Is SXSW for Business or just a Boondoggle? That’s the wrong question.
More than ever, I heard more folks debating if SXSW was good for business, or just a big party. Those who have attended the event for over a decade swear the soul has been stolen, and local Austin denizens often leave town and rent their place on AirBnb for a pretty penny, there’s no shortage of critics.
Looking closer, the components for a unique petri dish are present, including: 1) Big brands, 2) software vendors who are trying to sell to them, 3) device manufactures who are trying to reach influencers, 4) digerati and A-List tech celebs (which means they are D-List celebs in real life), 5) mainstream media celebs including actors, sports stars and more, and perhaps most importantly, 6) an engaged set of over aprox 25,000 interactive attendees ready to trial new technologies. (see demographics)
Here’s the arguments both for and against SXSW as a business event vs a boondoggle.
Business Goals: The Upsides and Downsides of SXSW
|Unique Interactive Experience
||Concentrating over 25k people into a a few small blocks enables unique social and tech interactions
||The chances of you experiencing a unique breakthrough moment are rare, as the event is dispersed.
|Quality Speakers and Panels
||The keynote speakers are grade A quality: Al Gore, Elon Musk, Wholefoods CEO, and others, deliver earth shaking insights.
||The crowd influenced panels are hit and miss. Most panelists are not professional speakers, and quality is a crap shoot.
||Many of the tech influencers are present, launching books, on stage, hosting parties, or milling about.
||They’re overwhelmed with requests and trying to get their attention to pitch them is very challenging.
|Learn about new trends
||Historically, new technologies have gained grown here, from Twitter, to a rash of location based apps.
||We’ve not seen any major breakthroughts in the last few years, with the exception of Grumpy Cat memes.
|Network and expand connections
||One of the best ways to quickly become immersed with the digital and interactive scene.
||For the first timer, this is a daunting festival, there’s too much to do, events are sold out, and there are many crowds and often bad weather.
|Accessibility and Logistics
||The entire festival officially and unofficially spans the entire city, walking or pedicab rides enable quick access to most events.
||Yet due to headcount increase, the event is straining housing, and unless you book 9mos early, you’ll be paying an expensive travel and expenses bill.
|Grow your business
||A strategic company can host an event, attract prospects, engage customers deeper.
||This requires significant planning, knowledge of the venue, budget to cut through clutter, and extensive influencer outreach.
|Socialize and Have Fun
||This is a fantastic event to see live music, eat great Texmex, and drink from bottomless bar tabs and dance all night.
||Perception of being a party can spill over to workplace, and not everyone will uphold the privacy code to not sharing online.
The Right Question: What are your Goals at the Festival?
At Altimeter Group (I’m a partner/owner) we funded nearly half of our small company to attend, to both conduct research, network with clients, and have fun. Staff members have specific goals, and will be reporting back the trends that they saw with an event report, and pass on business contacts to the right internal teams. To me, it’s an investment well made as much of our industry descends into a single location for a few short days.
So to put this topic to rest, I’m going to assert that SXSW is a festival, which includes both business presentations, networking get togethers, and downright riotous all-night parties. There’s so many options for any individual to partake in whether you’re a first timer, a corporate executive, a new media innovator, or just someone who’s interested in interactive technologies.
If you’re going to go, or are requesting your boss to attend, or are sending your staff, it’s important to set expectations with everyone around you. SXSW isn’t a normal business conference, it’s a social activity. Make it clear to those around you the opportunities of the event and the goals of your specific participation.
The Bottom Line: SXSW is what you make of it, but whatever you do, don’t call it a conference, it’s a festival.
(There’s a discussion brewing on my Facebook newsfeed about this post, Photo by Ahockley, used with attribution under creative commons license)
Left Image: Startup Alley features 200 emerging startups, I talked to as many as I could.
In my quest for ABR (always be researching), the Three Web Strategy Spheres, I had a day to focus in on the technology sphere (the bleeding edge of it) to connect with a handful of the 200 emerging garage startups at Techcrunch Disrupt yesterday.
Trends: Emerging Startups Show Innovation –Despite Most Will Fail:
It’s been fun attending the Techcrunch events emerge from Michael’s backyard in 2006 to the now international events where thousands descend, here’s the high level trends:
- The air smelled like “opportunity”. with many entrepreneurs filled with passion bring forth their projects, some who travelled from around the world (there was even an Israeli row) to share their work. It smelled like geek. What’s that? A bit of bad breath, body odor, within this male dominated scene.
- There was marketing everywhere, even in the urinal. From street teams, phamplets handouts, ninjas, and other circus acts, the one that stood out was how one startup Fee Fighters put branded screen urinals with their logo and saying something like “you’re pissing away money”.
- Focus on products –not booth babes. Unlike a recent enterprise IT conference I went to, there were few scantily clad models at booths, the focus was on the products –not eye candy. This was refreshing.
- PR Opportunity: Their positioning from startups needs lots of help. I strolled down the aisle with one VC friend of the 200 startups, we noticed they had ridiculous company names missing vowels and cutesy logos. The biggest set back, is the lack of positioning or even tag lines. A majority of the banners lacked a descriptor of what the company did. This is a big opportunity for PR firms to assist this early market.
- Lots of companies doing the same thing. I saw many startups that did the same thing, with just a slight variation on which data element they will push on. I asserted that strategic marketing and early influencer adoption will be key to push them over the edge. However colleague Christine Tran correctly suggested that several sites have gotten early influencers on them such as Quora, EmpireAve and Google+ and have not received mainstream attention.
- Bubble? Not this part of the market. It’s not a bubble (over-inflation despite lack of revenues) as entry costs are so low. The NYT asserts that Disrupt felt like a bubble, but as someone who worked at Exodus in 2000 I don’t think so, why? Startup costs for these emerging startups are so low, with many just needing 50k seed fund they can get up and running. However, if we’re discussing valuation for the established startups, that’s a different story.
- Most will fail. Overall, many of these will never make it, and few would be considered by enterprise class buyers due to volatility and lack of service, support and security.
Startup Gems: What Caught My Eye
Despite that I’d guess less than 5% of the 200 startups will make it, here’s a few that caught my attention:
Over Saturation of SoLoMo Startups
Feature sets are a mobile application sorting data based on proximity data and immediate social graph:
- Sonar.me finds who’s near you and prioritizes by your social graph, (people you know) and recommends what to do. (pic)
- Holler is social network for local events by @allnick who recently sold his Facebook blogs. This startups focus on finding spontaneous events from friends, which I imagine could work in an urban setting. (pic)
- Similarly I met Doweet (pronounced “Do it”, see what I’m saying about company names?) which was founded by at 15 year old Israeli, Unlike plancast, which is public data Doweet is prioritizing mainly by your primary social graph (pic)
- Lastly, I also met Smolk Signal (again with the misspelled names) which has more public data offers a similar feature yet is situation on Google maps as an overlay to find hot spots of popular local events.
Startups for Bigger Business Rare But Unique
It’s important we look at both B2C and B2B technology and here’s a few that are for businesses to use, with a focus on enterprise class (companies with more than 1000 employees)
- Datasift, also more established, aggregates social data then provides a toolkit for data modeling, and output. think Pipes with far more features for modeling and output. (pic)
- Mancx offers a unique feature that enables sales teams to post public questions (likely anom) where they can put a bounty on an answer and crowd source answers. Common questions could be around competitive data, suppliers, contacts. (pic)
- Established vendor Badgeville (i’ve done a webinar with them) was a winner from the previous Disrupt, and continues to integrate gamification features with enterprise class clients.
Assorted Sundries Keep it Interesting
Here’s a few interesting things I saw, or got tours of to watch
- Former Digg founder Kevin Rose discuss his upcoming startup Oink which will provide ratings and reviews for all consumer products, then sort by location priority likely with contextual marketing. Oink is one of the companies to come out of his development garage called Milk. I joke that Beef and Leather will be the next product set.
- Had a tour of the 500 Startups (incubator) alley run by VC @davemcclure who posed for me while he’s lying down on the job. Recently, I had a private tour with the startups in his portfolio at their Mountain View office with Loic Lemeur.
- For grins, perhaps the most amusing company is Talk O’Clock a funny services where you sign up using FB connect and instead of an alarm clock a stranger calls you in am to wake you up. (pic)
- For celeb appeal, tech friendly Ashton Kutcher and Chamillionaire were there.
Hope that gives some perspective of those that couldn’t attend, my day at Techcrunch Disrupt.
Are you struggling to measure the ROI of your social business efforts? Can’t get more resources? Unable to link your social media efforts to where your ecommerce is already happening? Have you been asked by management “How does social media impact the top line?”, chances are, you’re being asked that now.
We’re just a few weeks from Altimeter’s first conference “The Rise of Social Commerce” where we’ll be exploring first hand with brands on stage how companies are going to use social media to actually drive revenue.
Please join me, and other pioneers at “The Rise Of Social Commerce”, taking place October 6-7th at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto, we’ll hear about best practices from expert practitioners like Best Buy, Dell, Hallmark, Nielsen, Newell Rubbermaid, Virgin America, and Zynga, amongst others. Here’s the agenda, where you’ll hear Altimeter’s vision and framework on this space, and learn from the top brands that are doing it now.
Those 100 early adopters that attend will build deeper relationships with each other, have intimate conversations, and yield insight in how others are doing it (and where they have overcome challenges) and meet some of the technology and solution providers that will help you.
If you’re a website, social media, ecommerce, digital or marketing executive at a corporation, this event is for you. We would hate to turn people away at this intimate event, so Register Now, use the code “RSC1” to get a $100 discount.
Key Vitals: Rise of Social Commerce Event
- What: An intimate event on social media ROI at Altimeter’s Rise of Social Commerce.
- Where: Palo Alto’s Four Seasons.
- When: Oct 6-7th.
- Learn: Thought leadership from Altimeter’s partners, brand case studies, and vendors who will aid you.
- Who: Decision makers in Web, Social, ecommerce, shopping, commerce, marketing, supply chain.
- Connect With Others: The Hashtag is #rsc10
- Register Here: Use the code “RSC1” to get a $100 discount.
Related: Read Brian Solis’s point of view on the social commerce trend, and Wildfire Apps.
What in the heck does “RSC10″ standfor?
Here’s some of the clever answers we saw on Twitter when I posed the question this weekend: “Royal Shakespeare Company“, “Random Social Convention 2010“, “Russian Syndicate Cosmodrome, 2010“, “10” rubber scraper) http://bit.ly/cMq5vj“, “Real Time Social Collaboration” or my personal favorite “Recursive Systematic Convolutional 2010 conference“.
Our First Conference: “The Rise of Social Conference”
Altimeter Group is hosting our first conference The Rise of Social Commerce. We focus on disruptive technologies to business and see how consumer technologies like social and mobile are starting to influence commerce, supply chain management, and demand for new products and services.
Shoppers want to belong. They want to be heard. They want to feel valued. They crave a better buying experience. Power is shifting from the retailer to the shopper. Social commerce is filling the void between clicks and bricks to deliver a personalized experience. Join us to understand how to leverage these shifts to improve your brand.
The Details: Attendees and Sponsors
We’re inviting the world’s top brands to attend our event, and want to work with our sponsors like Vision Chain to reach them, and participate in the event.
- Date: October 6th and 7th
- Location: Four Seasons, Palo Alto, CA
- Theme: The push for customer advocacy. Reinvent your brand through the Rise of Social Commerce
The Altimeter group will be leading the discussion, from Charlene Li focused on leadership, Lora Cecere who’s leading this effort focused on supply chain management, Michael Gartenberg focused on mobile, Ray Wang focused on enterprise software, Deb Schultz focused on innovation and design, and Alan Webber focused on Government, data, and user experience, we aim to lead the industry discussion forward, see the evolving agenda.
Below, in the comments, I’d love to hear what topics you think should be discussed at at Social Commerce conference, shout out what you’d expect to hear.
Whether you’re a professional speaker, company representative, or panelist at a conference, you must develop a social strategy during your speaking.
The Audience Continues To Gain Power Over Speakers
A few years ago, the first major eruption occurred from the audience hijacking the attention at SXSW during an ill-fated interview on the main stage. Even weeks ago, Kanye’s debacle was commented on by Twittering attendees despite them not even having the mic. (Update, a speaker gives her first hand story of an audience revolt on Twitter)
This week, an audience revolt happened at the Higher Education Conference, you can read about it here, here, here and here. Although I was miles away, I was watching it unfold in real time on Twitter search –I felt horrible for that speaker who likely didn’t even know what was happening till someone posted his phone number on Twitter and people were texting him how horrible he had done. Ouch, the audience was vindictive and felt injured and wanted to get back.
Savvy Speakers Will Engage With Audience In Real World –and In Digital
Critics would suggest that monitoring the backchannel is counter intuitive to what a speaker should be doing: focused on presenting. Yet, I’d argue that some power has shifted to the audience –and with that comes responsibility of the speaker to respond to the power shift. As a speaker (I’m now represented by Monitor Talent), I feel empathy and at the same time am scared this doesn’t happen to me. The best way for speakers to avoid this revolt is to make sure that they be aware of the changes in power shifts and develop a plan to integrate social.
How Speakers Should Integrate Social Into Their Presentation:
Prepare More Than Ever. This is baseline. I could give a long list of speaking dos and don’t but there’s been books, classes, and private coaches that provide that (something I’m going to continue to invest in as I grow). It boils down to: know your audience, have strong content, practice, repeat. The change here is that the audience will scrutinize you, grade you, for all to see.
Know Your Audience’s Social Technology Adoption. While the first audience revolt was at SXSW, a new media tech conference, where adoption of new communication tools is likely. The Higher Education conference wasn’t focused solely on technology (update: in the comments, I learned this was a technology conference), so this revolt has moved out of the technology scene. You’ll need to pay attention to this more at conferences where social is active, first gauge the discussion in chat rooms or twitter using search tools. Find the conference hashtag (if there is one) to determine level of activity.
Monitor the Backchannel While Speaking. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Guy Kawasaki keynote a large conference, he monitors the body actions from the crowd and commands attention of the audience, he’s making micro-tweeks to his presentation to engage and react. Just as speakers do this in the real world, they must be monitoring the verbal, explicit reactions in the backchannel like Twitter or a chat room. Ask coordinators to display a monitor on stage facing you to see hashtags, use your mobile phone, or have your computer on stage to quickly see the stream.
Develop Backup Resources to Monitor. Some speakers have told me this is nearly impossible for them to do as they are focused on presenting content, here’s two tips for you. Speakers who are unable to monitor the backchannel should have a buddy attend the speech, sit in the front row, or off stage, and indicate if there’s something out of the ordinary they need to respond to. If your speaker content is rehearsed –it should be second nature to present it. Scoble is known for taking “Twitter breaks” during his presentation every 15 minutes to gauge the audience feedback.
Interact with the Audience: If your speech is going well, a majority of the tweets will be echos of what you’re saying then retweets. However, some speakers should monitor and look for questions, comments, or interesting new information that would add to the presentation. For example, at the Web 2.0 expo, I saw an audience member say my panel was boring on twitter, so I immediately shifted to Q&A which kept the audience interest.
Practice Two-Fisted Speaking. In the future, we may start to see presenters with two devices in hand: the presentation clicker in right hand, and cell phone in right hand, monitoring the flow of conversation. Despite the presenter having great control with the clicker controlling the flow of conversation, ultimately the audience has more control as they scrutinize, talk to each other, and shape a complete other conversation. Speakers should practice integrating input as they output in real-time first in private, then integrate into their performance.
I’d love to hear from you how speakers should respond to the power shifting to the audience, I know there’s a lot I can continue to learn in the craft of speaking. What should speakers do?
I’ve been invited back to Hawaii on Nov for [Re]Think Hawaii summit in Honolulu, Oahu, speaking on the panel for the Social Media Business Summit. If you want to attend, use the discount code “jeremiah” and receive 35% off the week pass. The focus of the summit is to focus a week is about “connecting entrepreneurs and investors during a series of panels, lunches, excursions, dinners, cocktails and aloha style exchange of ideas and relationship building in Hawaii.”
In particular, I’m interested in exploring how social impacts the tourism industry in Hawaii, both from tourists sharing, making decisions, to the actual experience using mobile devices and digital capture devices during and after their experience. You too are encouraged to come, this event hosted by Christine Lu and others, will feature a wide variety of business topics focused around Hawaii, entrepreneurism, sustainability, and island culture.
I’ve an incredible affection for Hawaii, and have recently set a personal goal (called Operation Bluewater) to spend at least one month per year in Hawaii in a net positive experience. Personal goals are important to me, I’ve set some for my health, for my blog, for my career and a few for personal lifestyle. Net positive indicates that the overall experience isn’t a financial loss, but instead I’ll figure out how to conduct business in a profitable manner in Hawaii –or work remote with my existing responsibilities. This event aligns with my goals, as the conference organizers are paying for my travel and hotel costs.
I’m open to suggestions, proposals, and other ideas on how to achieve my goals but also encourage you to spark up your own personal goals –regardless of how wild they may seem. How do you decide, plan, and achieve your personal goals?
Disclosure: As a professional courtesy, [Re]Think Hawaii has invited me as a speaker and is covering my travel and expenses.