Seventeen years ago, the annual South by South West gathering in Austin, Texas went from being an A&R and Lawyer schmooze-fest targeting aspiring musicians to break their careers to a tech-industry gathering. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a schmooze-fest. It just hobnobs a much wider, but equally as pretentious at-times bunch.
Just like in the heady days of the music industry’s reign at SxSW at SxSWi for every well constructed and informative panel where everyone left enlightened and ready to tackle the world there’s at least one that’s no more than some panel member waxing poetic about how great their product is or includes some less-than stunning insights from someone who more-or-less stepped in shit for their success or ends up being built on some contrived-yet-useless topic that leaves more people head-scratching than anything else. Furthermore, for every hour spent at a panel attempting to learn something, the vast majority of attendees probably spend 3x that destroying what braincells were strengthened in learning with ample amounts of booze, BBQ and boisterously head-bobbing at over-packed clubs listening to anything that resembles, well, we’ll just end the musical opinion there for now (there’s plenty of it other places in this blog).
In full disclosure, I’m not attending SxSW/i this year. Some of that rant might be drawn in jealousy. But for those of us being honest with ourselves, you know its also true.
That being said, for the last few years SxSW has helped coordinate whatever hip, new “trend” that was going to be over-spun and under-deliver for the year. Truth be told, most of them were good ideas. Obvious. But good. And, the products brought forth from the conference that might exemplify these ideas were solid. So, this isn’t necessarily a criticism of the group-think that occurs at conferences at all.
Once of the biggest things I’m hearing come out of Austin this year is again the emphasis on social. No, not because the wifi hotspots themselves were people (an ill-fated marketing ploy for another post perhaps) but because apps like Highlight are coordinating the social experience in real-time leveraging geo-location.
One could make the argument that real-time or geo-location or other such buzz words are what the emphasis is. But those are features, plain and simple. They enhance the consumer experience by helping support the value proposition. This might seem like semantics, but sociability speaks of the value proposition and trumps being just a feature.
What I mean is an app, or a customer care philosophy, or a marketing strategy that is built on the premise of social speaks to what we are as human beings – a society.
Knowing one another’s location or relative location to something or someone else is secondary to the interaction itself. Location can play a role in interaction. It is one component of it. Therefore providing location is a feature that can facilitate interaction.
Likewise, real-time transference of information can provide an urgency or a particular kind of context around an interaction, but is secondary to the interaction itself. Real-time communication is an element of the interaction. A part of it, but only one part. Therefore providing something in real-time is only a feature that facilitates the interaction.
Being socially minded however encompasses the ideas of how real-time and geo-location and a number of other features all work together to empower a consumer to be social, be it having a conversation or making a purchase or whatever. The bedrock to being social has little to do with social networks anymore, which are becoming more like features, and everything to do with a philosophical approach to products.
There were lots of other “hot” topics coming out of SxSWi making any mention of social seem somewhat cliche’d, but I think when taking a more honest assessment of what the conversations are really about when the beer-goggles come off and the infinite hype is stripped away is that social is the corner-stone of much of what was happening at the convention really was about social and the new implications it has as more features support these social interactions in unique ways.
Dave Evans wrote an interesting piece for Clickz on Customer Service going Social that touches on this, and several other articles from Clickz featuring SxSW coverage come back to it over-and-over, be it e/mCommerce trends, marketing soluitons, etc. AdAge’s David Berkowitz focused on it in the coverage of AmEx which renewed and expanded its focus on Sync. Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategy blog touted it – using the word “intimacy” – as a key component of the Sx experience. Even Mashable managed to capture some of the social effect in one of it’s always over-hyped infographics . And, now I’m joining this chorus.