5 Game-Changing Conversations We Overheard at SXSW

The chatter at Spredfast's Social Suite this year during SXSWi was almost as noisy as the streets of Austin a week later during the music portion of the festival—and dare we say just as inspiring. Somewhere between flash tattoos and a venue-shaking performance by Chromeo, we got the chance to listen in on the talk that brings innovators back to SXSWi year after year. The most exciting conversations were about what's now, what's next, and how brands and media companies can take advantage of new technology and trends alike.

Here are five nuggets from the most game-changing conversations we heard at Spredfast's Social Suite and on the streets of Austin this year.

From our When Brands Take Stands internal panel...

1. If you believe something, say something.

Our internally hosted panel, When Brands Take Stands, brought together executives from Target, Airbnb, and Coca-Cola to discuss how, when and in what way brands stand up for what they believe in. Our new VP of global communications, Ashley Brown, led a conversation that covered everything from radical transparency to when to choose values over bottom-line business.

Each of the three panelists lobbied for companies and brands to speak up when they have an opinion: If a brand believes something but remains silent on the issue, that speaks volumes of its own. All three brands on the panel found a meaningful way to contribute to the historic June 2015 Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

Target voiced their support in "very public ways," explained Dustee Jenkins, senior vice president of communications. "We did it in ways that felt like Target, featuring LGBT team members and their families." The brand also modified its famous bullseye, making it half-bullseye, half-rainbow. "We knew we needed to be really public. Internally it wasn't much of a debate—we knew, if we believe this and we say this then we need to say it louder—and say it to the world."

Coca-Cola also celebrated the SCOTUS decision, explained Coca-Cola's global group director of digital communications and social media Doug Busk. The storied brand put a series of its bottles in rainbow colors and posted it not just to social media but also on its larger digital properties (think Times Square billboards)—again, making sure the brand's collective voice and opinion was obvious.

Airbnb, meanwhile, reached into its wealth of stories from hosts to contribute to the conversation in an organic way. "We had so many of these stories in our arsenal already, which made [the decision] really easy to to react to," says Caitlin Choate, head of global social at Airbnb.

From our agency roundtable...

2. Let data be the shared language between creatives and account planners.

This one's for the agency folks, but the lesson is broader, too—democratized data can be the way to bridge communication between the people at your company who take a more strategic, analytic role and those who do creative work. Our roundtable discussion with top agency representatives unearthed the following example: Say you bring a chart to a creative director, explaining, statistically speaking, which kind of images resonate best with consumers. Cue the eye rolling and grunting, right? Say, instead, you take that data and translate it into a series of inspiring images for the creative director to draw from. Now you're speaking the same language.

From our roundtable discussion of storytelling in the age of video and virtual reality...

3. VR presents an opportunity to bring fans into a world brands create.

The possibilities of 360-video and virtual reality are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Our roundtable discussed some of the most incredible examples of what brands and media companies today are doing with the tech that's soon-to-be-everywhere tomorrow, and put simply, they need to be seen to be understood:

  • National Geographic's video of a volcanic eruption
360° Tour of a Volcanic Eruption in Kamchatka

At over 15,500 feet (4,724 meters) tall, Klyuchevskoy is one of the tallest and most active volcanoes on the planet. Take a flying 360° tour to the rim of a spectacular eruption.

Posted by National Geographic on Wednesday, March 2, 2016
  • NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover

Use your smart phone to explore Mars with me in 360 degrees. #FromWhereIStand

Posted by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover on Saturday, January 30, 2016


Overheard at Social Suite (and all around #ATX)...

4. Snapchat has hit next-level status.

The biggest thing to hit SXSWi this year wasn't a new app or social channel—it was the explosive growth of an already existing one. Spredfast's own Josh Rickel spoke to CNBC about how Snapchat dominated SXSW 2016: "With SXSW you have people who tend to experiment with technology and a place where people are running around having unique experiences," Rickel told CNBC. "Snapchat is perfectly designed to share these ephemeral moments."

And then there the are geofilters—image overlays available to people in a specific area—which present new opportunities for brands (including, ahem, ours.)

From our internal closed-door discussion on daring to #fail...

5. Respond to a social issue or crisis in a social way.

Though our discussion on brand failures was closed-door (to encourage open conversation among our talented customers), it still revealed some broader tactics we can share with you that are worth remembering. Chief among them is to keep channel in mind: Respond to a social crisis in a social way. To help illustrate, we found an external example of how a brand handled social mini-crisis well.

In 2013, JCPenney posted a billboard for a teapot that bore an unfortunate (and totally coincidental) resemblance to Hitler. Though the company knew it did not need to issue an apology, it also was savvy enough to respond on social to the social chatter about the billboard (which the company also took down).

By not taking the situation too seriously, JCPenney proved to its followers that while it heard and understood them, the brand had never intended anything by the billboard. The brand sent similar responses to each follower who tweeted at them, and in the end, the teapot sold out online.

Now that the dust has settled on SXSW's 30th year, we can't help but wonder: What will next year bring? While we can't know for sure, we do know that we'll be here, ear to the ground, to find out—and then we'll share our secrets with you.

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Jaime Netzer is Content Marketing Strategist, leading content operations in marketing at Spredfast. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly.