At SXSWi, the Geeky Kids are Always at the Cool Kids’ Table

For self-proclaimed digital geeks like us, SXSWi is THE conference of the year. All of our favorite and most admired colleagues in social media, website strategy and marketing come together in one place to share knowledge, investigate new trends and connect with each other. To say it’s an overwhelming (in a good way!) conference is an understatement. 

Over the course of five days, we soaked up tons of digital goodies. There were about a million great tips that we can apply to both ourselves and our clients, but each of us came away with a few key nuggets we want to share with you. 

Social media isn’t another marketing campaign. Social media isn’t about promoting a business or product – it’s about connecting with customers and prospects and engaging with them in a “real world” conversation. In other words, “talking” over social media shouldn’t be any different than talking over a cup of coffee. Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Crush It and The Thank You Economy, gave a great keynote in which he argued that we shouldn’t even have what many call “social media campaigns” – that’s too planned. Social media communication needs to be fluid and organic. It needs to be humanized. 

Don’t just do it – ask why first. There are a lot of things you can do when it comes to new media. Location-based social networking websites (Foursquare and Gowalla, for example), cool mobile devices (hello, iPad!), new social sharing sites (think Google +1) ….it’s all pretty awesome. It’s also easy to think: “Wow, I need to use this new program/device/system for my brand and I need to do it now!” But guess what? You don’t! It sounds cliché, but just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean that you should, too. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon without really thinking about how it benefits you and your brand. So before engaging a new technology or product, always consider: will it help me create a community? Am I really connecting with my audience using this? If you’re not sure if the answer is yes, you may not be ready to buy that cool new device or start up another social media network. It’s OK to hold back. 

Know how to monitor a situation. When you need feedback on a new digital product or social media initiative, using a single monitoring program or method may not cut it. Like traditional communications tactics, you have to have an understanding of the target audiences and situations as well as be familiar with different tools used to measure your success. Different audiences operate on different online networks, and each has its own rules of engagement and information sharing. If you’re relying on only one method to do research or understand your audience, you’re not doing it correctly. You have to be open-minded and understand that flexibility is key when monitoring and interacting with your community.

Being JUST mobile isn’t innovative. Today, simply having a mobile application or a mobile website doesn’t make you innovative. You have to take it a step further and think of new ways to use mobile to solve problems and address the needs and concerns of today’s consumers and businesses. Think of the other features that come with a mobile device. For instance, how can you use the cameras or audio recording devices found on smartphones to enhance the mobile experience? Think outside the box when you’re thinking of how to make a mobile experience stand out. (A great example is Google Goggles – you can read about it here.) 

If you want to succeed, you have to create an experience. Today, connecting online means giving your audience something they want – NOT something you want to give them. Creating an online experience for your audience and target – one in which they can truly “get into” your brand, organization or cause – will resonate most strongly with them. Don’t just plop your logo up on a site or post random updates about an event. To be effective, social media needs to be a complete experience for your community, and one that they are invested and involved in. You have to provide information and content that THEY want to see. Show your community, and one that you care about what they want to see and hear and they’ll care back.

Inspire action! An effective online experience needs to inspire action in real life. Successful online experiences don’t just show or tell. Instead, they bring about movement and change. For example, you can use Facebook, Twitter or blogging to tell people why recycling is important. Or, you could create an online experience that actually inspires people to recycle in real life. Specifically, don’t use social media to simply show images of garbage dumps or regurgitate recycling information. Instead, have people upload images of their own communities and recycling efforts, share stories about what they are doing to be more sustainable and even have your online community participate in contests that encourage recycling. At the end of the day, an effective online experience should inspire an effective offline experience, too. 

There is obviously a lot more to say, and while we can’t fit it all in here, we hope you’ll ask us about it next time you see us. (Or, you can also tweet us here:@briguyblock and @jenpearsall.) In the meantime, did you go to SXSWi? What were your key takeaways? And who is already booking their hotel rooms for next year? I know we are….