TLF @ SXSW Interactive: Day 1 – “Waiting for the Tourists to Leave”

touristsNo, I hven’t finished the “Kill Social Media” t-shirt I threatened to wear to SXSW, but I plan to.

 Fact is, it may not be entirely necessary. A lot of the frustration that I vented about in my earlier post has been shared by a couple of panel presenters already, and it’s only been one day.

I don’t think there’s going to be a revolution of any kind, but I think we’ll start to see some  social media stalwarts “give push back” (to borrow one of my “favorite” corp-speak phrases) to traditional marketing agencies/corporations shoehorning old practices into new media. Skittles’ recent foray into social media was a big topic on this first day, and I’m sure it will come up again, and again and again. Was the idea of making the Skittles website a social media hub, to give up the brand to its consumers, a bold and audacious idea or just another example of a big compnay paying lip service to the power of social media without investing in actually buidling community? One attendee at the (awesome)  Blacks in Tech meeting I attended later in the evening said he was “personally offended” by the Skittles campaign, that it was like “co-opting” the practice and culture of social media. That was probably the strongest opinion I heard but for the most part , but there were few people  I heard that were impressed by it all.

If you’re reading and attending SXSWi as well, a quick word of advice: if you want to attend any panel with the words “social media” in the title, either come early or make other plans. It’s standing-room only conditions here and likely to get even crazier. Being shut out of two social media panels, I instead attended two web design panels and they were fantastic. At one of them, Oooh, That’s Clever! (Unnatural Experiments in Web Design),  web designer Paul Annett challenged designers to create not just usable website, but beautiful ones; that creating a delightful experience for users is just as important for marketing as usability, Here’s where my  web usability freak, Jakob Nielsen fangirl side comes out: “Ugly and user-friendly all the way!!!!” But I do appreciate a becautiful website. For a couple of minutes. The two things don’t have to be mututally exclusive.

I guess.

The last panel I attended for the afternoon, Try To Make Yourself More Interesting, was when the Kill Social Media sentiment started to rear its head. The palpable tension between practicioners of social media and the companies that employ them is growing.  There’s defnitely a push-and-pull  between the needs of traditional marketers/media professionals  to quantify success, to measure ROI, and social media practioners for whom experimentation for its own sake, connecting and building community is the main – if not only – goal. Can these two goals co-exist, and perhaps lend themselves to supporting the other? I don’t know. One panelist (i think it was DL Bryon from Bikehugger) mentioned that he was waiting for the social media “tourists” to leave (ie marketers) so that the natives can get back to business. I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen completely.

Panelist Kristina Halvorson commented that “social media has not changed the corporate structure.” It hasn’t, yet, though it probably will, over time. Convincing marketers  and media professionals that they no longer have complete control over their message, or their audience (and that they probably never will)  is a hard sell. I understand the reluctance to embrace what is essentially spitting in the face of decades worth of communications/marketing dogma. I don’t have an answer, but to acknowledge the change that’s already on the horizon, and it’s resulting struggle was very cathartic. For those social media folks who aren’t working at a free-wheeling start up or PR firm but use social media  in more traditional communications fields, this tension is a big part of the work. It was nice to have that acknowledged.

That’s it for now, I’ve got some thoughts about blacks in tech, blogging and personal branding that’ll I’ll save for later.

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