SXSW Is Dead, Long Live SXSW!

Many people who were a part of the social media boom last decade attended SXSW. It was the place to see and be seen, where apps went mainstream and reputations were forged. In recent years, social media experts have stopped going, proclaiming SXSW dead.

And after attending my seventh one, I have to agree. SXSW is dead… For social media experts.

SXSW is about the Internet, and how various media and industries are adapting to it. In that sense SXSW is a zeitgeist. And the time of social media dominating SXSW, while not completely gone, has certainly waned.

Social networking and communities are a part of the Internet’s fiber, but they are no longer a special topic. That makes social less of a premium newsmaker at an Internet conference focused on trends, and as a result social media experts aren’t getting the attention they used to at SXSW. So it is little wonder that those who used to thrive on the subject find the conference unappealing.

What SXSW Has Become

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A woman solders a chip, part of a device she was building at SXCreate.

What SXSW 2015 offered was an incredible series of mini-conferences that ranged from fashion (think wearable tech in the form of smart clothing) and start-up manufacturing to SXSports and large broadcast brands boasting their digital entertainment properties. SXSW is now a festival of many Internet industries. Social media and perhaps the now stronger digital marketing communities are just individual industry segments amongst the multitude.

My friend Dave Weinberg, CEO of loop88 said, “The fact that we’re all here and that we have these serendipitous situations is what made this SXSW special. It’s totally different than it has been.”

I have to agree. This year’s SXSW was the best one I have attended in a long time. The networking was diverse and phenomenal.

“The amount of education, of giving back knowledge to the community is absolutely unparalleled,” said Howard Greenstein, COO of DomainSkate and adjunct professor at Columbia University. “From small sessions sponsored by companies on specific topics to niche panels about everything from legal hackers to bitcoin, you can learn about anything from people who are actually doing the work.”

Signs of How SXSW Changed

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SXSW 2015 saw the break-out of Meerkat, the first app to breakout at SXSW in a couple of years. Yet, while this was a big story, it was not the story, far from it. There were many threads throughout the event, many of which revolved around celebrity appearances and cancellations.

For the first time in years I attended sessions, and thoroughly enjoyed 75% of what I saw. This is pretty good compared to most conferences I go to. Some of the better events and sessions I attended included the Jack Welch versus Gary Vaynerchuk discussion on executive leadership, the SXCreate session on building micro manufacturing companies.

There were fewer uber-influencer swordfests at SXSW, which made it more pleasant. It was also easier to avoid those situations when they arose.

At the same time while the mighty influencer is gone, the suit has arrived. And with the business audience has come a tension between the old school casual SXSW attendee and the proliferation of suits and heels at the conference. I’m glad I brought a jacket and two collared shirts because when I wore T-shirts and a jersey I received more than my fair share of looks.

And with the rise of the celebrity, there were more high powered executives, stars and brands attending the event. I met more high caliber successful people than I have at any prior SXSW.

SXSW is much bigger than it used to be, but is also much different. It has evolved, and with it so have my expectations of it. It’s funky still, but now it is transforming into a big dollar business event. But the reason I still come is the incredible relationship opportunities it continues to offer, even as a humbler small business owner. And that continues to make SXSW a must-attend event for me.

No One Knows Who You Are

It’s funny how some people feel an online profile is the most important part of their career today. Building a business or a career based on an online reputation instead of an the actual product or service can only lead to difficulties.

As shocking as it may be to many big online influencers, a lot of people don’t know who they are. Even if they have heard their names, they don’t care about someone’s big blog or Instagram profile. I don’t care how big you are online — in your community or nationally — you have to assume no one knows who you are.

A nice online profile built around some subject matter expertise might get you a listen, but you still need to allay fears. Then once you get the sale you need to meet the promise you are building.

That’s why I found Gary Vaynerchuk’s post last week on personal branding versus old fashioned work ethic so refreshing. It got back to brass tacks: Do the work, refine your skills, then build the reputation.

I know someone who has a brilliant online persona, but person X takes credit for other people’s work and often throws them under the bus in the process. Every time I have seen Person X get an opportunity to excel as a star performer, he/she fails.

Too many Internet-based reputations are like the one built by Person X. These personal brands revolve around reciprocated sharing, social media talk and no walk. Is it any wonder social media experts and to a lesser extent marketing bloggers aren’t taken seriously in the CMO office?

Unsolicited Advice for Younger Professionals

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If you are eager to build your online profile to become successful, be careful. It can get you some opportunities, but success is built on fulfilling your commitment to customers. Make sure you are busting your ass on the back channel, too. You can’t afford to lose opportunities. Do the work, build things, prove yourself.

Further, yesterday’s successes don’t mean much to people. So in my mind, relying on a reputation for past works done is dangerous. It’s the current work that matters. We all have to work like no one knows who we are.

I don’t think people give a crap about what I did in the 2000s. That was a long time ago. The media have changed significantly since then. Any remaining hubris that I may carry doesn’t mean jack-shit if I can’t deliver TODAY. I need to kick ass on every new project like no one knows who I am. If I am not hungry enough to do that, then I can expect to struggle and at times to fail.

What about the effort you ask? Isn’t it too much?

I hear all sorts of things about work life balance, and God knows I put my family first and try to keep myself well-rested. But make no bones about it I hustle. Everyone who succeeds busts their butt and works hard. I drafted this on Friday night from 9:00-10:20 p.m. I edited it on Sunday night at roughly the same time. AFTER I fed my daughter, put her to bed, and AFTER I finished my client work. The promo came last.

No matter what, you can’t shortchange the work.

Just Thank and Serve

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Image by Judy Carson

Many styles of engagement exist in social media. From pure content marketing to commenting on every post, we see many companies and personalities successfully market. I gravitate towards thanking and serving.

There is no absolute right way.

One thing I have learned over the years about social: The most important thing is to represent your personality authentically.

The more manufactured the interaction, the less likely your personal presence or corporate culture will resonate with online stakeholders.
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The Super Hero Myth

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We like to believe that one person can save the world, win a project, and deliver the lights out performance that will change everything. No culture believes in super heroes quite like America does, and that includes our marketing.

Just consider the strong man image of the Marlboro Man. Heck, even the Old Spice guy is a play off this dream of one super hero.

The post-mortem deification of Steve Jobs over the past 10 days can be considered in this light. We know more than one person created all of these Apple products, software, marketing, store and web materials.

When it comes to creative we see the same phenomena. David Ogilvy is considered a God amongst advertisers. Many people in his agency (while he was alive) adhered to his methodologies. They also exercised their own creative license in writing and designing legendary ads.

Online, we see the same thing with bloggers. We idealize them as great voices and sages. Yet, many don’t have public accomplishments. Or when they do, we fail to see the critical role players that help make them a success.

Really this super hero/pedestal concept applies to all aspects of our culture.

Consider last Friday’s Give to the Max Day training event, which by almost every single account was a smashing success. Some people have offered props to me as the general manager for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, and organizer and point person on the training conference. The reality is much different, considering all of the critical players who executed almost perfectly:

  • AARP’s Tammy Gordon and Beth Carpenter lent us their facility, including its fantastic live streaming and wifi capabilities. They also supported directly not he AARP Facebook page and the Create the Good Twitter handle.
  • Razoo’s community manager Ifdy Perez did a fantastic job on Twitter, and also cultivating blogger attendance.
  • Razoo’s Shai Chu handled all of the logistics for the event, and it came off seamlessly.
  • The nonprofit attendees and their excitement to learn and participate was critical to making the day productive
  • The speakers — including Beth Kanter, GiveMn.org‘s Dana Nelson, Razoo’s Justin Wredberg, NWF’s Danielle Brigida, Care2’s Clinton O’Brien, Atlas Corps’s Abby Flottemesch, and ACTion Alexandria’s Tracy Viselli — all did a bang up job.
  • Two speakers — Katya Andresen and Jocelyn Harmon — came from Network for Good, which is the underlying backbone behind Causes and Crowdrise, two Razoo competitors. They came in a spirit of industry cooperation and in support of our mutual hometown’s nonprofit community. Special hat tip to Network for Good.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk took time to provide a video to attending nonprofits
  • The Razoo Foundation underwrote the whole thing. Give to the Max Day parters United Way of the National Capital Area and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region promoted the event.
  • Last May then interim Razoo CEO, now CTO Brian Fujito had the idea for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, without which none of this would be occurring.
  • Many Razoo executives and staffers touched this event, including Lesley Mansford, Alison Risso, Bo Lotinsky, Claire Moore, Matt Camp, Heather Pringle, Jacques Villareal, Bryce Melvin, and on and on.
  • Beth Kanter deserves a second credit, simply for teaching me how important capacity development is to nonprofits, who can have all the tools in the world, and could not execute, simply for not having the resources, training and talent to succeed. This training event, in fact the whole design of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, is infused with this knowledge.

You can see that many, many people came together to form the recipe of success for Friday’s training event (please excuse any forgotten mentions). That’s the truth behind most successes. One person rarely is the sole generator of great efforts.

What About Those Super Powers?

My favorite super hero is Batman. He is always able to succeed with determination and skills in the face of his own tragic flaws. He does so with the help of friends, and no true super powers. Sheer moxy (or craziness), help from others, technology and training power Batman to success.

We all wish we had super powers. We wish we could change the world by flying through the air and laser eye vision or the like. That’s why we admire the super acts of individuals, placing them on pedestals.

All of us excel in certain areas. While all humans are equal in rights and random chance, we are not all equal in skills. Some of us are very talented in areas. However, invariably these skills are certainly offset by character flaws.

This is not to say that the strengths aren’t noteworthy. They are. Albert Einstein was brilliantly thoughtful and analytical. It doesn’t mean you’d want to hang out with him at a baseball game. Such are weaknesses. Understanding one’s strengths AND weaknesses, and how others round out a total effort is the art of management.

All stars have weaknesses. And even if they claim not to, one person eventually hits a limit to scaling. That’s why we need others: To counter weaknesses and collectively achieve what one person alone cannot.

The Myth Lives On

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“In life, there are teams called Smith, and teams called ‘Grabowski’….We’re Grabowskis!” Mike Ditka

Great quote for a team with no ultimate star, the 1985 Chicago Bears. Yet, we don’t love Grabowskis. We love super men (and women), icons who can supposedly change the world.

The hope that we, too, could be super one day touches an inner desire to be special. That’s why pedestals are built, and marketing images contrived. Because deep down inside we want to believe that we can conquer all.

So we celebrate those that appear to do so, in all aspects of our culture.

Yet, in reality, we know that it was many, it was the whole group that did it together. Even the stars need their Grabowskis to succeed. Just don’t shout it out too loud.

What do you think of the American super hero myth?

Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) Answers Tough Questions

In the above video, Author of The Thank You Economy Gary Vaynerchuk answers five questions about his views on consultants and social media. These questions are a follow up to both his controversial TechCrunch interview where he said 99% of social media experts are clowns, and Gini Dietrich’s blog post questioning Vaynerchuk‘s similar opinions about PR Firms in his book.

Personal note to Gary: Thank you for doing this, you’re a champ! Bought and looking forward to reading The Thank You Economy.

Here are the questions posed to Gary.

  • OK, first there was the TechCrunch “99% of social media experts are clowns” statement, and now there is discussion about your book The Thank You Economy, and how 95% of PR firms will louse up your community relations. You seem to have some strong 90th percentile feelings about consultants these days. What’s causing your statements?
  • Why is this generation of marketers any more or less crappy than the marketers that existed before social media?
  • Have you consulted others outside of your company? How did those engagements work out?
  • Who are some online communications consultants that you like?
  • Kathy Sierra recently said on the Gaping Void blog that your work is great because you make others better. [How] do you hope the industry will improve as a result of these conversations and The Thank You Economy?