Creating, Curating and Cultivating SXSW Interactive

About a year ago I gave a presentation titled “Creating, Curating and Cultivating the Social Web” at the Marketing 2.0 Conference. The point of the presentation was that I believe brands need to create and curate high quality content while cultivating relationships with customers in order to become and remain relevant in the hyper connected world we live in.

You see, content (objects that can be experienced and shared online) has drastically changed the way people communicate. From pinboards on Pinterest to meme generatorsInstagram and Hipster, the plethora of options to create and distribute content has made everyone a content producer. It’s not just developers, designers and bloggers anymore; it’s everyone. Whether it’s a video captured at the right time and the right place on a smartphone or a carefully produced campaign like KONY 2012, content has the potential to spread like wildfire. That puts some pressure on companies because they no longer control the medium, the message or the messenger.

Digital campaigns have evolved in the past decade from interactive (think Burger King’s Subservient Chicken), to shareable (think Evian’s Roller Babies and Nike’s Write the Future), user generated (think Doritos’ UGC Super Bowl ads), multi-faceted (think Bing’s Jay-Z Decoded, Heineken’s Star Player, and Red Bull’s Supernatural with Shazam), collaborative (think Converse’s Three Artists, One Song series), personalized (think Intel’s Museum of Me) and, of course, social (think Old Spice Man).

The Internet and the rapid way in which content is created, modified, and distributed was absolutely unthinkable 15 years ago, and most marketers have been encouraged (or forced) to think about ways in which their brands can produce better, faster, more immersive, rewarding and relevant content and experiences.

With changes in consumer behavior and marketing, marketers often end up looking for places where culture gets created and transformed. One of such places is SXSW Interactive, a one-week festival/conference in Austin, TX where some of the brightest minds in all things digital gather once a year. A gathering too important for brands to miss.

Now, gaining attention, respect or any kind of momentum for a company at SXSW is not easy because SXSW attendees are not easily impressed. They have seen the rise of Twitter, and they have also abandoned a keynote by its former CEO and co-founder Evan Williams. A digital marketing campaign promoted with social ads will simply not cut it at SXSW.

Everyone attending, from young college students going to as many panels as possible to startup CEOs that everyone seems to know, is there not only to experience the event but also to become part of the experience and decide what matters and what doesn’t. SXSWi is a perfect place to tweet, check-in, write blog posts, take photos, create data visualizations, design infographics, live stream videos, start Google+ Hangouts and simply meet up with others.

From a marketer’s perspective, you need to think about how to enhance the SXSW experience for as many attendees as possible. Experiences don’t just happen and they can’t be forced either. You might be able to lure people into a party, an event, a link, a lounge, etc. but you can’t make the experience valuable. Or memorable. Or meaningful.

I’m incredibly proud of what we did with Samsung this year. It was our 2nd year as a major Interactive sponsor and our objective was not simply to sponsor the conference, but also to enhance the experience by creating utility and adding value. From our #SmartWall, where we curated social data and visualized trends (and breaking news) in the first floor of the Austin Convention Center, to the Samsung Blogger Lounge, where serendipity constantly happened as bloggers, journalists, social media influencers, developers, entrepreneurs, podcasters, designers, musicians, artists, Samsung fans and even a few celebrities gathered throughout the 5 days of SXSWi, it looks like our efforts resonated. We were able to create + curate + cultivate SXSWi, both online and offline, while also enabling others to do so as well.

I can’t share our own internal findings, but I must admit it’s satisfying to read tweets and posts about our presence there. It’s also great to see third parties reporting good results. Examples include infographics by Spredfast, Tracx and Mass Relevance, and this article by Fast Company. Of course, buzz levels and positive press aren’t the point, but they can be indicative of valuable, memorable and meaningful experiences.

Marketers have a lot of challenges and opportunities thanks to social media. With limited resources, increasingly demanding consumers, and tough competition, it’s important to focus. Creating, curating, and enhancing experiences, while building relationships with customers and potential customers, especially those who are passionate about your brand, should be top of mind. When done well, this can result in great reach, awareness, and most importantly, relevance.

[Cross-posted at Social Nerdia]

About socialnerdia

Esteban Contreras is the founder of www.socialnerdia.com, a blog about the convergence of technology + marketing + social media, and the people / sub-cultures that make it possible. You can find him on twitter @socialnerdia