Retargeter Blog

Key Takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2013: Exploring Place and Building Community


This year’s SXSW Interactive lived up to its reputation for parties, panels, and previewing new technologies. From comedy robots to 3D printing to grumpy cat, there was no shortage of entertainment and educational experiences for the Interactive attendee. Filtering through the noise, however, a common theme emerged: shared experiences and how they can be supported by technology.

As a marketer in today’s accelerated times, knowing how to share your company’s story cross-channel, cross-platform, and to a diverse audience has never been more important or more challenging. This year at SXSW, a few companies and speakers proved ready for the challenge. LeapMotion received almost 5,000 social mentions, and keynote Elon Musk raked in 16,085, more than any other keynote this week.

Regardless of what type of company you are, or what products you sell, it is your understanding of community that allows you to develop a narrative that resonates with the right audience.

One speaker reiterated this notion of challenging the status quo in a panel on storytelling. He said we shouldn’t corrupt our vision by asking what sells. Asking, “what sells?” is doing what companies have been doing for ages. Instead, ask yourself who your community is or who you want your community to be. The most successful companies, films, and technologies, are those that are able to bring a unique perspective.

Building Community

With today’s democratization of media and copycat digital culture, how do you tell your story in a way that will resonate and help build community? How can you target the right audience? Which story is suited for which platform? You can repurpose content to make it more effective. For example, what works for television may not work for Facebook, but the story doesn’t have to change, just the way you share it.

In the panel, “The Art & Power of Explanation,” one speaker shared that the key to a good explanation is empathizing with your audience. Find a way to tailor your story or explanation to the person with whom you’re speaking. If you understand them, they’ll understand you. If you don’t meet your audience at the right level, you’ll lose them. One speaker discussed the “curse of knowledge,”  or how experts find it difficult to communicate with non-experts about their subject. As marketers, we must be able to explain what we do, offer, or sell with ease, and to various levels. The greater our understanding of our respective audiences and what they care about, the more effective our explanations will be.

Exploring Place

Community can mean many things. It can be defined by a shared experience, by shared interests or customs, or more traditionally, by physical distance or place. With access to rich media, marketers can extract these notions of community and connect with an audience based on their attachment to their location. The idea that, “my place is important” is now commonly integrated into the user experience. In a panel on cross-platform storytelling, we were reminded to consider how users interact with our stories and to iterate our products and narratives accordingly. When place is important to your user, it can be incorporated. Additionally, marketers can utilize place as a key component of a campaign as well as to hone more precise messaging. SXSW Twitter activity saw Austin, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and London take the lead for home cities of attendees.

Social Media and Community

Social listening can feel like “drinking water from a firehouse” mentioned one speaker at the Social for B2B panel. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed, the panelists recommended a customer-centered approach with purposeful listening. Is there a question or a pain point your company answers? Use social media to determine where those questions are being discussed. Social also doesn’t have to be confined to marketing. You can empower your sales team to listen and participate. Give them keywords to follow and make sure they are listening, and contributing when applicable.Topsy put together this list of the trending hashtags at SXSW interactive, which included Al Gore, and #vegastech, among other front-runners.

Utilizing social media and other technologies to build community around place and shared experiences require iteration and learning. Learning can be incredibly challenging, but if we build off our successes rather than focusing on our failures, as Tim Ferriss reminded us in his talk on meta learning, we will be much more agile. He quoted Mark Twain, “whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Leave a Comment