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Does #SXSW Mirror The Increasing Sophistication of Social Marketing?

SXSW is a mecca for tech geeks. Over the last week, the City of Austin has been inundated with branded t-shirts and messenger bags, all donned by marketers, founders, AEs, and devs slurping back free beers at [insert any tech company here]’s party with partners and potential investors in between sessions and keynotes on various tech related topics, bogging down the wireless network with Tweets and Instagram photos of Snoop Dogg, Girl Talk, and Biz Markie.

Sound overwhelming? It is. Back in the day, SXSW was an awesome way to get your small tech startup noticed. It’s a little tougher to be heard through all the noise these days, and let’s face it, that’s a good thing. It shouldn’t be easy to get any social-based startup funded, running, and broadly promoted. This is how the market becomes saturated with the mediocre. That’s how the dotcom bubble burst in the first place.

Where We Started:

In 2007, a little social media network called Twitter made waves at Austin’s biggest annual event, and blew up into the social media giant it is today. In the years since, we’ve seen an increasing number of companies trying to catch their “big break” at the interactive festival. Attendance has skyrocketed over the years:


As I’m wrapping up my time in Austin, I’ve been reflecting on the changes to the event, to Twitter as a network, and to the social ecosystem as a whole. All three seem to mirror each other in one specific regard: sophistication.

I know SXSW isn’t exactly what you think of when you think “sophisticated”…You won’t find it on 6th street, but the number of industry experts and enterprise-level experts all in one place for a week is pretty amazing, and the idea-sharing and partnerships generated over drinks at private parties and happy hours is nothing short of impressive.

In 2007, SXSW was a place for innovative and young startups with new products to showcase in a guerrilla fashion, reaching their potential investors, partners, and promoters in a way that didn’t require boardroom presentations and PowerPoints.
Twitter was brand new, Facebook was scarcely used as a marketing tool, and we had zero idea what they’d look like down the road. As a result, many of our roles didn’t exist. There weren’t a lot of social media or content marketers in 2007. The budget wasn’t there, the sophistication wasn’t there, but it was all bubbling under the surface.

How have things changed?

SXSW is now a must-attend event for many large companies with social and digital organizations, where conversations become more about improving developing a strategy, building partnerships, and growing an org than they do about getting off the ground. Job titles are content- and social-centric, teams are larger, and understanding of the social and digital space is getting better by the day.

Throughout the week, I met with a few journalists and analysts who create content for press and media companies, but I met with a TON of content directors, corporate storytellers, social media managers, and digital [insert any of 1,000 job titles here] who create just as much content on the brand or agency side.

Screenshot 2014-03-11 14.58.07

This increased presence from large brands makes sense when you look at the way digital marketing has changed over the last several years:

  • The number of channels that marketers have to focus on has grown exponentially. Your audience isn’t just on Twitter and Facebook anymore. At Simply Measured, we help marketing teams at large enterprise brands and agencies measure how nine social networks integrate with their websites, what their competitors do, how their audiences interact, and what their staff is focusing on.
  • Audiences have grown, and are less resistant to branded messaging. Content and social marketing have become such large focuses for organizations because they work. The audience is there, and they’re excited to engage.
  • The understanding of Measurement has gotten stronger. This may sound like a sales pitch, but it’s not. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with social media professionals about the increasing volume they see and the opportunity it presents to do more than just listen to conversations and respond. Measuring and analyzing social is becoming an integral part of digital – and overall business – strategy.

Where are we going?

If SXSW – a collection of industry experts and thought leaders – is any indication, this growth is only going to continue. Large, enterprise marketing orgs will continue to increase their focus on social, build out their teams, and bulk up their strategic programs.

With a growing shift from basic listening and monitoring to more sophisticated measurement and analysis, brand storytellers continue to develop a solid understanding of their audience, armed with the best concepts, strategies, tactics for reach them.

These are practices worth emulating. As content becomes a more centralized component of digital teams, a brand’s social understanding and identity should be at the heart of what it does. This is reflected in org structure, strategy across all platforms, and definitely in the conversations taking place at SXSW.

Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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