Welcome to Austin, TX, where the Lone Star flows like water, the hipsters instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano, and the latest in music, film, and technology are birthed. Every year, while thousands make the trek to beaches, lakes, and anywhere where the sun shines and the booze flows for some Spring Break RnR, more than 10,000 geeks and industry gurus head south for a week of immersing themselves in the hippest aspects of culture in the world.
Enter South By Southwest. Abbreviated SXSW, referred to by locals as South By, this conglomeration of the brightest and most innovative minds makes up the epicenter of every year’s new technology tools, products, and trends. Gowalla. Foursquare. Twitter. GroupMe. WordPress. All have either launched in their entirety or launched cutting edge features/integrations at SXSW.
For me, my trip focused on two things: learn the emerging and key trends in social media and promote the hell out of ShortStack.
I want to include a short but essential disclaimer: I am not a social media expert. In fact, I cannot stand people who dub themselves one. There is no specific certification to gain or milestone to reach in order to call yourself a social media expert. I’m an enthusiast and specialist. It is a part of my job to understand social media in its entirety and integrate my understandings into effective management and campaign tools for our clients. I love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world. You can never know enough and certainly never know everything. It’s rad. But again, please do not call me an expert. It would be incredibly pompous of me to accept that title.
I wanted to share the concepts I brought home with me. This is a summary of the key ideas and suggestions I heard from social media managers and organizers of companies such as Dell, Intel, Wrigley, Old Navy, Burger King and more.
Brand + marketing people need to come to one important general understanding: We as companies and representatives of companies no longer lead culture. We don’t decide for people anymore. We don’t own our audiences anymore. So please, stop living in the past.
People lead culture. We cash into those cultural phenomenons dictated by online users and use it for branding and marketing opportunities. Well, at least, that’s what we should be doing.
Too often social media channels are clogged. And that’s because social media managers don’t understand that by creating social media networks you’ve automatically raised the bar of customer expectations. People want response and they want reward…instantly. They’re not going to look at you, fall to their knees, and worship your brand.
Social media is the ideal tool for any business. Why? Because it connects to people emotionally. When you tap into a person’s emotions, and you do it right, you’re building trust. What’s a better way to brand yourself, gain, and maintain a customer base than to be trusted? There isn’t.
So what can you do to build trust? What can you do to connect? What can you do to be warm, inviting, and overall, impact? Ah, the great debate of the new era in marketing and PR.
My favorite quote from the entire experience was from Felicia Day, one of the Keynote speakers and founder of the insanely popular web show, The Guild. Felicia took a mass network of people from a particular subculture and offered them a platform to speak, to learn, and to be entertained by. She said:
“Networks are not metrics. They are people. Treat them as such.”
Couldn’t agree more.
You see, the main problem with social media conversation is that, nine times out of ten, it sounds as if it were written by marketer. Even when we think there is a “voice”, to the customer or the enthusiast, there is no authenticity to that voice. There are too many people shooting out content. One update looks as though it came from the PR department, one from marketing, and one from customer service. Who or what are the people supposed to connect to? Who do they believe? Who gained their trust and who’s going to keep it? Sounds like a rough game to play, right?
When you write social media content make it sound like it’s from a person who is going to use the product, not like someone who is selling the product. People need to know how anything can work for them, not what PR point you think its the most ear-catching. When people can relate to your brand you will always have a bigger impact.
Let’s go back to that whole idea of culture and social media. Social media managers, again, do not create culture. People do. But, as social media managers, we must learn to recognize applicable culture shifts and be fast to response to the crowd. People are finding the content; now we’ve got to learn to run to tap into it and see an opportunity that no one else sees.
So, tapping into a general feeling and/or attitude and creating a campaign around it is the way to carve new paths.
For example: Burger King noticed that many people with Facebook profiles had a slew of friends on their lists who they didn’t know, could care less about, etc. So they created a campaign that allowed a Facebook user, through Burger King’s website, to connect with Facebook and delete unwanted friends. Simple. In return, participators got a coupon for a free new sandwich from Burger King. BAM, success! Burger King tapped into a tiny spec of culture they recognized and before anybody else used it as a way to interact, impact, and then reward their fan base. And they didn’t even have to use a Whopper game. Fresh!
But don’t think you have to create something overly elaborate to have an impact. Some of the most successful campaigns are the simplest.
Wrigley’s Facebook fan page for Skittles is a fantastic example. Simple things like using the fan page photo to create contests that require user generated content, the funny and quirky status updates, are just a couple of examples of a company taking a social media channel and using it to engage.
Engaging is often thought of in too broad of terms or with too heavy an expectation.
Keep in mind that people’s core behavior or reaction on social media is either one or the other. People are either going to click “like” or leave a comment. They’re either going to Retweet or @ reply with short input. As a social media manager, you’ve got to decide which one you’re primarily looking for and why. If you ask a question and want an answer, make sure you’re specific in stating what you want. And don’t be afraid to ask for a like or an RT. If someone is all about your brand and feels connected to it, they will happily oblige. Using social media to win means getting a reaction for you from the fans. Also, keep your status updates on the shorter side. No one likes to be clogged with too much info- it drowns out your key message, point, or idea.
But don’t let the relationship become one-sided. Also find ways to give back to those who like you. Yes, we’re all aware of the standardized contests. A good start is to remember people use social networks for human conversations- converse! But don’t just throw up a “thanks guys” or “thanks everyone”; address people. Keep the conversation flowing. The more time you can get people to spend on your page, the more impressions you can make, and thus, the more effective your one little status update or Tweet becomes. Entertain people. Give them something to do, read, watch, see, print, that makes them feel whatever time they spend interacting with you was well worth it and they’ve got to come back for more.
And with that, I must bring up another point. People get the wrong idea that having hoards of fans makes your social media campaign a successful one. It means you’re the ideal case study. Not the case. Fans are just metrics. Amounts/numbers mean nothing unless at the end of the day you can get an action that relates back to your business, cause, organization, whatever.
Alright, I’m to my last major point. Relate, relate, relate. With social media your job is to entertain first, market second. Threading in elements that relate to people’s senses and physically engage them is the future to successful campaigns. People want to be entertained, yes. But people also want to be inspired; and they will remember who inspired them. Get people excited, out of bed, communicating and engaging with others (not just your brand). Tap into people’s enduring needs. When people are engaged in a brand they are 4 times as likely to develop a loyalty to that brand. Put your consumer at the center of your business models. Not their money. Them. People. The ones that live, eat, breath, shop, love, despise, and talk.
One method I found particularly interesting is using customers stories to create yours. People are storytellers. Let them tell their stories and weave those into your campaigns. Let your networks know how these individuals feel, how they utilize, or how they integrate your brand into their lives. Do that and you’ve won customers for life.
Here is my favorite example of striking the chord of human emotion. Gatorade took a high school football rivalry and translated it into a campaign that related to the very core of people. It’s not social media centered, but something along these lines can translate into a social media campaign, have a social media core, and in turn generate results much more effective than just telling an audience that Gatorade supports athletes.
So let’s wrap it up:
Social media is not cold, and as marketers and PR people, we tend to treat it as such.
Use your brand and social media to create connections between people. Integrate ideas, methods, and campaigns that warm hearts. Dare to invent. Don’t be afraid to mess up. All challenges are opportunities in disguise. Think of your social media campaigns as being constantly “in beta”. Learn from your mistakes and address what you’ve learned to your audience.
Don’t be afraid to respond, say sorry, or reach out to help.
Basically, give your fans a reason to interact. Give them a reason to remember. There is more value in connecting than there is in directing.
And as always- have a blast. Social media is fun and creative. Don’t ever let it loose that touch when applying it to whatever your goal is.
For those of you who came to this post to read about the latest gadgets, sorry, but you obviously didn’t find them here. There are too many posts and stories on the hot ticket items of SXSWi. Check out Mashable and CNN for more insight on those. Just an FYI: Mobile marketing and mobile social media was a hot topic, as well as group messaging. GroupMe was a huge subject. Check it.