SXSW Interactive 2013: Six Takeaways for Marketers (MarketingProfs)

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival had more than 24,000 registrants and offered hundreds of sessions. There were more panels for B2B marketers than ever this year. We braved the lines to sit in on the best sessions and compile key takeaways for marketers who couldn’t make the trek to Austin. 

1. Marketing Must Be Social

Information alone is no longer enough to help posts gain traction online, so brands need to cultivate an increasingly social mindset.

There’s no instant formula for viral, but Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, shared some ways to maximize your content’s viral potential.

First, have a heart. People share things that move them or amuse them. Find your sense of humor or tell relatable, moving stories with your content.

“Cute and LOL are so powerful because it’s not the joke that matters: you remember that you laughed,” explained Peretti. “Emotion brings you closer.” One example of cute paired with LOL is Grumpy Cat, whose presence created quite a stir at SXSW this year!

Second, find a way to help people express themselves, and share their unique identity. Content that speaks to a passionate subset of your audience can be great for this. Peretti used a photo of an ink-stained left hand as an example. Every “southpaw” in the room instantly laughed, so the 10% of people who are left-handed identify strongly with that image, and are very likely to share it.


Capture the moment. When the lights go out at the Super Bowl, be ready to jump! Many brands can’t make that happen because they have long lead time. Do what you can to stay nimble.

Try something new. To succeed in online marketing today, businesses must truly be willing to take risks. Derivative posts will draw traffic and shares to a point, but the content that goes viral has novelty.

2. Design Mobile-Friendly Content

You need mobile to tap into the incredible power of the “bored at work” network and the “bored in line” network. The reach of these networks far outstrips the reach of traditional media. Create content that amuses or engages these people, and make it easy for them to share it on the spot. Creating content that doesn’t work on mobile is a wasted effort; there’s no chance of it going viral.

Location, location, location. Consumers appreciate how Foursquare recommends restaurants, activities, and other points of interest based on user preferences and friend suggestions. The exciting news for marketers is that Foursquare can reverse engineer this same data to find qualified prospects for local businesses.

Dennis Crowley of Foursquare illustrated the rich data the service collects, displaying maps of check-ins that can provide valuable insight into trends for brick-and-mortar businesses. For instance, if your coffee shop’s check-ins spike every Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m., you can find out what group is meeting there and offer incentives.

With passive geolocation, Foursquare can also recommend your business to users nearby whose activity would indicate an interest in your product or service, but who may never have heard of you.

Look for location to play an increasingly valuable role in marketing.

3. Contextualize Your Content

Contextual social content is gaining popularity as “Facebook fatigue” sets in. People want to share content relating to their specific interests and topics with like-minded people.

Promoted posts or targeted ads on larger social networks present one option for businesses, butsome brands could benefit from making a foray into smaller, niche networks, or from contextualizing content in existing outlets.

“Content + Context = Stickiness.” Adding context to your social content makes it more sharable. Nike found success on PathFacebookTwitter and other networks by enabling users to seamlessly share their fitness progress, adding context to what otherwise would simply be a standard “went for a jog” post.

Businesses might consider social network subsets like subreddits, and Facebook groups, or even create a new vertical network from scratch. One example of a new vertical social network is Nextdoor, a network for neighbors. “A digital way to borrow a cup of sugar,” the service layers online connections over those that exist in the physical world.

Nate Johnson, VP of Marketing at Path, recommended that marketers become “product anthropologists,” constantly listening, asking questions and adding features that their audience will pay for.

For more information on vertical social networks, check out this slide deck from Rebecca Liebof Altimeter Group.

4. Empower Employees as Ambassadors

Companies should not underestimate the power of employees as brand ambassadors.Encourage, support and train people within your organization so they can effectively use social media to amplify your brand voice online. Your people are your brand, so make sure they are equipped to carry your message forward.

Part of preparing your business for social is to implement a social media policy so that management and employees understand what’s expected. Do be aware that certain restrictions on employee speech in the social space may be illegal.

For an example, check out Cisco’s social media policy.

5. Don’t Force It

Use non-sales messaging. “Brought to you by ABC Company” can put people off. Be brave enough to provide useful content without a clear ask. Answer a customer or client question through content. For example, Salesforce’s video “What is cloud computing” informs rather than shills.

Also, reconsider using press releases, marketing collateral, and white papers, which are outmoded in some industries. Instead, demonstrate thought leadership in key social channels. Which social networks are worth your time depend on the demographics of each.

Create when inspired, and not otherwise. White space works, in interior design and in social media. As Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal told the crowd, “if you have nothing to say, don’t say anything.” Suppress the urge to fill up space.

Do create quality content when inspiration strikes. If your content is engaging, people will share it without having been asked. “Put your energy into making better movies, or writing better songs,” urged Inman, “not into begging for likes on Facebook.”

6. Approach Crowdfunding with Caution

Inman recommends using a narrative graphic to introduce your crowdfunding campaign, as opposed to an informational video. This way, all of the important background information is accessible at a glance.

The Oatmeal Tesla Museum

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal conducted a successful fundraising campaign online to fund a Tesla museum.

Businesses should consider the pitfalls of crowdfunding. Keep campaigns short and sweet. Avoid promising perks that will require burdensome effort to fulfill.

Plan for success. If your wildest expectations are exceeded, you may have to send an individual item to tens of thousands of people. Digital perks like downloads or codes might prove simpler, especially when you can send them all with the push of a button.

There was no one app, site or service that stole the show this year at SXSW. Social media and content took center stage.

Make the most of 2013! Hope to see you in Austin next year.

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