Top 5 Things We Learned @ South By Southwest Interactive (plus 5 BONUS takeaways!)

The SXSW INTERACTIVE FESTIVAL celebrates the creativity and passion behind the coolest new media technologies. Here are some of my thoughts on the top realizations that haven't already been written about a million times when talking about South by Southwest.
1. Social Media can be an incredible networking/external memory tool
Example: There were hundreds upon hundreds of business cards exchanged over the 5 SxSW Interactive days presenting a daunting task to keep up with everyone while vying to be remembered too. For people that I particularly wanted to connect with, my creative solution was to take a picture of them with my blackberry and then immediately tweet the pic using Posterous. This meant that when both parties, both the person I wanted to connect with and myself, are in front of our computers, my pictures will remind both of us about our interaction and visually cue each other about the offline meeting thus making it easier to stand out among the stack of collected business cards. The creative solutions are boundless.
2. Across industries, companies are in an experimental stage with social media
It doesn’t matter if you’re JetBlue, Dell Outlet or the local restaurant around the corner, no one person or company’s approach on entering social media is the right way or breaking a “best practices” guide….mainly because there isn’t one to break! This was something I knew going into SxSW but was validated after discussing numerous approaches across industries with thought-leaders in social media. At the end of the day, it’s about using social media to meet your goals and effectively as possible leverage the mediums.
3. Facebook domination in the online space is still yet to be fully realized
Yes, Facebook will shortly surpass 200 million users world wide and is setting new precedents in history, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The web is moving and embracing openness and Facebook is no different with plans to do the same over the course of the next year. Twitter may appear as a competitor but as soon as Facebook opens up search capabilities for its new stream and gives users the option to make the real-time stream public, the competition won’t be Facebook versus Twitter, but Facebook versus Google. If you’re not on Facebook, you need to be.
4. Being found in searches is where the money is at
Whether you’re looking for friends to connect with or trying to find what salon to visit while on vacation, the internet heavily is used for FINDING information. As real-time search functionality, now epitomized with Twitter (and in the predictable future, Facebook), is entering the game, this will shift and encompass search goals from being in Google’s top 10 list to also being mentioned in the latest related conversation. While searching conversations (aka Tweets right now) doesn’t replace the need to search published content that Google provides (with its delayed crawl strategy), it drives home the fact that people have more ways to SEARCH for the information they’re looking for. The brands that will win, will be the ones that are going to be found on Google and within up-and-coming real-time search in social networks which are largely in their infancy stages, but rising at a rapid pace too.
5. The need for social media articulation
As previously pointed out, across industries companies are experimenting with social media and defining best practices as they’re happening. While the space is evolving at a rapid pace and embracing new trends (move to openness and real time) it’s important both within the industry and with companies wanting to leverage social media to best articulate what is happening and how brands can leverage the mediums, especially in the case that most people are still wrapping their heads around questions like “What is twitter?” Since the pace of adoption and change is happening so rapidly, it is crucial to be able to convey articulately what these mediums are, how they can be used and in what capacity they can best meet a company or brand’s goals.
A few bonus takeaways:
6. There is a need for better metrics to measure social media success. This is also an area that is evolving and there isn’t a best solution yet.
7. Social media is about building community first and is not an overnight process.
8. We need better batteries for our devices that connect us to the internet!
9. At an interactive conference, “social media” is the most cliché word to use
10. Because everyone claims to be social media experts, finding firms or consultants who actually have expertise in the field is critical to most effectively enter the space.

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