voter base. There was a lot of discussion about email targeting, SMS communications, Twitter versus Facebook, and what to do with new tools like FourSquare and Gowalla. There was much discussion about the dangers of the candidates tweeting for themselves (no filter and no barriers) and interns managing the channels (there was a story told about an intern playing Farmville while logged into the candidate’s Facebook account). The session provided more questions than answers, but at least brought the issues to the surface. Do you create issue-oriented feeds or manage all messages through candidate-branded accounts? Do you use different tools for different messages, or do you pull everything through one RSS tool like HootSuite to blast the exact same thing to every channel? Many attendees provided examples and stories of social media use in political campaigns from their hometowns.

“Improving Social Media with Live Streaming Video” was led by Brad Hunstable, president and co-founder of Ustream, a live video-streaming site that gets over 75 million unique visitors each month. Hunstable had some fascinating case studies demonstrating that live events online can provide a significant return on investment. For example, when Nick Jonas tweeted that he was going to give an impromptu concert and livestream it on Facebook, he increased his Facebook fans by 30,000 in one day, an increase of 4.5%. Hunstable suggested using live streaming video as an impetus for driving traffic to other sources and platforms that may be lacking needed traffic.

Hunstable talked about the introduction of the iPhone 3GS with video recording capabilities being a turning point for streaming video. He stated that by 2013, 97% of Americans will own a mobile phone and 47% of them will have Internet on their phones. With that kind of penetration, video can be delivered anywhere, anytime. Online video viewership will only continue to increase.

Day three of five is now complete. I have been impressed with the number of smart people attending this convention who are willing to share their knowledge and help others learn. The convention center is getting easier to navigate. I have found the food and water supplies. I am looking forward to the final two days.

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