As a first-time attendee of South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), I was not sure what to expect. The attendees were a mix of big brands, bloggers, social media and PR professionals. In the same vein of easygoing Texas, everything was very laid-back and comfortable, from the venue to the attendees. Despite the current economic state, the Austin Convention Center was packed. With attendance up twenty percent this year, everyone was eager to learn about the new ideas in digital media from their peers.
The emerging message: The time to try new media is NOW.
In a recent CNet article, Caroline McCarthy quoted Patrick Moorhead, director of emerging media at the Microsoft-owned ad firm Razorfish, from a panel discussion about innovation during a recession, saying,
“Our belief is that if you stick with what you’ve got, that’s a bigger risk than taking a risk on emerging media and testing something new that could potentially teach you something.”
With the insurgence of popularity among social networks, brands have the opportunity to connect with their consumers where they are living—on the Social Web. Twitter was the most buzzed about at SXSWi, with more and more brands creating a presence on this micro-blogging site. In my conversation with Morgan Johnston, manager of corporate communications at JetBlue Airways, he said, “We consider our Twitter account akin to an information booth.”
In addition to JetBlue, other brands such as Starbucks, Best Buy and Comcast – to name a few – have joined the Twitter craze. Big brands are beginning to test the waters with the new media and are willing to put advertising dollars towards it. In a recent Mashable article, “Social Media Marketing Budgets on the Rise,” Adam Ostrow points out that, “Once best practices are established, those remaining tepid about the medium at the moment may jump in, and overall spending should continue to grow. Perhaps, at that point, we can even conclude that social media is indeed an industry.”
The big takeaway from this year’s SXSWi is that social media is no passing trend. Both big and small brands are undertaking new media initiatives, but simply having a presence on the social web is not enough. Social media is just like any other marketing avenue and requires a thoughtful strategy. By partnering with companies that know the space, brands can successfully launch social media efforts that compliment their overall marketing strategies.