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5 Things I Learned at SXSW (That Every Social Marketer Should Know)

I learned more than five things at SXSW. For instance, not included in my ruminations below: you can now buy and sell houses on WhatsApp, 70% of highly resilient people process emotions by writing them down, and the best way to spawn your own late night hotel pool party is…well, that last one you’ll have to DM me for.

But all those factoids aside: here are the five things I learned at SXSW that should be required knowledge for every social marketer.

1. Consistent Engagement is #1

If you’re investing in video on social, stop focusing on those tasty spikes in engagement. You’re missing the point.

During the State of Media and Tech panel–featuring Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable; Billy Parks, Senior VP of the Fullscreen Strategic Content Group; successful travel YouTuber Joanna Franco; and Bloomberg reporter Lucas Shaw–the speakers touched on the importance of consistent engagement and relationship-building with your audience over one-time success.

Another significant theme in this panel: how brands can partner with influencers to create this consistent engagement. Both Joanna and Billy mentioned her partnership with AT&T and their HelloLabs

…and what makes an influencer-brand relationship thrive:

2. GIFs Are Not a Meaningless Format

Okay, I knew this already. I love GIFs so dearly.


But this is a message that the elderly statesmen of social marketing (if there is such a thing) need to hear. Guess where I found that GIF above? Giphy. Many marketers use Giphy, but it’s more than just a GIF repository.

Some other interesting ways to think about GIFs (and using them as brands), as explained by GIF founder Alex Chung in a GIF-centric prezo, which made my day:

  • Photography gave us visual nouns…GIFs give us visual verbs 
  • Gifnosis is the process of hypnotization and brainwashing which GIFs can create
  • A major part of Giphy’s mission is to redefine search
  • Giphy has 150 million unique visitors per month
  • Giphy has created its own agency — and they’re hiring!
  • Most of Giphy’s site content is actually licensed and legal

If I were you, I’d begin thinking about partnering with Giphy for brand-centric GIF creation, keeping an eye on this platform and how you can use its future integrations with other social platforms, and incorporating GIFs into your social marketing strategy.

3. We Are Oversaturated by “Social Media Experts”

This makes it hard to tell who the real experts are.

I went to a panel entitled Stay True to Your Craft and Online Brand, featuring Helen Todd, CEO of Sociality Squared; James Burns, Director/Producer for Tilted Productions/Vice Media; Jey Van-Sharp, Business Advisor for MyÜberLife; and Martin Waxman, President of Martin Waxman Communications.

The panelists posed a lot of questions and gave a lot of statistics around generating content and buzz for your personal brand in an era when the buzz can be overwhelming and building brand loyalty and trust is harder than ever.

Along with learnings about personal branding (taglines like “Your network is your net worth” got thrown around quite a bit), my big takeaways were: 

  • Your brand needs to find a major differentiator to stand out in the increasingly oversaturated social and online environment
  • That major differentiator had better have more behind it than just good marketing, or you will break your audience’s trust and/or never get your brand’s ball truly rolling

4. Don’t Delete Your Brand Differentiator

Speaking of differentiators…I had a really interesting time at An Honest Conversation with Yik Yak. The founders discussed major issues, like how they interact with law enforcement, and matters of privacy for users.

It was all fascinating, but I was shocked during the Q&A. Someone asked the founders if they considered the anonymity of the platform a defining feature of their app which will last into the future and never go away.

They said no.

I know it is difficult for emerging platforms to monetize when the foundation of their app is anonymity, but anonymity seems to be the only differentiator between Yik Yak and other apps like it. I don’t see much future for Yik Yak without this feature, because I don’t see much value from the user perspective. This is an important issue for any brand to think about.

5. Failure and Vulnerability Are Good

Oh boy, how much do I love Brené Brown?

She was a keynote speaker at SXSW this year. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.

So how does this apply to your social marketing organization?

  • Be vulnerable: Through her research, Brown has found that vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage. Create at least occasional social content which shows the soft, “real” side of your brand
  • It’s okay to fail: Brown also found that people who have no tolerance for failure create nothing new. Take a risk with your social strategy, and you’ll generate awareness as an innovator, not a follower. Analyze and optimize your social efforts on a consistent basis
  • We are born to tell and hear stories: A lot of what Brown talked about was the power of story to the human brain. She also said:

Are you telling the right story for your brand? Are you focusing on telling compelling stories instead of broadcasting the “right” message?

  • You must own your (brand) story: Your brand has evolved, or screwed up. Own that story instead of ignoring it or erasing it.

What did you learn at SXSW, and what do you think about what I learned? Get at me @LLHitz to let me know, and download our 2016 Social + Marketing Predictions for more of the latest and greatest in social marketing.

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Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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