0 pn-staff-placeholder By: PN Staff

SXSW 2012: 10 Things I Learned

SXSW is an extraordinary beast. Around 20,000 people attend hundreds of sessions across dozens of locations  – and that’s before you factor in the networking breakfasts, late night parties and ambush marketing from guys dressed as sumo wrestlers. Oh and gigs by Jay-Z among others…

So after five days of dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet of insights, data, best practices, the future of this and the end of that, what are my top ten outtakes?

Well I’ll tell you this: if you asked 100 people in Austin that question you’d get 100 different answers, because everyone will have had a completely different experience. So this isn’t intended as a definitive list, more a personal view of what I thought was hot, with hopefully some wider relevance too.

1)      Business for good is a powerful rallying cry

Without question, whenever the topic of better business and social good came up people packed in to join the discussion. This was a topic that inspired energy, from the passionate panel at Don’t just sell things: change the world who urged businesses to put doing good at the heart of what they do, to Tim O’Reilly’s call to entrepreneurs to create value in more than monetary terms. A zeitgeist theme, so expect to hear a lot more about it.

2)      Google is backing Google+

There’s a schism of opinion around Google+ with some people branding it a flop, others who are big fans. Google’s head of social and SVP Vic Gundotra came to tell SXSW that rather than write it off, they needed to look at it the right way to understand what they were seeing – like a picture with an optical illusion that can be a rabbit or a duck. His point to Guy Kawasaki: judge it for what it is, not measured against Facebook (or as he called it, “the social competitor”), and use it the right way.

3)      Digital health is getting bigger, fast

A whole strand of SXSW was devoted to healthcare. Much discussion focused on the US market where health insurance costs are rising, conditions like diabetes and obesity cost vast sums to treat, and where online solutions can help assist patients and doctors. Mark Bertolini, Chairman and CEO of US health insurance firm Aetna, asked why rather than treating the condition, we aren’t doing more to use apps that can stop us from getting unhealthy in the first place. In another session on the future of digital health, panellists included start-ups developing specifically for the healthcare space to meet demand from patients and doctors – so there’ll be more digital wellness coming our way.

4)      Digital women want digital for women

Like vegetarians in the meat-loving state of Texas, women are in the minority at SXSW and a number of sessions picked up on this. Some looked at encouraging women to be more prominent in digital firms, with sessions on honing your skills as a female CEO and mentoring the next generation of successful women. Others took issue with the “shrink it and pink it” approach they argued was too often adopted when developing products or sites for women and suggested how research and insights could help digital dudes get in touch with their feminine sides.

5)      FOMO is alive and well

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a SXSW state of mind: with so much content you simply can’t get to everything. So what better place to present research on something your audience is acutely suffering from? According to Ann Mack, director of trend spotting at JWT, social media amplifies this mindset driving a cycle of one-upmanship to show you are more witty or well-connected.

6)      Politics is broken, social is mobilising the masses

In this US election year, the political machine was in the spotlight. Former vice president Al Gore shared a stage with entrepreneur Sean Parker to argue that the quality of political debate in the nation has been devalued by television, money is too great a factor, and social media can help raise standards. Gore called it “Occupy Democracy.” New platforms like  ruck.us which was unveiled at the event  on a “no parties, just people” promise, aim to make this possible by making it easier for people with similar views to come together and even meet up and create the next Tea Party and Occupy movement.

7)      Old and new media continue their courtship

When rumours broke of a $200m sale of Mashable to CNN SXSW was abuzz. The story shows yet again how traditional media is looking to buy into social and as my colleague Danny Devriendt writes, this is a well-trodden path that is not necessarily smooth.

8)      Broadcasters are betting on three screens

Broadcasters are looking at how they can increasingly harness social from the start, rather than have it happen around them. Now that we are watching TV, tweeting on our mobile phones and browsing with a tablet PC all at the same time, they recognise we want to participate in programming. ABC News digital strategist Soraya Darabi wants to go a step further and see social discussions influence programming directly, like choosing who should present the Oscars.

9)      Brands are getting smarter at involving Gen Y

Some great discussions around the rise of Gen Y took place – and the Gen Yers were not always part of them. An uncle of a 17-year-old attendee told me his charge had spent the entire conference baffled that things he took for granted were new news for any attendee over 35. On the flip side, Porter Novelli Gen Yer Valerie Elston was impressed by how brands like Chevy and GM are bringing people like her into the creative process.

10)   Ambient technology has arrived

In her keynote, Amber Case argued the case for ambient technology that exists in the background to help us live our lives more easily. Highlight, which had a good week at SXSW, is being seen as one such app that combines social, local and mobile or SoLoMo to discover where your Facebook friends are and is being billed as “ambient reality.”

That’s it from me for SXSW. Hope you’ve enjoyed all the posts from the PN team!