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South by Southwest 2014 - Looking Back, Moving Ahead

South by Southwest (SXSW) is almost a month in the rearview mirror at this point, but for me it takes about as long to allow everything that I saw to sink in. So I wanted to recap some of my key takeaways about the industry and the event itself.

I have a somewhat different view of SXSW than many of my colleagues and peers in the industry, having attended the event in the years pre-Twitter. If you’re not familiar with SXSW, it started in 1994 in Austin, Texas as a music festival, adding a film and interactive festival along the way. Attendance for the interactive festival was estimated to have topped 30,000 this year and remains the industry’s only truly must-attend event. (Some call it the Digital Davos.)

In those early years of the festival, it was completely self-contained. The activity happened in a section of the Austin Convention Center and you would inevitably see everyone who was there. It was, as a friend of mine once said, “the place where the Internet comes to life.” It saw the launch of Twitter and later Foursquare and has always been a hotbed of digital thought leadership.

In subsequent years, as the festival has grown, it has morphed into a place where brands are more engaged, and they now dominate the look and feel of the event. Having activated the Chevrolet experience at SXSW for a number of years in a former job, I know the benefits for a brand can be immense and the festival’s notoriety will continue to drive more engagement and innovation

This year, there were more than 800 sessions for attendees to choose from. These sessions took place in the main Convention Center as well as ten satellite locations throughout Austin. MSLGROUP had over 30 digital leaders from around the world on site, and here are some of our key takeaways.

My takeaways from SXSW 2014:

  1. Mobile is still the WWW (Wild Wild West)
    I liken mobile in 2014 to the internet in 2000, slightly evolved, but just on the cusp of really exploding and transforming in front of our eyes. As social media becomes more and more mobile-dominant, new players will continue to arise and old players will morph to keep up. This leads me to my second point.
  2. Asia is leading social innovation
    To see the next trends in mobility for the US market, you will have to look to a Chinese mobile social network. I was in Beijing a few months back and was able to talk to people who were using some of these new apps and to see their power. WeChat, for example, has nearly 400,000 users and combines the best parts of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, PayPal, GrubHub, Uber and Vine in a mobile-dominant platform. While the platform itself may never take off in the US, I certainly see elements that the big networks will explore.
  3. Mobile advertising set to boom, different rules
    The mobile advertising that exists in 2014 will soon be replaced by more contextual, smart advertising that appears more 1-to-1. Among major platforms, Twitter has taken the lead in this area, but more third party networks and ad serving platforms are quickly coming up to meet brand needs.
  4. It’s still all about the people
    Social media’s power is the ability to connect people online and then offline and back again. The power of personal connections, especially for brands, cannot be discounted. To me, this is the real value of SXSW and the reason I will continue to go as long as you go.

This was reposted from the MSLGROUP blog with some edits.

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