Day 4: On the Ground @ SXSW

Posted by Mitchell Communications Group on March 10, 2014

Mitchell Communications Group has four team members on site at SXSW – the music, film and interactive festival that has taken over Austin, Texas. Here are their ah-ha moments from Monday, as SXSW unveils the technology of tomorrow today.

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Thanks to the Internet, the world is now full of content creators. However, the majority of these don’t adhere to -- nor have they heard of -- the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics. And even if they had, it is highly unlikely that they would self-enforce those rules.

Many people are either stealing content or incorrectly reporting content from others. Fortunately, technology is advancing to help avoid or at least minimize the pain.

Google recently altered YouTube in a way that allows original content creators to monetize their video content being used by others. Getty recently announced it would be giving away many of its images since people were stealing them anyway, but now it has embedded new technology to track so people using it outside the rules can be charged.

So what can be done? In the end, it is up to the reader to question what they are reading and verify the information when possible. Journalists should also monitor their own content. Finally, readers should not be passive and must call people out when they see original content being misused.

A virtual conversation with Edward Snowden

SnowdenDespite government requests to not allow Edward Snowden to present, SXSW organizers let the show go on via a very secure connection and broadcast it in two large ballrooms to thousands of attendees. Here are some highlights:

  • The U.S. government and large companies are some of the only entities in the world that collect and keep data indefinitely. However, they rarely do anything with the historic data. But archiving this data makes it an easy target for attack by unscrupulous people. Eliminating these archives would significantly increase the personal information of millions of people.
  • Cyberterrrorism is perhaps the single largest threat to the U.S. today. The government has the ability to make greater strides in security but doing so would impact their ability to monitor the masses online.
  • Google and other companies are taking steps such as the recent changes in Gmail security that do not require action on the part of the user. More tech companies should be doing this. However, encrypting user data takes away the ability to track and market specific products and services to the individual.
  • The best protection for the individual is to implement hardware and network encryption, use secure browser add-ons, and use a mixed-routing network such as TOR. But most of us do not know how to do this so ultimately, the best way to protect your online experience is to pay for those services.

In the end, regardless of whether you think Edward Snowden was right or wrong, the subsequent action has been to do a better job of protecting our information.

– Greg Smith, director of marketing

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Today I selected sessions themed around social content and storytelling. My day led with learning about the future of social media with consultant, author and Rutgers professor Mark Schaefer. He walked us through four digital revolutions, which included presence, discovery, utility and immersion. He provided a staggering statistic that by 2020 the amount of info on the web will increase by 600 percent.

Brands have to think beyond outsmarting Google with keywords, as well as thinking beyond good content. There’s simply too much out there with not enough attention available. Brands have to immerse themselves in the culture. Technology is a good way to do that.

Next I had the chance to watch nine agencies go head-to-head pitching their story to recruits and potential clients. It was interesting to witness similarities and differences among top agencies in our industry. Many used similar templates in terms of the type of information they shared about themselves.

An insight I gained was that it doesn't matter how cool your slides and videos are if your presenter doesn’t fit the tone of your messaging. I also saw the importance of video storytelling for both case studies and showing your culture. All good things for agencies to think about before their next big pitch.

Between sessions, I connected with Ann and the two of us took in a few sights. Austin is a hip town with a creative vibe. I’d recommend visiting the Second Street District lined with local clothing boutiques and gourmet food stores. I thought it was interesting that in the middle of the city, among a multitude of SXSW venues, demolition was taking place. It’s a great metaphor for the week. Sometimes you have to tear down constructs of your brand or industry in order to make room for new thinking.

The last session I attended was about taking risks for great social storytelling. Dan Fletcher, who was the managing editor of Facebook and now co-founder of Beacon, interviewed photographer Tonja Hollander, who travelled the world to take pictures of her Facebook friends as part of a project called “Are you really my friend?” They discussed how to take social platforms to new limits and why brands, artists, musicians, journalists and nonprofits should take more risks.

– Kate Andersen, vice president of creative and digital services

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I've noticed a common theme in the sessions I've gone to in regard to content strategy and engagement -- serendipitous rewarding or surprise and delight.

My experience with Reddit has been limited. I think it's a great social community, but I’ve always been intimidated by its size. I went to a session entitled Reddit: You're Doing It Wrong, hosted by Garrett Tillman (Trulia) and Rohit Thawani (TBWA/Chiat/Day). They gave great examples of doing it right on Reddit and examples of crashing and burning. Transparency, authenticity and just having fun with the community are things they pointed out as doing it right.

I headed to Search Is Dead: The Secret Sauce Behind Discovery, featuring Hayley Barna (Birchbox), Katrina Lake (Stitch Fix), Ruzwana Bashir (Peek) and Todd Yellin (Netflix), but the session filled up before I could get in. Bummed out, I went to grab a cold press juice drink and head toward my next session.

While waiting in the lobby, I had overheard the lady behind me say she was from Stitch Fix. Immediately I turned around to gush to her about how much I loved the brand and concept, only to realize that CEO Katrina Lake was standing next to her. After talking to her about how much I loved my latest box, she was kind enough to pose for a photo with me. It didn’t make up for missing her session, but it was awesome that I got to briefly talk to her one-on-one.

My final session of the day was Know Your Customers – from Stalker to Soul Mate and featured Rebecca Harris (General Motors) and Richard Choi (Chevrolet). My takeaway from was brands should treat their engagement strategy with fans the way everyone treats their relationships with others. Basically it’s the human element that endears us to brands.

Tomorrow I head back to NWA. I’ve definitely learned a lot being here, and hearing from industry leaders is something that not everyone can get in one setting. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with my team and bring fresh new ideas to our clients.

– Ann Hecksher, digital and social media account coordinator

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Today offered a great glimpse into the work of Pete Cashmore of Mashable and Adam Savage from Mythbusters. Adam had a witty talk and Q&A on the intersection of art and science. So often, the two are viewed as mutually exclusive or separate, but really, both ultimately build our culture. They are the ways in which we communicate about who we are and keep record of what we are doing.

The highlight of my day came while walking down closed-to-traffic Sixth Street. A group of young skateboarders were working their way down the street, rowdy in a way that reminded me of myself at that age: fearless, careless and confident.

Later on I found their destination to be a small shaved ice shop, and a couple of them didn't have cash to get anything. I pulled out $20 and slapped it down on the counter telling them to keep being awesome, get whatever they wanted and keep the change. After ensueing high-fives and hearing the phrase “Dude, you're so nice! Seriously!” about 30 times, I was reminded that the best experiences at #SXSW aren't always about the next tech, digital or social breakthrough. Sometimes the little moments that count the most are when people just need someone to see them through the crowd. So, #DoSomethingAwesome today.

– Jameson Sheppard, associate creative director