SXSW – the Glastonbury of conferences

SXSW badge pickupA little SXSW diary catchup… It’s the halfway point of SXSW Interactive and I’m still gearing up into this festival to end all web festivals.

Here’s my personal/business mission statement for this year’s event – slightly different from last year as I’m being part-funded to attend by the UK’s Digital Mission along with about 25 others from the West Midlands. See the Heart of Austin site for more on who we are – but with a trade show stall the size of the UK’s stand and no other UK region represented here, you can see how much Birmingham UK values the digital dollar and I think is also representative of what a digitally connected hub the Midlands is.

SXSW Diary: from Miami to Austin
Arrived into Austin on Thursday at 9.30 am after 22 hours of train travelling from New Orleans and 25 hours of no sleep – you can see the state of me in this ‘Let’s look at the brewery’ video as I fail spectacularly to be a tourist guide to San Antonio from the train.

There will also be content going up on my travel blog, Tourist vs Traveller,  about my Amtrak train and Greyhound road trip from Miami to Austin via Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans. But mainly about the 24 hours this Brummie spent in our namesake city, Birmingham Alabama.

I’m also adding to my Flickr picture set as the days go by: SXSW2010 and USA2010 – if you want to see the trip that led up to the festival and see what Birmingham, Alabama looks like.

Thursday/Friday saw badge pickup – where I learnt that it pays to be late. Never to turn up at the listed time but at least two hours later if you want to avoid the queues.

First panels: mobile UX and improv lessons

Watching a keynote simulcast
Watching Danah Boyd's keynote simulcast in an empty hall because all my panels were oversubscribed

My kick-off panel was the UX of Mobile, which is a whole new world of design, dev and content and one that may lead website design in future rather than the other way round. In future, mobile design will be a key driver in all digital design, was the expert view, because shrinking down website to fit on a small screen (surprise, surprise) doesn’t work.

I spent most of this panel, however trying to track down a certain Bharath Kumar who had left his memory stick on a corridor floor by a power socket. It was like trying to solve a mystery. You’d think everyone at SXSW would be easily findable on the Web, but I tell you, Bharath Kumar is a VERY common name. In the end we found his mobile number somewhere on the stick and texted him. And he lived happily ever after.

The afternoon’s best session was Improv Lessons for Freelancers – and has inspired me to take up improv if there are any such sessions in Birmingham UK… This is not just about how to be charming to your clients but how to, for example, say yes positively to their ‘Make it pop’ requests without actually committing yourself to a bad design decision – or extra unpaid work.

How to network at SXSW
Over a margarita, of course. Thursday evening was the SXSW West Midlands networking dinner at the Iron Cactus, the social and business bonding oiled by the drink of SXSW: the margarita. Parties are another major feature of SXSW.

I’m a relative new arrival into Birmingham’s digital scene – see September 2009’s Why I am moving back to Brum – so it was good to cement a few friendships and to let people know that I’m a web writer, web editor and content strategy person who can plug into the commercial scene in Birmingham and create content for clients/agencies that need a professional web writer/editor.

The serendipitous Glastonbury effect

Why Keep Blogging panel
Why Keep Blogging panel

Saturday was a frustrating day. Every panel I chose to attend had a mile-long queue to get in.

But this is where SXSW reminds me of Glastonbury in that it’s all good. If you can’t get to something you want to see because it’s over the other side of the site and four floors up, or it’s oversubscribed, then there are some great little gigs right next to you. It may not be your subject but you can still take away something from it.

Critical Tits, for example, was an interesting one – a conversation where the Burning Man festival was being called to account for its new and tight restrictions on photography, where they see anything shared to a wider audience as ‘commercial use’. I think the move has stemmed from people snapping naked female artists and those shots appearing on porn sites. But the clamp down seems excessive and controlling being applied across the board as it is. I may be wrong on this, I didn’t get the full lowdown as the session was interrupted by an emergency fire alarm and evacuation of the whole Austin Convention Center.

I also attended Why Keep Blogging by some of the original superstars of blogging (SXSW is great for attracting big names) and How to Create a Viral Video – which was (possibly) more fun than useful but made by the attendance of Damian Kulash of OK Go viral video fame.

How to create a viral video
I think OK Go’s music has become secondary to their videos, but, OMG, This Too Shall Pass is a damn fine video. It starts with domino toppling and ends in the most astonishing series of pop music Mousetrap that you will ever, ever see. Ever.

An incredible idea if you can afford the 60 engineers and six months it took to make. Although the point was made that the record company couldn’t afford it but commercial sponsors State Farm Insurance could – and got very positive comments from the millions who have seen the video. And the only product plug was their logo on the side of a truck that sets the first domino falling, plus a credit at the end.

Now that’s what I call marketing 2010!

Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson presents Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy FTW was the highlight of my day. I received a major info download that is currently swirling around my head so will post another time on that.

Over the next year, I’m looking at employing content strategy for We Are Fierce in Birmingham and helping them to bring their festival, consultancy and training arms all under one unified web presence over the next year.

I’m not sure what will result, but it’s going to be interesting as few organisations pay this much attention to the haphazard and messy world of content. We shall bring order! And the basic premise is ‘Less is More’.

Will also be attending CS Forum 2010 – an entire conference devoted to the growing discipline of Content Strategy.

Daily Strangeness from Dorkbot to Kick-Ass

Dorkbot with dorkhat
Dorkbot with dorkhat

Finally, last night was fun. After a brief stop-off at the Dorkbot tent to twiddle some knobs (here I am with a BleepLabs Thingamagoop), we were hijacked on Sixth Street into a cab for an interview for (I think) DVD bonus features for a new superhero flick. SXSW Film Festival saw the premiere of Kick-Ass – a superhero movie based on a comic book of the same name – we signed our Hollywood movie waiver and proceeded to be drilled about what type of superhero skills we would have and who’s ‘ass’ would be like to kick and why, as we were driven around the streets of Austin in a cab emblazoned with Kick-Ass all over it.

It was one of those mad, interstitial Glastonbury moments that is tertiary to the main event but one of the things you remember most. After all, the slogan and ethos of this city and this festival is ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Off now to enjoy Tuttle at SXSWi, an inaugural Content Srategy meetup, Fray Café tonight and see what else Sunday brings. It’s going to be fun.

Find your social media champions – but how?

Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz.org, hit the nail on the head for me when he said: ‘Find a social champion!’

Speaking on Social Media Best Practices for Marketers Inside the Brand at Search Engines Strategies London marketing day on Monday, he said, ‘You need someone in the weeds, someone who gets it in the same way as the kids do who spend 5% of their lives on Facebook.’

This was is his favourite stat by the way: If you’re under 25 and live in US, 5% of all the time you spend alive is spent on Facebook.

Rand admitted it was illegal to hire by age, but also shrugged – by implication those deep in the weeds of internet culture will be recruited. [UPDATE: see comments for his further take on this.]

Which slightly annoys me, being deeper in the weeds than all my teen nieces put together and not half as deep in as many friends in their 30s and 40s.

Yet it is also true that it can be totally time-sucking for commercial digital or social media hirers to feedback to those who ‘don’t get it’. This goes back to an earlier post on my sub-editors’ blog called Journalist, train thyself! Online needs you… desperately! [Out of interest, training budget seemed to be on the up at the Search Engine Strategies conference, for some anyway.]

And when looking to hire or commission someone as an SEO writer, a breadth of online presence is definitely desirable (as well as on-the-job experience and SEO training).

Having a blog or a Twitter account or a Tumblr or a Posterous (ie not just a Facebook profile) is not just an indicator of ability and engagement, but shows a basic understanding of internet culture and who they will be writing for. After all, you can’t kid the kids.

The next question of course is how do you hunt out these social champions within your organisation?

It’s something I’m processing in my freelance blogging work right now.

Two simple ways to justify online spend to the boss

AVINASH_KAUSHIK
Avinash Kaushik gets ready to speak at SES London

There’s a lot of talk at Search Engine Strategies 2010 London about ‘doing it right’. SES London is a three-day conference and expo that brings together the superstars of SEO and SEM to reveal the latest ways they are dancing with the search engines, each side locked in a teeth-gritting tango and dancing each other across the floor in order to win the eyeballs and clicks of users, and present user targeted (marketed?) search results.

At least that’s how I understand it. You got love a metaphor.

But ‘doing it right’ –monitoring analytics, refining strategy, making informed decisions about whether to spend on SEO work (to boost presence in organic search results) or PPC (paid for results) – well, that takes resource and budget, aka time and money. There may be a lot of explaining here, by the way, as I get to grips with marketing buzzwords and attempt to translate it into words and concepts I understand, being from a journalistic background and thinking of B2B verticals as something smutty.

The ‘number one bitchfest’, as keynote speaker Avinash Kaushik put it today is : ‘I can’t get my company to pay for an analyst.’

And why don’t we get the love from our execs? Because they just don’t get it. It’s a rare CFO or purse-string holder that gets internet culture and what they should pay and where.

Without this, you don’t have an SEO strategy or, if the consultants at SES London are to be believed, a hope in hell of getting your brand/product seen.

So how do SEO’s thought leaders suggest you deal with this?

Here are two lovely anecdotes from their SES speeches:

Aaron Kahlow, Chairman & Founder, Online Marketing Summit

‘I was once asked, “If you had to, would you rather give up your laptop, mobile phone, social networks, etc, or would you rather cut off your left hand?”’

[short pause]

‘So I answered “my left hand”, right.’

And he said: ‘Gotcha! You didn’t say laptop, etc, – but you thought about it!’

Lesson: Tech is ubiquitous. Email is ubiquitous. Social networks are ubiquitous. Being disconnected is, for some, like having a left hand cut off. So try this question on your friends, colleagues, even the CFO – and convince your business people through their hesitation how important and embedded online has become.

Avinash Kaushik, Author, Blogger, Analytics Evangelist, Google

‘I can only blog at midnight. I have a job, I have two small kids so this is the only time I can blog. But my wife she loves me; she says, “Go to bed!”

‘Still I want to blog so I tell her, “I am kind of a big deal.” And she says, “Go to bed!”

‘Why? Because it is irrelevant to her. It is the same with executives.

‘So I hit her with data: last month I had 73,000 visits in 176 countries, even Somali pirates visit my blog. But still she doesn’t care. It’s not important to her and it’s not important to the executives.

‘The third time I quantified the goals of his blog (number of feed subscribers, conversion to speaking engagements, my about page which has tracking codes on all the links). I say, “Honey, you should let me blog because last month, I made $26,000 fake dollars!”

‘And she says, “Work harder”, because finally that number means something to her.’

Lesson: to transform your site, blog, etc, you need to compute the economic value to the financial people in your company. Talk to them in language that they understand.

That is all.

SXSWi: Friday the 13th

Austin Convention Center terrace - me @katchooo and Pete @peteashton, part of a contingent from the West Midlands.
Austin Convention Center terrace - me @katchooo and Pete @peteashton, part of a contingent from the West Midlands.

For the next few days this is going to function as my thought download receptable for all things mySXSWi – see post below – with quick summaries of ‘what did I learn, what did I gain’.

Panel: My boss doesn’t get it: championing social media to the man
Details: who & what
Essentially a panel on justification, which I hate doing for sub-editing (hey, spell and fact checking is a basic) but which forms part of the pitch in social media.

The ‘man’: anyone from the budgetarian (if that’s not a word, it should be) to the ‘enemies’ of social media such as the legal department and more nebulous ones such as ‘control’.

The issue: the ROI of social media and what’s in it for the ‘man’.

Some solutions:

• involve your enemy, get old curmudgeons on their grandkid’s Facebook sites
• dispel the myths (there is >some< control when you engage in social media)
• understand the culture and attitudes of your client and meet them where they’re at to help them implement culture change
• failed pitches – sit on it for six months; they may well come back to you presenting it as their innovative new strategy
• culture change starts small: set up small silent swat teams to create small successes to role-model on and also momentum for change but be sure to tie in to business value
• don’t fear failure but see engagement as an ongoing lesson
• play to the psychology of who you are pitching to (what do they want, a promotion? Secretly lobby the individual who can present your ideas as theirs)
• set expectations from the start and be realistic
• define metrics upfront and what you are measuring success by
• If the corporate culture isn’t changing in the time frame you need, move on to somewhere where you can make a difference.

Panel 2: The ecosystem of news
Details: who & what
A bullish talk on the future of news (if not newspapers) with ideas about becoming curators on content and innovation elsewhere. Too much on this one and lots of implications for a journalists so going to post thoughts at my subbing blog instead at some future point. Essentially traditional media is feeling the pain of going from ‘news desert to a lush rainforest’ of news and information but without a timeframe in which to evolve and adapt. The result is fear for both newspapers and the future of news. But history tells us “there will be more content, not less, more analysis, more precision.’ Will traditional media adapt quickly enough, or spend time and resource keeping the old model alive?

Entrepreneur’s Lounge
An Austin interactive showcase, which is running throughout the week. But interested to meet Mason Hale, chief technology officer of One Spot, which provides a curation service for the Wall Street Journal. ‘One Spot leverages the skill of knowing what your audience wants to read. It’s kind of like Stumbleupon but with extra layers of tools to facilitate curation of content.’ He also pointed out the time-saving and efficiency element for a news editor. I’m yet to see how it works in actuality but interesting uses following the panel on news ecosystems.