This post was written by Maria Ogneva, the Head of Community at Yammer
As I returned from SXSW Interactive last night, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all means and how it’s different from / similar to last year’s event. Here are some top-level observations that came to my mind:
Social technology goes mainstream:
The sheer size of the conference this year was a dead giveaway of the fact that emerging and social technologies are no longer an afterthought or a bolt-on — they are at the center of strategy and learning. SXSW has become a platform for many businesses of all sizes to learn how to incorporate emerging (and emerged) technologies into their practices. Many companies that I talked to had a first-time presence at the conference and were there for reasons that spanned across learning, sharing best practices, creating buzz via social tools, engaging with users and influencers, and everything in between. The near doubling of attendance numbers (not even taking into account those who opted to come without a badge) indicates the growing popularity of these topics, desire to learn, share best practices and meet likeminded individuals.
Fragmentation of attention:
Just like with every technology or business concept that becomes mainstream, competition intensifies and makes it more difficult for businesses to stand out. Brands that stood out at previous SXSW festivals by using social technologies are now being drowned out by many other brands that are doing the same thing this year. Increased noise and fragmentation of attention manifested in speaking slots, exhibiting, throwing parties or giving away swag.
Private communication is the new “black”:
Mike Melanson wrote a great piece yesterday about emergence of private communication channels, and how communicating across public channels at such noisy events is ceding to more private conversations across targeted networks. Yammer is certainly an example of such a private network, as is group texting — both have differences in terms of longevity of conversation and business purpose. Many of our customers (case studies forthcoming!) were able to connect with other team members at SXSW and back at HQ to send and receive critical updates. At the same time, groups of friends came together to Beluga “pods” to meet up during SXSW, disbanding soon thereafter. A noisy environment and fragmentation of attention necessitate more precise targeting and better alerts to ensure that the message is seen by the right people, at the right time, and in the right context.
Small is the new big:
Because of the sheer size of a conference like SXSW, many attendees opted for smaller events. As lines for official opening and closing parties stretched around the block, people who are protective of their time turned their attention to smaller, invite-only events. The type of event that’s optimal for you will always be dictated by your business goals.
As an attendee, if you want a deeper, more meaningful conversation, you go to a smaller party where you can connect with “influencers” one on one. If you are a brand that wants to connect with “movers and shakers”, you should think of creating and sponsoring such events. Reach out to influencers and try to grab their attention with something extraordinary (What’s next? Free cars? Trips to the moon?) At the same time, if you are marketing to end users, or if you want to meet as many people as possible, a larger event is probably better to attend and sponsor. I was excited to host a low-key hospitality suite for an afternoon, where folks could connect with Yammer in a relaxed and casual setting — thank you all for coming!
Event marketing rules:
I’ve often written about the convergence of online social and in-person social, and how the two reinforce each other. That holds especially true at a conference like SXSW, where you can expect to meet the online community with whom you chat all year long, as well as reconnect with existing connections. A big part of my personal and professional mandate at this year’s conference was to connect and reconnect with both: people I had met before or hadn’t met in-person yet.
Because the social / networking aspect at SXSW is so strong, working with events is still a great way for a brand to stand out. The caveat is that you have to get creative as you are jockeying for attendees’ attention by providing something valuable that people actually want to use. Instead of simply slapping your name on an event, think of providing free wi-fi, a blogger lounge, a hackathon, charging stations, free food and drink and product giveaways. Think of providing entertainment at the same time as business utility.
It’s all about convergence:
Conferences like SXSW demonstrate that we live in a really remarkable time of convergence. In this world, business and social exist side by side, reinforcing each other. This is a world where you can reach companies and individuals by reaching human beings, meeting their business needs, while simultaneously satisfying their desire to feel special and belong. This is a critical time when smart business and marketing fundamentals need to meet smart technologies that can make all of our lives better.