I am a SXSW Interactive veteran. An old timer. I know there are lots of folks who attended before I started making the annual pilgrimage in 2004, but I feel I’ve earned the right to say I’ve been there. Back when the interactive event actually fit in the Austin Convention Center. Back when programmers, designers and academics made up the bulk of the programming. Before McDonald’s had a tent and marketing “activations” were everywhere.
Yet I still enjoy attending South By. I love meeting up with my “Southby” friends, the focus on what’s new and next and the unique events like seeing Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy reflect on “The Breakfast Club” 30 years after its original release. I also enjoyed having my photo taken with Cookie Monster (as did my 5-year-old). Old timer!
With literally hundreds of sessions running concurrently (not including the parties and lounges), it can be hard to choose where to spend time at the conference. For this post, I will focus on YouTube creators and the notion of brands building “movements.”
YouTube (and YouTubers) grow up
I will never forget the day 10 years ago when I was at the start up that became Current TV and someone came to my desk with a graph showing astronomical traffic to this website called YouTube.com. Ironically, my role as manager of user generated content was all about getting people to upload their videos to Current TV so we could democratize television. YouTube beat us to that punch by a long shot. With the new reality that teens recognize many YouTube content creators more than traditional celebrities, everyone is now paying attention to this space–including the Ad Council. My key takeaways from the two panels I listened to on YouTube celebs were:
- It’s not just YouTube any more. These celebrities are creating content on Vine, Instagram, Facebook and cutting distribution deals with Vimeo. They aren’t YouTubers or YouTube creators, just call them short form content creators.
- The right audience isn’t always the biggest. For brands or causes wanting to work with creators, fining the right match is key to your success. Finding the creator with a similar mission and target audience is key to creating impact. There was lots of talk around creative control for brands who can’t just “let it go.” That process was described as a “thorny union,” but there appear to be lots of companies and players (MCNs, agents and others) ready and willing to help.
- Activations (big buzzword at SXSW this year) can be more impactful than video. The example given was Hannah Hart activating her community, aka Hartsexuals, to clean up a local beach. The sponsor, Sanuk (shoes), provided footwear to the fans and got way more social impressions/buzz than through her video. Did more people buy Sanuk shoes? That’s a question for another panel.
- The power of YouTube creators has bled into popular culture. The music industry was shocked by Taylor Swift’s “innovative” ways of connecting with her fans. Having them over to her house, giving them gifts. YouTubers have been doing fan “meetups” and Kickstarter gifts for awhile now… Even the theme song to Tina Fey’s new Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is remixed and inspired by Songify the News.
How many times have you heard, “let’s build a movement?”
I’ve heard it a lot, and it obviously falls into the category of easier said than done, but I was interested to hear what John Hagel, a management guru at Deloitte Touche had to say about it. In a slightly wonky talk, he described the two key elements to creating a movement: Having an open ended narrative that invites consumers to help resolve/participate in and the formation of creation spaces where 10-20 people build an intimate circle of trust, engage in action together and then learn from other creation spaces to form a larger movement. Hagel didn’t seem to think any companies have actually achieved building a movement by his definition (though some in the room appeared to disagree). Apple comes closest with its CTA “Think Different” because Jobs and Wozniak actually did think differently, were committed it, and because the narrative does ask consumers, “Will you think different?” He also cited J&J’s Babycenter and its forums as coming close to being a creation space but is lacking the offline component. Part of me left that session feeling a little glad that brands haven’t figured out how to co-opt positive political movements just yet.