SXSW 2015 - Integrated Social Experiences Dominate SXSW In The Panels & On The Ground

Posted by Mike Altier / March 18

This is my third SXSW Interactive trip and as always, many of the speakers, sessions and conversations were enlightening, motivating and sometimes so what? This year though, the theme that emerged was simple and everywhere – your brand needs to interconnect. Digital, experiential and social don’t live in vacuums and neither should you. This was clear in NASA’s community events case study, Levi’s social good initiatives, craft beer subculture and all of the good and bad experiential marketing activated at SX. The revelation is that brands and agencies need to move faster, drive innovation and coalesce social, digital and experiential in what we know as ‘Integrated Social Experiences’ or ISE.

NASA’s Veronica McGregor (@VeronicaMcG) was the first to touch upon this in ‘NASA’s Giant Step in Social Media.’ Right out the gate, Veronica gave great insights on how NASA has become one of the top 5 social brands in the space and attributed much, if not all, of that success to the 100+ events and Twitter meetups they host during space shuttle launches to movie screenings. #NASASocial

At “You Can’t Sit with Us: Craft Beer Subculture”, the panel discussed in depth how reviews (@crafttaste) and social media create a feedback loop that can be both damaging and informative. But the simple truth of where the culture is and where it should go lied in Josh Hare’s, Founder of Hops & Grain Brewing (@hopsandjosh), response of what the taproom should and could be used for, which included beta testing beers with tastemakers.

 The presentation “Dev Guide to Connectivity and Wearables” by Cary Bran (@carybran), who is the VP of Innovations at Plantronics, was another gem. Bran has spent his career developing next generation hardware and software for mobile devices, which is extremely relevant in the new era of wearables. He analyzed four different types of radio technologies: NFC, Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, and Wifi. Each type has it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages that are worth considering by agencies. For example, an experience with fewer participants but higher data requirements would be much better suited to Wifi! Makes sense, though many technology providers rush into an activation without considering these issues.

@IDEOorg, the nonprofit design organization, went into great detail on human-centered design or ‘impact design’. They talked about how it can help solve some of the world’s most difficult problems but that they must be both at the ground level as well as the digital connectivity of tools in their “Discover Impact Design at the Social Good Hub.” Reiterating that behind every screen is a person, which is where design should start.

We also went to a fascinating panel called “#YesWeCode: From the Hood to Silicon Valley” with Van Jones and Maxine Williams. The discussions analyzed the dearth of minorities in tech industries and then suggested a few potential solutions for the future. As the Global Director of Diversity at Facebook, Williams pointed out that all minorities from different realms can rally around the same desire of equal opportunity for all. She recalled that growing up, most of her peers had never even heard of Rhodes Scholarships… so these communities just need a little exposure to career paths and opportunities which will go a very long way. Jones agreed and pointed out that his group, Rebuild the Dream, is doing hackathons in Detroit, bringing in the mayor and software engineers to give underprivileged kids some insight into the world of tech. A very promising trend is the advent of free and open online education via Code Academy and Khan Academy, in addition and connected to existing on the ground resources and establishments.

In addition to the panels, activations by Google (free Cardboard!), Facebook, eSurance, Mazda, GE and many more illustrated ISE at its finest, utilizing all channels for seamless engagement. Other brands, who shall remain nameless, missed the mark by either including digital and social as an afterthought or avoiding it completely.

Regardless of the sessions or the activations, SXSW had a very real trend come to the forefront – ISE is the fuel and coalescence of all that is live, social and digital. Without it, expect low impact marketing across all three. 

Mike Altier's picture
Real name 
Mike Altier
Mike Altier
Creative Director
mike.altier [at]