South by Southwest Interactive (SxSWi) is the premier event for web, social and interactive media, yet it is just as dynamic for networking. I have attended since 2008, and have found the off-site activities just as valuable, if not at times more so, than the panels themselves. This year’s SxSWi was only excepted by scale – such as the estimated 100% increase in attendance from 2010. I make a point of attending SxSWi to keep abreast of latest developments as well as [re]connect with the luminaries in the industry. My impressions from SxSWi were indelible – here are some of the more relevant bits:
This is just the beginning: If you think we are at the height of the maturity curve for digital and social media, guess again. It is clear we are still in infancy. A quick tour around the showroom floor brought that reality to the fore. One of the more intriguing sessions I attended featured Reed Hoffman, of PayPal fame, now Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, who described the future of the internet as an open platform where data *is* the platform. In Web 1.0 we took the first steps with online “presence” – largely anonymous users interacting with websites, browsing for information. Web 2.0 gave birth to online personas, with our identity and relationships transferred online, along with the concept of targetted search, rather than browsing. This is the generation of mass data with a revolution of empowered online users.
Web 3.0 is the next stage in this evolution, which delivers innovation around data. We presently experience considerable levels of data exhaustion and information overload. Innovation is derived from making sense of this data, and expressing its value to the user. Today there are early instances of 3.0 – Mint.com pulls in your financial information, and provides a map of expenses. Google has a data mash-up product called Refine, a tool for cleaning up and transforming unorganised data, in order to extend them to other web services. LinkedIn is working to use semantics to create a skills topology to mash-up with Wikipedia, for definition, which will assist job seekers in navigating the professional world, and identifying skills needed for certain roles and/or industries. Reed noted that in constructing the future of the internet it will be critical to think about what we are doing with data – how do we preserve trust of data and recognise that not all data is created equal.
Internet, television, mobile get cozy: It is likely not news to you that the internet, television and mobility are converging – the only way for TV to grow was to escape the living room. What is the impact of this? I was amased at the number of attendees in a packed ballroom indicated that they have cancelled their cable or satellite provider, and are acquiring TV directly from the internet. Also, significantly more users learn about new TV programmes from their social networks – principally Facebook and Twitter – than traditional TV and media advertisements? Intel’s futurist, Brian David Johnson, states how we are quickly moving towards more devices than people on the planet. As such, TV is no longer the TV of prior generations, but a display of choice to connect people socially, and with film and broadcast media – it is becoming a mainstream cultural connection. Thus, media now transcends single devices. We have just passed the tipping point with technology (tablets, smart phones, IPTV and set-top boxes, notebooks/netbooks) that can be connected together, and have content/storytelling weave seamlessly across each. This not only impacts hardware product sets, software, applications and services, but marketing efforts to connect with customers along with methods to stay connected in our personal life.
Good content creation becomes king: Barry Diller, Chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp, discussed the internet as a mass of data, and the shift towards journalistic content. Barry notes how the old media journalistic process no longer has a place in the present age – access to information is real-time. The name of the game is to produce relevant and engaging content real-time. He argues great content will produce winners and losers on the web, and that producing content that can be consumed on any device in an open platform is the “future”.
CNN would state the future is already here, showcasing their new digital playground at SXSWi, with on the go programming options. As such, the role of the journalist will evolve from print, to real-time content, and storytelling that is ubiquitous. Barry states, “a great editor is a great editor no matter the medium.” Genevieve Bell, Intel Fellow, noted whilst the internet is not yet pervasive but that content is. For example in India, phones are not connected to the internet. So Indians bring their phones to a shop by a bus or train stop, to download content during their morning commute. Likewise, we will soon see journalists sought to fill digital marketing, media and interactive content jobs.
Science Fiction is not fictitious: An interesting panel discussion yielded a compelling prediction – social capital will supplant brand equity as the measure of brand success. There are 3 forces enabling this shift:
(1) Rapid rate of change – By 2025 compute power will be able to simulate human brain power.
(2) Overwhelming complexity of data, number of apps and social networking sites
(3) Technology that will evolve beyond the present, primitive state.
Social media voices are something that marketers can no longer compete – a startling perspective being rapidly disappearing e number of inactive adult internet users (19%) in the US. Mike Spataro, VP of Enterprise Client Strategy for Visible Technologies, claims that social influence is the killer app to social capital.
What, then, is a person with social influence – this is someone that has greater than average impact through word of mouth. We may not be able to compete with social capital, but we can leverage its power. Currently there no standards defined for the influence of online customers, yet we can manually look at the relation of others in the community. The behavioural mapping of activity, relevance, reach and pull equates influence.
Three to five years out is potentially the Holy Grail for marketers – a/k/a predictive analysis of social influence, which means behavioural mapping across various communities and channels, to predict certain behavior based upon your online persona. Dell currently measures social capital across domains both on and off .com, based on the concept that marketing requires adaptive customer centric strategies. They create a social presence map with credibility and reputation overlays, have listening software that directly feeds back product ratings and reviews to the product teams, and look at their content reach – which is currently more than the top 12 publications. They have a command and control center that responds and engages with customers.
What happens in North America doesn’t happen everywhere: I attended a session on “Going Big in Japan”, where I enjoyed a well defined overview of how starkly different online behaviour is in various countries and markets. One size does *not* for all. For example, Facebook is not big in Japan. Why? it requires one to fully identify themselves, and Japanese online users are less comfortable with association of their content with their full name. Twitter on the other hand has taken off astronomically, and likely will be more pervasive in Japan than the U.S – it only requires a handle to participate. Notable is how more than 90% of Japanese blogs are anonymous. Other notable facts include how young girls are principally connected via mobile devices, not notebooks or netbooks; and that Japan still has the top circulation of newspapers and magazines. The learning for all walks is to understand geo and country online behavior, not to assume translation of English content will work across the globe, and that one’s brand may need a cute character J.
My principal takeaways are:
· The future of the internet is the ability to make sense of and utilise the mass of data
· Compelling, real-time content creation is key to online success
· One size digital experience doesn’t fit all
· The digital experience is now device- and display-agnostic, and ubiquitous
· Social capital will supplant brand equity as the measure of success
· Predictive analytics is the holy grail for marketers