Lessons from SXSW 2016

By: Emily Williams


From March 11-15 I attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Yes, most people know this as a huge music festival. However, there are three conferences happening mostly simultaneously: Music, Film and Interactive. The Interactive Track (that I attended) is a massive, cutting-edge tech and digital conference featuring keynote speakers (like President Obama), numerous sessions/panels (including execs from Facebook, Google, Mashable, AdCouncil, GM, Unilever and a variety of celebs) and a host of networking events.

Here are the highlights from the top 4 sessions I attended:

  • President Barack Obama
    Tech & Government

    • President Obama stressed that law enforcement should be able to legally collect information on electronic devices – expressing direct opposition of encryption from companies like Apple. He did not comment directly on the current Apple / San Bernardino case, but cited the fact that since the government can dig through “your underwear drawer” at your house, your digital information should be treated with the same access.
    • The President encouraged more relationship between government and tech, recommending that the government learn more lessons from the private tech world to enhance civic engagement and efficiency issues in the government. He urged tech leaders to consider consulting on government projects – even joking about the notorious crash of the Healthcare.gov website as an example of the government’s need for outside tech help.
    • Interested in knowing more? Check out this recap or this full transcript of his remarks.
  • Daring Greatly
    Brene Brown (Researcher, Author)

    • Brene Brown is a notorious researcher and storyteller that reached fame through her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability – one of the most watched Ted Talks of all time (currently more than 24 million views).
    • As a keynote (the only keynote – other than President Obama – that has been known to elicit massive standing ovations), she encouraged the audience to live vulnerably, recognize emotions and be mindful.
    • Brown reminded us of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote:

      It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.

      She used this quote to encourage all of us to have our own inner circle – a predetermined number of voices that we choose will matter. She reminded us that those willing to fight in the arena will always fail at some point (reaping both the risk and reward of the fight), therefore those sitting in the stands such not be able to judge our lives while we are in the arena. If you live in the arena, choose a group of voices also in the arena to be able to speak into your life.

    • Those who are vulnerable enough to risk failing will get back up as an even greater person. According to Brown, those who return from failure stronger than before have three things in common:
      • The reckoning – When we are in an emotional state, our emotions get the first crack at telling ourselves the story of what is happening around us. Those who are aware of their emotions are able to investigate them thoroughly for their purpose rather than ignore or indulge them.
      • The rumble – We have to wrestle with our stories to determine the truth – not just the story that we are telling ourselves is true.
      • The revolution – We use our fights, failures and resolutions to transform our behavior and our stories.
  • Improving Engagement in a Mobile and Social World
    Stacy Garcia (Google)

    • Stacy Garcia of Google challenged marketers to focus on mobile and social when building brands. Companies must build for mobile first, engage users socially and drive traffic to websites to make successful conversions.
    • According to Garcia, 74% of people say they will return to a site if it is mobile friendly. When optimizing websites for mobile, Garcia encouraged us to do three things:
      • Make it fast
      • Make it easy for users
      • Make it consistent
    • There are four types of content that people share:
      • Emotion – When people care, they share.
      • Social Proof – People share what makes them look cool, smart, savvy, etc.
      • Practical Value – If your content is useful, people will spread the word.
      • Stories – People don’t share information, they share stories.
  • Is Twitter the New Customer Call Center?
    Panel: Rebecca Harris (GM), Ashley Mainz (Southwest Airlines), Michael Nagel (Cummins), Angela Wells (Oracle)

    • In this panel discussion, major players in the online reviews / social media space discussed reputation management issues and how to respond to customer service issues online.
    • According to the 2015 Aspect Consumer Experience Survey, 73% of consumers want the ability to solve product/service issues on their own. 1/3rd say they’d rather clean a toilet that speak with customer service.
    • Harris noted that there are two types of customer voices on Twitter:
      • People who want to find a solution
      • People who are mad at the company and want to complain publicly
    • The key to great customer service online is quick, direct responses to consumers. And don’t just respond to the negative – but shock and surprise your online audience as well! Southwest gave an example of giving airline points to a user who tweeted them about frustrations over another airline’s baggage fees.
    • Harris noted that GM recently had a customer that tweeted GM for advice about purchasing a new truck. GM quickly engaged this client in online dialogue via twitter, landing the consumer in the lot to ultimately purchase the truck. The customer had also initially tweeted GM’s major competitor, but got no response from that company.
    • Recent research from Lithium Technologies shows that 53% of people expect a response from a tweet to a company. That number increases to 73% if the tweet is about something negative.
    • Southwest Airlines has a maximum response time of 15 minutes to online interactions. However, their average response time is roughly 6 minutes.
    • Harris said that GM’s philosophy for customer service reps is to hire nice, smart people who really care. Then let them go at it!

Want to know more about SXSW 2016? Visit the SXSW website or email me with any questions!

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