I’ll begin by disclosing that I had no idea how much time I wouldn’t have at SXSWi for things like, oh I don’t know, blogging. Or sleep.
This is why you’re getting one lump summary of my ensuing experience, which might more appropriately serve as a sigh of relief that, yes, it was indeed a truly valuable experience.
When you’re tackling a conference that offers 15-20 sessions per 1.5-hour time slot, you have to commit to a strategy or random wandering. It’s just the way it is. I found that both strategies, employed as appropriate to my energy level, served me well.
SATURDAY: I tried to hit all the marketing sessions, since I’m so very marketer-y and branding-y these days.
My favorite: Client Knows Best? How to sell Unsolicited Ideas
- This simulated every party that would be present at the table in a marketing effort: creative, digital, marketing, and client. The “client” was Verizon’s marketing VP, John Wimsatt, who did a fantastic job of representing a client juggling multiple ideas and the brand’s goals
- Essentially the takeaway here was passion. I heard over and over that whoever had the idea should not only pitch it, but should they win the work, run with it as well.
- The other thing I heard was that the pitch should always, always serve the brand needs, scope and goals. It should never be self-serving.
Honorable mention: Dear Miss Manners: the Social Web, WTF?
- This was a random choice after the session I’d hoped to attend was hopelessly full. But I’m glad I went because I’ve been very social-web-existential lately, and being very careful as I curate my social identity.
- Anyway — the standout point for me was the question of whether or not there was a social contract for the social web, specifically pertaining to this anonymity that propels nasty comment threads. There is no etiquette or written rule-book on how to behave online.
- What resonated with me was, how do I, as a “community manager” of sorts for my clients, explain or revise this social contract to the brand stakeholders?
Takeaway: Don’t go to the marketing sessions. They tend to be run by marketers who are marketing themselves.
SUNDAY: Got up a little late.
My favorite: Daily Deals: Where Ads Become Content
- This panel was hugely interesting as a subscriber to deal sites (Groupon, LivingSocial, etc.).
- It was interesting to realize that this is a potentially very lucrative monetization tool for content creators, both new media (DailyCandy, who had a rep on the panel) and traditional (New York Times just launched theirs).
- The “why” question came up when the panel brought up the NYT’s TimesLimited service. The answer is that publishers continue to influence spending, why not get a cut of it to save publishing?
- *Of course, curating deals for your audience is key.
Honorable mention: Go Here, Do This: Location + Collective Action
- The word “flash-mob” in the description is what got me to this panel. It was all about collective behavior transitioning from the web to physical action (including grassroots movements, group purchasing/payment, etc.). Had some great brands represented in this geo-centric panel, including Virgin America, Foursquare, Yelp, LivingSocial and was moderated by Clive Thompson.
- Fascinating: Location has become one of the most important things about our online identity
- Another thing I found was interesting was that while there’s a low barrier of entry to developing geo apps, the expense is making them interesting.
Takeaway: Whatever the session, there will be things you can takeaway and learn from.
MONDAY: Best day.
My favorite (of the whole damn conference): Bite Me—Are Ethics Gone in Food Criticism?
- I knew this would be a great panel when Robert Sietsema (16-year Village Voice food critic) was wearing a mask to preserve his anonymity. Other panelists included Ben Leventhal from Eater/The Feast, restaurant ownerJames Holmes, Chow’s Jane Goldman, and TableHopper’s Marcia Gagliardi
- This was a fascinating session because, while the idea of citizen journalism isn’t new, the thought that it seeps into such veins as food criticism was something I hadn’t pondered. In the wake of food blogs, Yelp reviews, etc, what happens to the sterling opinion of such heralded voices as Sietsema’s? The inner workings of the restaurant business were very interesting, especially to realize what a sad thing it is for a review to be “outed” (have their picture taken and circulated within restaurant staff, should they come to anonymously review).
- I was particularly interested in a story about Time critic, Josh Ozersky, who wrote about Portland’s food scene last fall, and got caught in a “cluster” when he wrote a roundup review about the food at his wedding. Much of it was done by local NYC chefs he knew. His “fluff piece,” as Sietsema called it (and wrote an open letter about), triggered huge amounts of criticism from the food critic community who were angered that he didn’t disclose that he got hundreds of thousands of dollars of food for free. This brought on opinions about comped food and disclosure. On both sides of the table, both were argued as either necessary or not.
- Chef James Holmes brought a great voice to the panel, giving insight on how Yelp messes with chef/restaurateurs’ minds and how paranoid it can make chefs to think about a reviewer stopping by (Sietsema surprised him by disclosing that he’d been to Holme’s restaurant earlier that week.)
- *Food people hate Yelp. There’s no value in those reviews.
- *There should have been a restaurant publicist at the table. Publicists know a great deal about inner workings and negotiating reviews.
Runner up: The Thank You Economy
- This was a really inspiring session with Gary Vaynerchuk, and I’m ashamed to say that this is this first time I’ve heard him speak. He was not so much promoting his new book (The Thank You Economy) as he was promoting the ideas behind it — thanking your customers every day in every way.
- He had a great story about a customer who’d bought copious amounts of wine and to thank him, they went to his Twitter account found out that he was an obsessive sports fan, and bought him a signed jersey from that team. Nothing to do with their brand, just a way to say thinks.
- The best part of seeing him speak is seeing how the audience loves him and loves interacting with him (and how he interacts back). At the end of a session, people came up to the question mic to tell him, among legit questions, 1. Exactly how many times he’d cursed during his speech, 2. thank him for featuring the cover art they’d submitted in his book even though they didn’t make the winning cover.
Honorable mention: #Hashtag Takeovers and Successes in Innovative Virtual Activism
- Another random panel that I attended because I didn’t want to leave the boonies Hyatt.
- This featured really controversial brands (PETA and Greenpeace) and discussed the ways they’d successfully employed social media to spark activism.
- The best part was when PETA’s community manager was describing a hashtag takeover she’d done at a recent TWTRCON session featuring NASA’s PR person, which called out NASA for its irradiation experiments on monkeys. Knowing that the conference projected hashtag conversations in the background of its sessions, PETA took over the conversation, calling NASA murderers. Well, after the conversation went on for a bit too long (aided by the PETA folks) and started to detract from the value of the conference, the TWTRCON organizers, who are still getting complaints about the disruption, came to the panel to confront PETA. It was angry. It was awesome.
- The Greenpeace guy brought up something he called a “ladder of engagement” which illustrated how to wrangle volunteers based on moving them through various levels of engagement. One guy said he thought it should be called an escalator of engagement since it’s the brand’s job to do all the moving for the user, rather than the user’s job.
Takeaway: Let the gravity do its job. The sessions that you’re drawn to, will likely be very useful.