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TODD SMITH’S SPIN CYCLE — Key takeaways from SXSW in Austin, Texas

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

The Spin Cycle – always on the lookout for innovative thought that drives the branding industry – rolled into Texas for the annual South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conferences & Festivals, soaking up the latest in emerging marketing technologies.

Between the panel sessions, keynotes, networking, barbecue, live music and parties there was no shortage of things to engage the senses at SXSW – or simply South by as it is called by event vets and Austinites alike. Now that the crazy whirlwind of activity is behind us, it’s time for a bit of reflection. Here are a few key takeaways from the 2015 festival for PR pros, marketers and ad gurus.

Meerkat-screenshot_rgbMeerkat-ing is officially a “thing”
Prior to SXSW, AdWeek contemplated if Meerkat – which allows you to tweet live video – was poised to be the festival’s next big breakout app. The answer was a resounding yes. Everyone at SXSW was using or talking about Meerkat and the company announced a couple of weeks ago that it had upwards of 120,000 users and growth was continuing to peak. Now, some are even predicting that Meerkat will kill live TV. The Spin Cycle is not willing to go quite that far, but the app feels like it has the staying power that many previous SXSW darlings have not.

Wearables continue the march to maturity
Wearable technology has been a topic at SXSW for several years – really getting started when Google Glass burst on the scene. This year illustrated how the industry continues to expand and mature. In addition crowds gathering to get a look at new wearable devices for children and pets, the conversation was largely about how technology and fashion are quickly merging together. What we consider “wearable” technology today will be invisible tomorrow – embedded into the very fabric of the clothing we wear. Expect the industry focus to shift to what to do with all the data being produced by such innovation and how it can be used for personal betterment and the collective good.

It’s harder than ever to stand out
There is so much content generated on a daily basis that rising above the noise has become extraordinarily difficult. As marketers, we can take solace in knowing that great stories still matter and there are an increasing number of avenues through which to tell them. The more we are able to hone our storytelling skills, the better off we’ll be. Two themes that emerged at SXSW in regards to content were emotion and data.

Like it or not, data should be an extremely valuable tool for informing storytelling activities. Those on the leading-edge are using data not only to analyze the performance of their content, but to predict what content will resonate best with a specific audience. Similarly, evoking emotion and delivering content that people can relate to in a human way were oft-cited mantras from brands and publishers alike. Sure, this is much easier said than done, but makes for a good roadmap to follow.

Scaling social takes time and real investment
For all the talk about amazing social media campaigns and breakout moments, there was some excellent levity shared throughout the festival. For starters – the need to attract and retain talent with multiple skills (social, copywriting, analytics, video production, etc.) is immense and competition is fierce. In terms of scaling social within an organization, Alice Wilson of Southwest Airlines shared some interesting data. Roughly one year ago, Southwest had 3 part-time staffers running its social customer care. Today, there are 22 full-time employees focused on social customer care and that number is expected to jump to 30 in the new few weeks. In part, this growth was achieved by consistently showing management the missed opportunities – that and the fact that Southwest views itself as a customer service company that just happens to fly planes.

Google change allows company statements to top news searches
A little-noticed change in the way Google selects search results has allowed company statements to top the list of news links shown when users search for information on businesses.

The measure may cost news publishers web traffic and risks misleading users, analysts told Reuters.

A Google spokeswoman said that in September the search giant widened the number of sources from which it drew the entries that appear in the “in the news” section of its search results page.

Previously, only links to stories on approved news sites such as those of newspapers and TV stations appeared in this section of the main search page.

“The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible – that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release,” the Google spokeswoman said.

She added Google, which did not announce the September change, does not get paid for including press releases on the lists.

Recent examples of companies whose announcements topped the “in the news” section include Franco-Dutch SIM card maker Gemalto.

Last month, Gemalto confirmed reports it had likely been the victim of hacking by U.S. and British spies. The story garnered wide media attention but when users did a Google search for the word “Gemalto,” the first “in the news” listing was a Gemalto statement, which played down the impact of the hacking.
Recently, on the day Apple launched its new watch, a link to a promotional site for the product topped the “in the news” selection.

Josh Schwartz, chief data scientist at Chartbeat, which tracks web traffic for news publishers and others, said it was likely that companies could use search engine optimization techniques to lift their rankings in the news listings through public relations materials and away from news reports.

That also poses a risk to news organizations that rely on Google and other search engines to direct readers to their websites.

“The ‘in the news’ modules are potentially an extremely powerful driver of traffic,” Schwartz said. “It could cost news sites traffic.”

Traitor Mic | Air Force vet charged with joining ISIS
A federal grand jury in Brooklyn indicted a former U.S. Air Force mechanic on charges of providing material support to ISIS and destroying evidence in the case. The indictment released last week alleges Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh tried to join the self-declared Islamic State between May 2014 and Jan 2015, and that he attempted to destroy evidence of those actions shortly before he was charged in a secret complaint on Jan. 16. Pugh, who was recently fired from his job as an airplane mechanic in the Middle East, flew from Egypt to Turkey on Jan. 10 in order to get to the Syrian border. He was subsequently rejected by Turkish authorities and sent back to Egypt before being deported to the United States. Prosecutors said Pugh’s Internet search history revealed he had looked up “borders controlled by Islamic State” and “kobani border crossing,” the latter referring to a city on Syria’s border with Turkey that was recently reclaimed by Kurdish troops. If convicted, Pugh faces as much as 35 years in prison. For that, he gets the Traitor Mic!

Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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