Tag Archives: SXSW

Will Beluga and GroupMe be this year’s big winners at SXSW?

Beluga LogoThe SXSW prognosticating season was officially kicked-off by TechCrunch’s MG Seigler just the other day; and I’m ready to throw my hat in the ring with my picks for this year’s darlings. Of course, there’s no real way to predict this; and entrants are likely to come out of the woodwork between now and the start of SXSWi, but recent trends point to a few promising possibilities. In my opinion, the big winners are going to be the micro-social network applications and sites. Why? Because group texting services like Beluga, GroupMe, and others will help attendees cut through the noise of the conference and connect with those closest to them.

Why do I think that inherently non-viral products will catch on at SXSW? Recent history provides the best clues. The launches of Twitter in ’07 and Foursquare in ’09 are examples of how the interactive crowd embraces products that help them make a large, overwhelming conference seem more intimate and personal. Twitter and Foursquare, at launch, allowed users to connect in new ways; ways that leverage connections weak and strong, provide real-time, high-quality information, and help cut through the noise and clamor of a crowded environment. These tools and services gave people the ability to create a personal, custom experience for themselves in a very noisy and chaotic space. And while Twitter and Foursquare are much more open than Beluga or GroupMe, my picks provide the next evolution of delivering those same important elements.

Twitter broke at SXSW in 2007 and was widely used at the festival in 2008 as attendees surfed and Tweeted the #sxsw hashtag to find the parties, venues, impromtu gatherings and panels that were most noteworthy. In ’07, people used it as not only a communication tool, but as a networking and real-time information network. A network that connected like-minded folks with one another in a way that wasn’t possible before. And the rest is history as Twitter blew-up, becoming the preferred communication tool for the digerati and, with later help from Ashton and other celebrities spread to the early-majority crowd as well.

But as Twitter blew up, it’s utility for connecting at SXSW ’08 diminished. Too much noise. Too much pollution. It’s value as an information source remained; but the #sxsw hashtag became unruly and less valuable to help ferret out the best events. It opened up a new opportunity for Foursquare to provide that high-signal, that more personal, manageable connection that Twitter delivered the year before.

Foursquare launched and provided a similar noise-filtered way to connect with friends at SXSW ’09 and again at SXSW ’10. Interactive conference attendees used the service to find out where their friends were. And the SXSW-specific rewards only helped to make using the service more fun. With the Twitter stream polluted and the quality and ease of groking it for useful information diminished, Foursquare stepped in and provided a better filter on connections and information. We had gone from Scott “Laughing Squid” Beale Tweeting about being at a bar next door, to people just watching their friends check-in to venues and forming impromtu gatherings as those check-ins reached critical mass.

Last year, at SXSW, one of the best parties was not a planned party at all. Brian Solis and a small group of influencers checked-in at The Driskill Hotel and within an hour the place was packed. The word was out and the party swelled. After an hour you couldn’t move. The power and faults of a service like Foursquare were evidenced in one short moment. The service worked brilliantly, connecting members of those people’s networks and letting them know where their friends were without any additional coordination or communication. On the flip side, as the message propogated and grew, the event tipped from a small gathering to an all-out free-for-all. The utility of the service fell apart. It went from an intimate gathering to a ridiculously jam packed event. And, for the rest of the conference, many of those people checked in off the grid to keep a similar scene from repeating everywhere they went.

Robert Scoble recently asked how SXSW could regain the intimacy of the conference in face of the ever-growing crowds.

Me? I want to get more of those intimate experiences we used to have. I remember when the entire Web Standards Project fit at one picnic table. I remember having a fun conversation with a small group, all huddled around Craig Newmark in the rain at a BBQ place across the street. I remember being able to get into parties without being a VIP and last year the VIPs even had to wait in line at nearly every party. Heck, I remember when Scott Beale Tweeted in 2007 that he was sitting all alone in an empty pub and I joined him and had a leisurely beer at a picnic table with him and a few other friends. Those days are seemingly gone.

Scoble doubts that we can, because there is too much opportunity cost. I think he’s wrong. I think we can with better tools. It’s not that we’re attention-deficited people who can’t decide where to go and what to do (ok, we are,); but that the tools we have have become too bloated to be effective. Twitter and Foursquare have lost their ability to create those unique, intimate moments because we’ve bent them out of shape with oversized followings and over-subscription. I believe the next wave of services that succeed at SXSW will be those that bring that intimacy back – that allow us to navigate the crowded noisy environment of SXSW and give us a better experience because of it.

Scoble starts to get at it here:

It seems weird for me to say this, but I’m tired of going to big massive parties where you collect a lot of business cards but don’t have any good conversations to show for it. I now have enough business cards. I don’t need more. I bet many of you are in the same place. In fact, this year we’ve seen companies like Pip.io and Path come along and try to serve smaller “micro” groups. Path limits you from sharing photos with more than 50 friends. I’ve come to like that constraint, somewhat. It’s just that I wish I could share with many small groups.

So, how about this as a proposal:

Kill the big parties. Instead, follow Zappos’ lead. This year they hosted a bus. It could only hold about 30 people (it had its own bar, after all). But the time I spent on that bus is still my favorite experience at SXSW. Why? Because it forced a small handful of people to sit together and talk. Even if it was just for 15 minutes it was nice to have an intimate experience with a small number of other people.

And it’s Beluga and GroupMe that can bring that intimacy and limited connection to the table – and create the passionate followings that ignite services like these to broad influencer adoption and buzz required to tip one of these services in terms of awareness and users.

Out of the two I’m picking Beluga for two reasons. First, because you connect your account with Facebook you can see which of your Facebook friends is using Beluga and automatically send them a message or add them to a group.  This is going to help the viral spread of the service.  Second, the ability to add friends based on email address or phone, over just phone makes the service more early-adopter friendly and allows you to add friends who you may have connected with online; but are not necessarily friends with on Facebook or whose phone number you don’t have. This will allow more loosely-connected groups to form to make dinner and other plans at SXSW and then disband just as fast. (GroupMe also has expiring groups, which are very interesting for ephemeral groups.) Other groups will persist as back-channel mobile chat rooms that will be running as its own data layer on top of the Twitter feed, Foursquare check-ins and other conference noise.

The benefits of a limited circle are most obvious when we’re in high-density network situations like SXSW. Over-subscribed friend and follower counts limit the effectiveness of the tools. When you’re in tight quarters, when you’re looking for high-quality information over the noise, when you’re looking for that quiet dinner party with your friends, more isn’t better. Better is better. Beluga and GroupMe and others can help give us a better experience. Can bring the intimacy of SXSW back and will be the darlings of this year’s conference.

Update: had my Foursquare launch years off.  
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The Art of Access

Access. It’s what everyone wants.  Access to the best events, access to the famous people.  If the adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true (and, it is) then access is what gets you to the “who” that can make a difference.  But, more often than not, meeting the “who” that matter is a pipe dream – and any interaction is often little more than a passing handshake in the hall of a conference or a feeble “great panel” comment as you stand in a sea of others all clamoring to meet the person you really want to know.

Gaining access is an art. An art that they don’t teach you in business school, but one that changes everything, from the events you attend to the people that you meet to the jobs that you get.  It is the secret to getting to wherever it is you’re going.

Here are the key principles in gaining access:


If you’re not pre-gaming conferences and events you’re killing your chances at gaining access.  You or your company have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars to get you to an event (say, South By Southwest); you can’t simply walk-in without doing any prep work and expect to successfully connect with the people you want to meet.  These people have schedules at these events that are booked weeks in advance and your chances of just “running into” these people are zero. Do your homework.

  • Identify who will be at the event ahead of time
  • Make a “hit list” of people you want to meet
  • Mine Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to learn about the events outside of the conference (often unofficial) that will provide better settings to have a meaningful interaction
  • For your hit list: read their blog posts, twitter stream and articles so that you can talk intelligently to these people about topics that are important to them

Create a Platform

The people you want to meet are the same people that everyone else wants to meet.  Typically, you and everyone are not the people they want to meet, they want to meet with their friends and business associates.  Bottom line: they are busy.  In order to break through the noise and get a meaningful interaction with them you need to bring value.  And this is not about what your company does for its customers.  It’s about how you can help promote and advance the interests of the individual you want to meet.

You can do this by creating a platform that can help distribute their message and further their own goals.  For example at SXSW we created a platform called 100 interviews.  We went around and asked the top 100 social media and technology people if they would be willing to be interviewed on video as a part of this “experiment” at SXSW.  It took 4 days and we met and had meaningful interactions with people that you can only dream of.

Why did it work?

  • We created a platform – 100 interviews – that gave us a coherent and easily understandable value proposition for the participants.  Get your message out, be involved with 99 other luminaries, be part of the project.
  • We created value for them – a distribution network across all online video sites tied to a big, recognizable event (SXSW)
  • We played off of SXSW’s theme – by calling the project an experiment we played to the collaborative nature of SXSW.  People want to be a part of a cutting-edge way of doing things and participating in something novel.
  • We used social proof

Using Social Proof

Social proof is essential to gaining access.  It is the proof that gives the people you want access to confidence that you’re worth their time.  It is also the engine that drives the momentum of your access.  The concept is simple.  You get one notable person to say yes to get the next, and so on, until you’ve lined up meetings or interviews with everyone else you want to meet.  And it’s just like bowling pins – get one key individual and you can leverage that agreement to connect with the next person.

How to use social proof:

  • Make yourself look bigger than you are – If we had randomly asked people to interview them, they would want to know who we were and for what purpose.  Instead we created a powerful hook “100 interviews” that instantly created an easy-to-understand premise.
  • Create a presence – We instantly launched a web site, Twitter account and YouTube channels. By having these concrete elements people could validate what we were doing.
  • Use commitments to gain other commitments – We publicly announced when we secured big commitments. By Twittering and posting those commitments on our site we were able to validate our project and get more people involved.

Create Buzz

Promote. Promote. Promote.  We promoted 100 interviews like crazy in the days leading up to the event.  We asked our friends to Tweet about it on Twitter, we posted our commitment updates on our blog and tweeted them out.  By generating buzz we created additional credibility to what we were doing.  After a few days the people we contacted said “oh, you’re the 100 interviews guys!” Having the buzz gave us credibility and helped us gain even more commitments.

How to create buzz:

  • Create a brand – 100 interviews had a nice ring to it. We supported it with a logo, web site, Twitter handle and YouTube channel.
  • Cash in your Whuffie – Whuffie is social currency, the goodwill you accumulate with people you’ve helped in the past. It’s time to cash some in and ask people you know to help spread the word. Reach out on Twitter, email, Facebook, whatever, to ask them to help get the word out.
  • Leverage online tools – Create Facebook fan pages, event pages, a WordPress blog, a Twitter account, and more. Give people every possible way to interact and promote what you’re doing.

Make it Count

Look, even with a great platform and buzz you still have just one interaction with a person you want to meet.  Sure – it’s a more meaningful interaction than just shaking hands after a panel, but it is just one.  And one does not make a relationship.  The best way to move from interaction to relationship is to follow up afterwards. And follow up quickly and personally.

Write a personal thank you note to every person you met and interviewed.  Make it handwritten, and get it out the door in a week.  This will make you stand out from the rest of the folks who simply drop emails or Twitter direct messages.  Then, follow the person on Twitter, interact when appropriate and keep in-touch with them periodically.  Then when you see them at the next event you’ll have another reason to say hi and chat for a few minutes.

Guess what?  You now have access.  Welcome to your new world.

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Top 10 Things I Learned at BlogWorld

I just got back from BlogWorld and New Media Expo in Las Vegas. This was my second time at the event and it was well worth the trip. The conference seemed bigger this year over last, and the quality of the people attending and presenting were excellent. I can honestly say that I learned more at BlogWorld than I did at SXSW earlier in the year.

Here are the top 10 things I learned this year at BlogWorld:

1. Seth Godin has it wrong. It’s not all about me, it’s all about we. The people I met were the most gracious, giving folks I have the pleasure of knowing.  They don’t just champion themselves, they champion the movement away from command and control of mass media to the conversation first detailed in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

2. Simple wins.  “People admire complexity but reward simplicity.” Favorite quote from any presentation was from Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network (home of ICanHasCheezburger.com)

3. Social objects win. Providing ways for people to easily connect is invaluable.  Fatburger got it with the burger-eating contests, Techset gets it, Techkaraoke gets it.  How can social objects work for you?

4. Those who create, win. The biggest rockstars at the conference were all people who pump out amazing content and share their expertise with the world.  Get creating.

5. There’s a big difference between meeting someone and building a connection with someone. Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) taught me that in a 30-second conversation.  It requires a full post, but it changed how I think about things. Completely.

6. Nothing replaces face to face experiences. Twitter and Facebook are great.  They help lay the groundwork for more enjoyable IRL experiences – but nothing beats in-person conversation.

7. Embrace the unexpected. The unexpected opportunities and amazing conversations find you when you get out of your bubble and go with the flow.

8. When you start with love it makes everything better. Everyone that I met came in with love in their hearts.  They were helpful, friendly and kind beyond expectation.  Bringing that mindset to more interactions is something I want to embrace more.

9. Can it last? Some panels were full of people complaining at how hard it is to keep up with the demands and expectations of their legions of followers (no matter the number).  Jon Lansner (@jonlan) of the OC Register had a great point.  Media companies may be getting killed right now; but they can stay open 24/7 and some will be around for years to come. There’s a full post in here for sure.

10. I’ll be back. With so much good stuff I definitely plan on attending next year.  If you’ve been thinking about going hopefully you’ll choose to go next year!

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The Benefits of Taking the Long View

You’ve heard this refrain before, the need to take the long view instead of the short view.  It’s equally valid in both business and life.  It’s equally difficult in both realms as well.  But taking the long view in business, marketing, social media, etc. is essential to success in any of those areas.  But if that statement is true, why then do so many people insist on looking at the immediate future?  The answer, of course, is that the short view is the easy view. And it’s the one that most everyone else is focused on.  Their focus forces you to make it your focus, and that makes it even harder to keep the long view perspective that is essential to growing a great business, a brand that matters, or a loyal community that will support your company.

Why is the Long Term so Much More Valuable?

Because the long term view is about relationships and lasting value.  It’s about creating something that matters to people, that people care enough about that it becomes important to them.  It’s about creating something amazing that the world never knew it needed. It’s about creating lasting value for shareholders, customers, employees and the larger community.  The short term is about profits, P/E ratios, earning calls, year-over-year performance, short term stretch goals and bonuses based on those short term metrics.  The value in the short term is ephemeral. Short lived, shortly recognized, and easily dismissed by people who feel sacrificed to it.

When you invest in the long term you invest in things like people, communities and culture. When you invest in the short term you place those items as secondary to the quarterly P&L.

Advocating for the Long View

As a marketer you’re challenged from internal and external pressure to spend a disproportionate time on the near term future.  Designing and managing campaigns and plans to maximize short term output. ROI. Adding to the bottom line.  You may or may not be given aggressive short term goals which you need to stretch for.  And it is in this cycle that the long term view, the view with the value is at it’s most delicate and defenseless state.  These are the key moments when you need to step back and evaluate whether what you’re doing is for the short term or for the long term.

First of all, what is the long term view?  And how long is it?  I did an interview at SXSW ’09 with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com about what makes their company so unique.  The video is below.  At about the 1:15 mark, Tony starts talking about the decisions they make that are driven by the long view rather than short term.  He gives the example of Zappos not having call center scripts because they want the employees invested in the happiness of the customer.  It’s a long view of the employee’s time at the company vs. the short view of standardizing the system to the point where people don’t matter, anyone can do the job.

Protecting Core Long View Beliefs

You can’t protect and advocate for something that you can’t articulate and share easily with your co-workers and superiors.  It’s important to document what the core beliefs of the company are.  Without those accessible and available constantly it’s easy to lose sight of them or ignore them in the quest for the short term.  So it starts by documenting what the core beliefs of the company are and making them available to everyone.  These don’t come from HR or the marketing department; but rather are a collective expression of the best intentions and goals of the company as expressed by the people that work there at all levels.

Core Beliefs can consist of anything but ideally they’d address:

  • What difference the company is trying to make in the world
  • How it will make that difference
  • What it’s responsibilities are to it’s shareholders, employees, customers and the greater community
  • What are essential values of the organization

These can (but don’t have to) come in the form of a mission statement, for example Zappos core values are:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

When you get to core values, it’s impossible to see Zappos as merely a shoe store.  Once you have these articulated and agreed upon, then they can be defended when the siren song of the short term makes it appear easy to compromise and bend on those long term values to get a little short-term boost.  This is where you have to remain true to the core and ignore those short term temptations.

What are some examples of short-term temptation?

  • Sending an unsolicited email blast
  • Sending generic offers to your user list (both of these, spray & pray tactics are long term losers)
  • Making managing communications with you difficult
  • Making returns, fulfillment and customer service cumbersome
  • Sacrificing quality for cost and speed considerations
  • Making it difficult for customers to communicate with you
  • Inauthentic gimmicks and tricks to gain temporary awareness
  • Using social media as another one-way bullhorn
  • Failing to talk like humans and respond in an authentic and caring way to issues

This list can go on and on.  But it’s easy to see how under the pressure of the short term goals these options look more reasonable.  What’s one more email going to do really?  People won’t care, right?  When held up to the long term view the answer is clear.  Short term gains that abuse customer trust and relationships always lose in the long run.

So What Can You Do?

Help construct the core values of the company and promote them both internally, and when they’re ready for prime time, externally.  Let the world know what you stand for – and don’t make it lip service.  Stand up to poor decisions that are clearly short term thinking that damage the core values of the company.  You might not always make friends, but protecting the core values will always earn you respect.  Engage with your community and customers regularly (constantly!) to ensure that your core values come through in your product, service, support and messages.  And lastly promote the long term view.  When there’s a chance, a debate, a conversation about an approach, a tactic or a plan, ask “How does this synch wih our core values?”  or “What the long view on this?”  Just one simple question can be enough to get people to stop and think and reasses their decisions.

What do you think? Any thoughts or tips to add?

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