My.sxsw – a recap

Now that the tweets have settled and FourSquare’s down to a dull roar (i.e. most days you’ll find me checked into my office), I thought I’d recap my experiences at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

First the highlights:

I guess I’m a Panel Nerd at heart. I go to conferences to listen to people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to hear, learn things and hopefully open my mind.

Among the sessions that stood out for me were Christie Nicholson’s overview of the interface between human brains and computers. I wanted to try the EEG shower cap that non-invasively reads impulses outside the brain, especially when I saw the video of a journalist who thought of letters and saw them materialize on a screen in front of him.

Danah Boyd offered a challenging keynote on privacy and publicity in a world where we have become our own big brothers: ‘Now social media makes conversations public by default, private through effort. This is a complete shift in the way we used to act.’

Clay Shirky is as engaging and intellectually challenging in person as he is in his book. Here are two nuggets he shared: ‘Abundance is a bigger challenge to society than scarcity’ and ‘behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity’.

I also enjoyed the networking and the opportunity to get to know new people and exchange ideas with them, as well as actually meeting some of the folks I’ve been reading/following for a while.  That said, you soon realize the stars of SXSWi can only been seen from the planetarium that is the Ausin Convention Centre and not from a middle-American night sky…

Now my.downside:

SXSW is a big party scene – I know that shouldn’t be news – and some people place a premium on VIP lists, jumping the cue and hoarse throats. Now, I went to a few soirees (hey, I am social), but honestly I preferred the ones where you could actually talk to people instead of screaming at the top of your lungs at someone who can’t hear you and who you know is nodding out of politeness. (Or maybe my age is showing.)

Evan William’s keynote was a  major disappointment. We were there to hear the Oracle of Tweet but what we got was a pompous interviewer and little insight. The two convention halls were overflowing at the start of the session and overflowing with people leaving halfway through.  It’s too bad. I’m sure with better questions, Williams would have had something to say.

The quality of the panels was definitely mixed.  I think there should be better curation and guidelines as to who can present on what topic in order to set higher standards. Maybe there should be fewer sessions, with presenters doing their talk more than once.  Also, every room should have had AV so you can hear what people have to say.

For me, the two worst sessions were: A guy who took us through a deck you knew he used to pitch new business – complete with client testimonials; and the panel where one woman extolled the virtues of ‘ads that look like content’ and then rushed out to catch a flight before answering questions, followed by a guy who was so hung-over he looked dumbfounded by every slide he incoherently presented.

If you want to hear more, have a listen to Inside PR #197 where Robert Scoble answers the 4Qs.  I also had an opportunity to interview Brian Solis and Chris Barger, who will be featured on upcoming episodes.

My good friend Gini Dietrich blogged about her decision not to go and makes some valid points.

Special thanks to Keith McArthur and Michelle Kostya for being my panel/social buddies.

Will I make the pilgrimage next year?  I think so – it’s hard to match the overall calibre and energy of the event and the fact that you have thousands of social media practitioners in one place at one time – all trying to figure out the next big social thing.


Charlene Li on leading without control – sxsw

Most people would agree that the Groundswell is here in full force.  And while many organizations embraced it, there is still some resistance – fear, perhaps – from companies afraid to leave their comfort zone and cede control.

According to Charlene Li, social technologies are no longer ‘an alien race’ ; that bright shiny object to gawk at.  But in order to adapt to the changing landscape, businesses will need to move from command and control to a culture of sharing.  She calls this approach Open Leadership (the subject for her forthcoming book).  The SXSW hashtag is: #openleadership.

Li contends open leadership can only happen when people have the confidence and humility to give up the need for control, yet still remain in command.  It’s based on a fresh and more transparent approach to relationships and requires that new structures/processes be put in place.

She suggested five ways companies can become more open:

  1. Align openness with strategic goals. Start with a plan and select goals where being open and social can have an impact.
  2. Understand the upside. What’s the value of a relationship and can you quantify that in business terms? Right now, that’s still a challenge to measure.
  3. Consider a new formula for customer lifetime value (CLV). The old formula is: CLV = value of purchase – cost of acquisition. The new formula could be: CLV = value of purchase – cost of acquisition + value of new customers from referrals + value of insights + support +customer ideas.
  4. Develop open leadership. Leaders should be realist-optimists, who combine an openness to change with a strategic understanding of what needs to be done to make it work. Risk can be managed with ‘sandbox covenants’; a process for sharing with clear rules of engagement.
  5. Embrace failure. Keep a failure file in order to learn from your mistakes and move on.

Tips for creating and distributing viral videos – sxsw

Surprise, have a big reveal, be positive, know your audience.

These are some of the tips presented in the SXSW panel: How to Create a Viral Video, featuring Margaret Gould Stewart from YouTube/Google, Damian Kulas from the band OK Go and Jason Wishnow from TED.  The SXSW hashtag is: # howtocreateviral.

The group began with definitions of what makes a video viral:

Damian: A video is viral if a significant part of the viewership wants to distribute it. Or if it has anything to do with with ‘boobs and kittens’.

Margaret:  It’s all about showing something human, love, laughter, sex…  Lots of videos go viral by accident.

Content matters
Jason: TED Talks tries to spread ideas and its videos – essentially taped lectures – have been viewed 230 million times.  He attributes TED’s success to the fact that they begin all the videos with a bang and incorporate professional, high production values; HD video shot from multiple angles with many cameras.

Damian: Know your audience and what they’re looking for – sometimes ‘homemade’ or rough works best.  Do something impossible and bring it to life; create sense of wonder using the most appropriate production values for each video.  As an example, he showed this backyard dance parody his band made using a static camera.

Margaret: Agrees production values should match content. She mentions research that shows positive content seems to go viral more often than negative videos.  Incorporate elements of surprise and juxtapose the unexpected, as they do in this video of Cookie Monster and a German metal band.

Tips for promoting videos
1. Build a subscriber base/audience and connect with your community.  Get them involved by encouraging them to be creative with you.

2. Enable embedding. Let bloggers embed your videos onto their site.  This is key to building word of mouth. Then, once you’ve achieved a tipping point, people start viewing the original – provided they can find you, which leads to…

3. Meta data – Good titles and tags are essential. But don’t be misleading as that will eventually go against you.  Damian acknowledges sponsors in tags. He likens them to modern day patrons of the arts, or, as he calls them – ‘Metaci’. Sure doing this may spawn some criticism, but it’s better to be transparent.

4. And finally, make sure you distribute your video on multiple sites so more people can find it.

What’s next? Lights, camera, action…