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Sam Crocker on SXSW 2012

28 March, 2012 - Source: Bray Leino

Sam Crocker, Bray Leino's Head of Digital, shares his thoughts on SXSW 2012.

  • Sam Crocker
    Sam Crocker

With it being my first time to SXSW I'd made sure I'd read everything about it, downloaded the app and worked out the most intricate schedule of talks and panels way before boarding the plane.

This was so I would be sure to meet my professional objective of bringing as much value back with me and more importantly a personal objective of making sure I could convince my CEO and FD that it's imperative that I'm here every year from now onwards (and probably for the music and film parts too).

Like many newcomers to SXSW the thing I was (naively) excited and hoping to hear about was to know what was going to be the next big thing. If I could bring back one named thing to tell my colleagues and clients about I would no doubt be lauded as the person that they heard it from first and a ticket for next year secured.

Sadly and with respect to the panellists involved any talk that I've been to claiming to let you know just this has invariably disappointed. People kept famously telling me that 'you know Twitter launched here at SXSW in 2007?' and it's safe to assume that the key influencers in the film and music scene around SXSW who were starting to use Twitter was just as much a key part of its rise than its own launch.

A talk I was at yesterday from Peter Gloor of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence on 'cool hunting' discussed the evidence to support that a very small number of key influential nodes were indeed responsible for the widespread adoption of many things. So basically if you want to make a success of a start-up-social-mobile-ambient-location-based app at SXSW you just have to tell a few select people?

Unfortunately it seems it doesn't quite work out that way and while you can trace things retrospectively it's much harder to predict exactly who these people are when looking forwards as the circumstances change so much.

So sadly while I don't think I'll get to leave with a name of the next big thing I do have some general observations from everything I've seen, heard and discussed:

One of the next big thing (or things) will be no doubt be location based services, which isn't startling news even before SXSW. Nobody at SXSW seemed to be talking about any one emerging social network as a serious challenger to the mainstay of Facebook.

Generally most people have invested so much time in Facebook already that any new social tools tend to fit alongside Facebook without too much upheaval or do something markedly different - such as Twitter, StumbleUpon and more recently Pinterest.

Facebook's move towards the timeline seems to protect this status too, as it would be a big deal to start your digital life again somewhere else from today.

The next big thing in location it seems will therefore be layers of data delivered by apps that will be applied on top of and integrating with existing tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Many of the new services that were talked about a lot at SXSW (e.g. Highlight, Pixable, Sonar, Womzit) are indeed just this. There is also nothing to suggest there has to be one winner as there's probably room for many such apps doing different locational things.

The focus on digital based start-up companies is refreshing and positively infectious. There are a plethora of young college graduates from all over showcasing their apps and services, motivated part by knowing how competitive the job market is and part the glamour of the film The Social Network having projected social start-ups into overnight billionaires.

There are also an abundance of VCs looking to back a number of horses as just one winning sale to a Google or Facebook is assumed to hit the jackpot.

There are a lot of marketing people here on fact finding missions, just as I am, which anecdotally I'm told is more than ever before (although I have no proof). When you introduce yourself as being from an agency it's generally a mixed reaction; for some people the advertising money is seen as a necessary evil and way of funding ideas, but for others pursuing a paid for downloadable app or an app that produces highly valuable data (in turn for marketing) makes agencies somewhat less important to them. In my experience there are more the latter than the former.

The 3 best sessions that I have attended have all been ones with a negative tone to their title. 'Viral is a dirty word', '11 reasons why QR codes are not engaging consumers' and 'Social Media Is a Bubble and SXSW Is a Fad'.

They were far from the huge moan-a-thon sessions that their titles might suggest and were all extremely positive debate; they made their respective cases for the great use of online video, QR codes and social media.

The difference was they were all framed in the context of trying to block out some of the intense stimulus of SXSW all around where it's easy to get carried away.

Some of the best value of my trip has undoubtedly been discussing issues openly with some very experienced digital thinkers in a casual setting. The technology itself was never going to solve the need of good storytelling and the realisation of this has driven a lot of attention on how to tell brilliant stories using digital and how to set clients expectations accordingly.

There has been no doubt that I've gained an immense amount of value from being here; the positivity is infectious and I have had some brilliant discussions on digital with some of the most varied and best people in the industry. It is very true what many have said in that the conversations outside of the panels and talks are some of the best value of being at SXSW - but I doubt I'll be bringing back one new name with me.

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