Digital and Interpersonal Themes: A View from SXSW Interactive

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Filed under: Marketing Notes, Social Media

Digital and Interpersonal Themes: A View from SXSW Interactive

A packed room of largely first-time attendees came to the Social Media Club of Chicago’s March meeting to hear about this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference—”SouthBy,” in the lingo of the regulars.

The event was held at DraftFCB’s offices in Chicago, notable to me for the impeccably done brown terrazzo up on the 14th floor. You don’t see much terrazzo in office buildings outside lobbies. (I notice because we have an association of terrazzo contractors as a client.)

Panelists agreed that this year’s interactive conference did feature an Earth-shaking digital trend as in years past, such as Twitter in 2007. The 25% increase in attendance, to more than 27,000, stood out. It sounded like a lot of little things came together: an integration of people, brands, and disciplines into a conversational and interactive whole. Several themes stood out to me as I listened:

International emerges. Chris Miller (@scubachris) mentioned that there were more international attendees and presenters than in any of the more than a dozen SXSW conferences he’s attended, with a notable emphasis on the developing world. The internet in the developing world does not look like a monitor; it shows up on a mobile phone, and not a smart phone at that. They are doing wonderful things with plain-old cell phones and SMS in Africa, including epayments.

Things are becoming connected. One of the year’s trends is “the internet of things,” as Melissa Pierce (@melissapierce) noted. Look for apps to become increasingly interconnected with each other and to increasingly diverse types of devices throughout every aspect of our daily lives.

We will be producers. We started to become publishers with blogging in 2004, the beginning of a movement within IBM to show the  behemoth corporation’s human faces and personal opinions, Ed Brill (@edbrill) mentioned. With 3D printing, we will all become producers, Lizz Kannenberg (@lizzkannenberg) said.

Service and thoughtfulness rule. Brands that served participant needs got noticed most, Lizz Kannenberg (@lizzkannenberg) said. Everyone has t-shirts. Snacks are good if they are done right. But anything that serves a need of 27,000 people at a fast-paced conference can stand out. Uber, the mobile-based towncar and taxi service, got high marks for providing much-need transportation on several levels, from free basic service to ultra-luxury vehicles.

Collaborate and converse. Panelists remarked on increased collaboration among the digital, film, and music disciplines. Brands sought to collaborate with technology vendors, and the whole event (I have never been) sounds like one big conversation among nerds morphing into another among hipsters, with the two types blending as life becomes digital while retaining the human yearning to connect face to face.

For more on SXSW:

Watch CNN’s special SXSW coverage to get an introduction to the event.

Read takeaways for marketers on the MarketingProfs blog.


  • Chris Miller (@scubachris), Chief Digital Officer at DraftFCB
  • Melissa Pierce (@melissapierce), COO Everpurse, fledgling programmer, filmmaker and #RVSX producer
  • Lizz Kannenberg (@lizzkannenberg), Social Media Director at Walton-Isaacson
  • Ed Brill (@edbrill), Director Market Management IBM Mobile Enterprise at IBM