Top ten takeaways from SXSW for the next year

Image: Diaspora Project

SXSW was a blur of friends, seminars, free TONE bars, dropped phone calls, late night drinks and music, and a gazillion smart people sharing interesting ideas. Now that the dust has settled, I thought I’d share the top ten things I took away from the week. You know, the broad stroke stuff that stick in your head after the details have faded away. So here goes…

1: CHINA: China is a behemoth that is not waiting for U.S. permission to lead the social revolution. The sheer weight of numbers are staggering in terms of who’s engaged in social media, what they are discussing and the sophistication of the consumer marketplace. Take the Ford Focus. There are groups built around nicknames for the car in constant discussion across multiple social networks. Consumers have fully embraced social media as a platform to discuss brands and brands need to keep up.

2: LISTENING: The quality of your listening will determine your success as a brand. Yet many brands are still listening for what they want to hear rather than listening to what consumers are telling them. As long as they do that, brands will fail to take advantage of the enormous benefits of social media.

3: LOCATION: Location based apps are in their infancy but growing fast. This year’s gathering was characterized by competition between Foursquare and Gowalla, but their revenues are rising so quickly they can no longer claim to be the new kid on the block. My impression is that location based applications will continue to diversify and be integrated into larger platforms as we just saw with Facebook.

4: GOOD DEEDS: Doing good is good business. Whether it was Beth Kanter’s crowdsourcing workshop, Sanjay Gupta’s workshop on storytelling or the Causelab that I participated in, contribution is increasingly important part of the social ecosystem.

5: BRANDS: Brands can be social. The Pepsi Refresh project at SXSW had a big presence this year and it was readily embraced. Pepsi did a grest job of disseminating their community-building message and therefore their brand.

6: CREATIVITY: Creativity is king. One of the long-standing definitions of creativity is two unrelated things coming together to create a third. The wonderful thing about SXSW this year was that musicians and filmmakers were attending the interactive session because they realized that’s where their future lies as well. Such interdependence also applies to brands.

7: EXPECTATION: I was really struck at how vocal the SXSW crowd was of seminars that fell below their expectations. This is encouraging because it shows that this crowd is not complacent or entitled. As change agents everyone seemed to take their roles and collective contribution very seriously.

8: SERVE TO LEAD: Each of the keynotes reflected a common theme – enable the user to access and share meaningful information in the ways they want to do it. The leadership brands demonstrated palpable awareness that their future success depends on how they serve users.

9: IP: Time and again I heard how the intellectual property (IP) of a brand now resides in its community. Not in the sense of crowdsourcing ideas, but rather through the organic evolution of user needs that are communicated to brands. This is an incredibly powerful realization as it means you have thousands if not millions of members in your think tank telling you how to keep pace with technology and the marketplace.

10: GAMING & VIRTUAL CURRENCY: These two are the big boys waiting in the wings to trump everything. Gaming and virtual currency permeated almost every discussion about the future of branding and consumer interaction. In short, the user experience across all media will increasingly come to approximate a gaming-like experience while virtual currency will soon merge with real currency transforming commerce (something that has already begun in South Korea).

These are my personal takeaways. If anyone else has anything that they think was really notable that should be included, please add it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.