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Five Key Findings From SXSWi 2011

SXSW, or South by Southwest, isn’t just about music anymore. Along with a film portion of the event there is also an interactive tradeshow, South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), with sessions and keynote speakers that takes place before the music portion begins.

The SXSW event has grown substantially over the past few years, but no portion has grown quite as rapidly as the interactive portion, which experienced a 36% increase in attendance to 19,396 badge holders. This doesn’t even include attendees solely to the music and film portions of the event, which had led to discussions that SXSW as a whole is growing too large for its hometown of Austin, TX to handle and registration restrictions may need to be put in place for future years.

While the focus of the interactive portion is primarily on social media and design, it has brought prominent attention to and has had critical involvement in the success of such social media tools as Twitter in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009.

So what are some findings retailers and marketing professionals can take away from SXSWi? Here are five key takeaways…

1) QR Codes are not just a fad from overseas, they’re here to stay

QR codes, or encoded barcodes which contain texts or links readable by smart phones, were found everywhere and anywhere throughout SXSWi. Popular in Japan and South Korea but slower to take off in the U.S., it appears QR codes have finally broken into the mainstream as more and more people upgrade to newer phones with the ability to scan QR codes. Some marketing materials at SXSWi contained small QR codes and others simply put a huge QR code on a banner and called it a day. While the latter may be a little less practical for traditional marketing, it was increasingly clear that adopting and utilizing QR codes and creating associated web content to integrate with the codes is something retailers and marketers should look at addressing sooner rather than later.

2) Sometimes people don’t like to log-in to help the community

Chris Poole, founder of the controversial site 4chan and, was one of the keynote speakers at SXSWi and one of the topics he addressed was the “lurkers” who make up most of the visits to sites and how to engage them further. One method he mentioned was to increase the ease of how the “lurkers” can contribute content and opinions to communities and how once someone contributes they are more likely to contribute again. Taking this a step further, if retailers were to integrate such content as polls and real-time “shout boxes” into their web content it may help to “break the ice” and get some of the “lurkers” to contribute to other aspects of the site, be it conversations, reviews, or even purchasing.

3) Personalize brands on all levels to enhance the customer care experience

I was attending a panel discussion on the importance of “brand power” and one of the things addressed which really resonated with me was how customizing the message and experience with social media customer care can really create brand loyalty. Brands should try to get to know their “regular” contributors on their social media channels as they can be useful allies and brand representatives shouldn’t take themselves too seriously to help facilitate conversation. For more traditional customer care methods, finding a common interest over the phone such as similar location or product discussion (when appropriate) can not only help to create a conversation but also makes it more likely to have individual customers utilize customer care methods as they move forward with the brand.

4) Keep your brand agile and don’t be afraid to try new things

Brian Walker of Forrester has recently coined the phrase “agile commerce” and a similar message resonated throughout SXSWi regarding how to move forward with the constant evolution of technology. Retailers can use social media channels not only to communicate with their customers but also monitor industry and competitive news to see which direction their industry is heading in and how to start moving in that direction. While risks are associated with trying new channels for communication and technology, if successful the experience obtained by “being their first” can be invaluable and a difference maker between two similar retailers for years to come.

5) Control as much of your online presence as you can

Not only is monitoring conversations important, but so is monitoring content. There are many sources outside of eCommerce sites which can affect a customer’s decision to visit your site, let alone make a purchase from it. One of the most prominent sources is Wikipedia, which receives hundreds to thousands of unique visitors each day for pretty much every major brand around the world – and while some retailers may dismiss the content on Wikipedia as being out of their control, it really isn’t. The Wikipedia community is a very strong, tight-knit community of passionate Wikipedians who love to contribute to the site and hold fellow contributors to a high standard. If a brand is not happy with the way their Wikipedia page looks, be it for presentation or inaccurate information, they can contact the Wikipedia Community and attempt to connect with an experienced Wikipedian who can correct any discrepancies – just make sure you have a link for them to cite with the accurate information!

That’s it for my recap of SXSWi… if you were there and had a key learning of your own or if you weren’t there and just have something to add feel free to leave a comment below!