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

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


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.

7 Daunting Challenges Facing Marketers


Marketing today remains a great challenge, in large part because of the consistently changing technology and media landscape. Informational sources (conferences, blogs, etc.) consistently address these challenges yet the issues persist.

It may be time to take a step back on a macro level and look at how education and information sources are meeting these challenges.

Here are the seven daunting difficulties for today’s communicators, each followed by an idea or three on how to address them. Please add your own thoughts.

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The Bulgarian Principle

Rosen Plevneliev

On Tuesday night, I sat at the Livingston table for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s 100th anniversary. As I blogged a few weeks ago, the ADL was started to fight antisemitism by my great grand uncle Sigmund Livingston. The keynote speaker was his excellency Rosen Plevneliev, president, Republic of Bulgaria.

Part of the evening included a retelling of Bulgaria’s resistance against Nazi Germany during World War II, an effort that saved its population of 48,000 Jews. Bulgaria saved these lives, not by direct conflict, but through red tape dallying and eventually exposing Nazi demands to export the Jews through the American media.

This commitment to basic human rights in the face of the greatest evil and bully we have seen in modern times just stuns the mind.

Frankly, if you care about change, if you believe that people can make a difference, this sterling example of principle stands out. It’s what we live for, a beautiful testimony to what unwillingness to yield to wrongness can achieve.

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Tim Berners-Lee: You Can’t Quantify Potential Influence

Me and Tim Berners-Lee 2

The highlight of my SxSW experience this weekend was meeting Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. I took the opportunity to ask Sir Berners-Lee what he thought of social influence metrics like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex.

His response was remarkable, but before I share it with you let me frame the scene.

Sir Berners-Lee is clearly a savant. He is so brilliant he struggled with the bloggy attention he received at the IEEE SxSW reception. When he talk, he gestured somewhat wildly, and was clearly aware of the surrounding cameras. It was exactly how I imagine Einstein would function in this 21st century world of cameras, tweets, and instant access… Like a brilliant wild person forced to live in a zoo.

I immediately recognized time would be short with this man, that he would move on quickly. So I listened intently.
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Future of the Internet: Networked or Shallow?

Dolphin Tale Wave

SxSW starts next weekend, and the whole sector will be focused on the immediate future of the Internet. It seems fitting that the fifth “Future of the Internet” survey was released last week by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. More than 1,000 people participated in the study, including me.

From the report’s executive summary: “Technology experts and stakeholders were fairly evenly split as to whether the younger generation’s always-on connection to people and information will turn out to be a net positive or a net negative by 2020. They said many of the young people growing up hyperconnected to each other and the mobile Web and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do well in key respects.

“At the same time, these experts predicted that the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, and lack patience. A number of the survey respondents argued that it is vital to reform education and emphasize digital literacy. A notable number expressed concerns that trends are leading to a future in which most people are shallow consumers of information, and some mentioned George Orwell’s 1984 or expressed their fears of control by powerful interests in an age of entertaining distractions.”

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True Blue

Go as a River

True blue — loyalty in your views and causes — is an admirable quality.

Blue means more culturally, too. It can mean feeling down.

When I consider this blog over the past year and half — really since I began writing Welcome to the Fifth Estate — I have the latter kind of blues because I sacrificed the true blue of authenticity, and writing what I cared about.

Yes, I was supporting a book. Yes, I do care about social media, but as time has come to pass, it’s clear not enough to write about it every post three, four even five times a week.

During the Fifth Estate period this blog became well-ranked. It’s the fourth such blog I have written or created the strategic plan for that has earned these types of rankings. This is a noteworthy achievement that many respected marketers want and most bloggers love.

But as a writer there is something immensely unsatisfying about the restraints of a beat, particularly one like social media that is well, limiting in several ways. For all intents and purposes it is the limitations of being a trade journalist, and not writing about anything with serious life consequence. Frankly, to become top ranked in social media there is an element of selling out — writing about Twitter, Facebook, Google+, shamelessly pursuing retweets, Likes and plusses, etc. — that is just unpalatable after a while.

I work to find ways to positively impact society via media and communications with as much reach as possible. These are the types of projects I successfully find professionally. Yet at times my social media writing has little to do with my personal passion.

It gives me the blues to thing about what I have done to become well read, and to market. There is a sense of dismay and personal loathing when you realize you have sold out.

I am sorry for this. Not just to my reader, but to myself, for compromising my character in such a fashion.

After all the Google+ hoopla last July, I stopped writing about popular social media topics every post. I also stopped making myself post four or five times a week. The social media expert land grab around Google+ was the final straw, killing my passion for the game.

My rankings plummeted. My love for writing the blog has returned. Writing flows from me again, tapped back into my soul, a river running its natural course.

Popularity may be worth it to some. In fact, it can downright lucrative, if done right. Without popularity and ranking as a goal, this blog can have so much more passion and discuss important issues. It can address aspects of the Internet, media, marketing, cultural and life issues beyond the popular top ten list of Twitter tips. Yes it will be eclectic, but even when the posts are social media oriented (and I will continue blogging about social media), they will be pure, and not contrived to meet a quota of top ranked posts.

This blog in the past few weeks has been more representative of my heart. My conclusion: It’s better to be true blue.