SXSW 2018: My Week in Wonderland


So it happened.

I finally got to cross SXSW off my bucket list.

Three words to describe it? 🤔

  1. Life-changing (there’s a hyphen — it counts as one)

  2. Catalytic

  3. Inspiring

The Essence of SXSW

It’s hard to explain all that happens during SXSW and Austin until you see it for yourself. Everything changes. The mood, the streets, the buildings, the people. It’s no longer the capital of the Lone Star State, but rather the capital of innovation, connection and the future.

Everyone’s excited. You’re on the precipice of a radical transformation. You see it in bits and pieces, but it’s not until you wake up the next morning to see Austin in its full SXSW form. And even then, it’s just the beginning.
— Me, in awe, before Day 1 even started

Needless to say, I walked (or limped … 15,000 steps a day is not for the weak) away from SXSW with a new lease on life. I had more direction, desire and — I won’t exactly say “energy” but … drive, for sure.


I mask the pain pretty well.

What did I learn? A lot about myself, but that’s a post for another day.

So. Much. Knowledge.

I reached peak nerd, every day. To the point where even Evernote told me I needed to chill.

As I digested (and continue to) my SXSW experience, two themes emerged: Connection and Culture.


Connection encompasses community and communication (specifically, social media and storytelling). Several panels touched on how we come together — in our communities, socially and societally; through our communication, from social media to storytelling; and through the intersection of our experiences with others’ — and how brands can get in the mix.

Community —

In “How to Create at the Speed of Feed,” Facebook Creative Shop’s Andrew Keller highlighted three Facebook features that have emerged as users’ primary vehicles for engaging in online communities.

  1. Stories —Users display a “rawness and realness” through stories, Keller says, which give them more freedom to be authentic than the curated and polished posts that tend to grace news feeds.

  2. Groups — 100 to 200 million people are in “meaningful groups,” characterized by the value they provide. In these groups, members feel close to each other and gain useful information. From new mothers to cancer survivors, various users find a niche where they can be vulnerable and find support.

  3. Messaging —Every day, 80% of adults and 91% of teens message, along with 2 billion messages sent between people and businesses. This feature “allows people to connect in powerful and personal ways,” Keller says, while giving businesses and consumers alike the opportunity to meet people where they’re at—on Facebook.

From Stories we learn: People crave more authenticity. From Groups we learn: People are seeking meaning and shared values. From Messenger we learn: People want productive relationships with brands.
— Andrew Keller, Facebook Creative Shop

To succeed in these spaces, Keller encourages brands to build strong connections with their communities by inspiring, celebrating, empowering and entertaining.

But how?

  1. Identify a community.

  2. Listen to the community.

  3. Identify your authentic, shared interest.

  4. Define your gift.

  5. Give the community a role to play. Engage your community in the building of it. Give them a tool to make it theirs. Ideally, you want to give them a meaningful and material role to play in its development.

  6. Don’t take the front seat. You’re using your spotlight to benefit them, not the other way around.

  7. Find a credible partner. Share ideas with the community to get their thoughts, let them be a part of it all the way through.

  8. Act, don’t just talk. Don’t just say you’re going to do or support something — do it.

  9. Show real commitment. Go the extra mile. Show that you’re really about that life.

  10. Find the right moment. Identify the moments where humanity already has momentum. i.e., An *insert self here* practice


Social Media —

ICYMI: My title is Director of Social Media, a field that exists at the crossroads of connection, community and content.

Art Attack: Data as the New Creative Director” touched on entering the short window of opportunity brands have to capture their audience’s attention by using data. Going with your gut isn’t enough anymore. How can you complement your creative with insights?

Ready. Aim. Fire.

The panel shared an example of a “420” themed activation. They tested several groups, and of them, the stoner group performed the lowest while news and politics was one of the highest performing. Why? 🤔 For stoners, it wasn’t shocking — no “wow” factor. And thus, stoners were no longer the target audience.

Social media is a conversation; make sure you’re not dominating it. Give your audience a chance to speak, and when they do, make sure you’re listening. Then, adjust your aim accordingly.

Whether someone interacts with your brand one time or 100,000 times—what do you want them to say about you?

When it comes to teaching the basics of creating magical customer service experiences, Disney is in a class of its own. In “Chatbots & Pixiedust: Extraordinary Service Sells,” Debbie Zmorenski —who spent 40+ years of her career at Walt Disney World—shared the foundation upon which Disney builds magical experiences.

  • “Superior service has to happen consistently across all lines of your business. … It has to be at all touchpoints. And if at any point that falls down, it’s impacting your brand.”

  • When your customers interact with you online, are they receiving an experience consistent with what they receive on the phone? In person? On your website?

  • Until you define what that experience should be, it’s open to interpretation. Put a structure in place (i.e., a service advantage foundation) that lets your teams know what an ideal interaction looks, sounds and feels like. Then teach them how to deliver it.



...that lets your teams know what an ideal interaction looks, sounds and feels like.



Storytelling —

Content is King. Distribution is Queen (and sometimes she wears the pants).How can you create a kingdom of killer content that resonates?

Brand Storytelling in the Digital Age,” led by Kate Spade New York’s in-house agency, shared their tips, tricks and advice on conquering content.

  • Look around you. What do you have? Make the most out of it. Leverage your resources.

  • Play around with purposefully low value production. People engage with what they perceive as authentic, down-to-earth, etc.

  • Short and sweet. How can you hit the point and get it across in a short amount of time?

  • What works on the different platforms? Tailor content for them. 🗣 Give the people what they want. Let data inform that.


Tailor your content for each platform.


  • Experiment fast and often.

  • What is your audience searching? How can you be there when your personas go looking for it? The team worked with Google to see which search queries aligned with their core values.


meet your audience where they're at.


  • Make content that behaves like popular content (i.e., pieces of entertainment) but tailored to your brand.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

It all comes back to my girl Maya Angelou.

How do you think about empathy from a brand perspective? “Why the Best Content Marketers Use Empathy” had the answers.

  • Know your audience. What do they want? Serve them.

  • Reveal the real. Get to the funny, messy, etc. (e.g., Dear Dad Who’s Not the Favorite (Right Now))

  • Get genuinely granular. Just be authentic. Everything isn’t perfect. Explore that.

  • Find ways to tell the stories your audience shares with you online. Texting while Parenting came about from social listening. “Humor can signal belonging,” says Ann Handley, MarketingProfs. Use that to connect with your audience and let them know, “Yes, we understand you.”

  • Above all, be authentic. When Plum Organics launched their “Do Your Partner” campaign, they were explicit and transparent about their intentions. Without this, their audience may not have been open to receiving the message.


Speaking of social listening, we bring that to the table without discussing user generated content, or “collaborative storytelling,” as “Creating a Movement Through User Generated Content” put it.

How do you bring more people into what you’re doing? Move from a monologue to a dialogue.

People don’t want to just share their personal experiences, they want to connect to others. Make it easy to share — and have a conversation.


 Every game-changing thing you need to know about making your content shareable is here.

🗣 Shoutout to Tim Leake with RPA Advertising and Natalie Sun with Next Art for this handy dandy resource and one of my favorite sessions at SXSW.


Now more than ever, there’s a focus on workplace culture. How can companies create an environment that encourages employees to be their best self, thus, creating an environment where everyone can produce their best work?

Multi-dimensional relationships. In “Designing Culture,” Miguel McKelvey, Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer at WeWorktalks about giving people the opportunity to experience others in a different way and in a different setting outside of the workplace. When you layer those experiences on top of each other, the relationships become deeper.

What does it mean to have an engaged employee?

McKelvey breaks down culture into these 8 pillars.


Happy Wife, Happy Life. We’ve all heard that saying, but Esther Perel took it to the next level in “The Future of Love, Lust and Listening.” This doesn’t apply to just a marriage, but any relationship.

“The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.”

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. 🍅 Everyone is different. How do you motivate a diverse team when everyone values different things? “A New Leadership Model of the Digital Age” explored how to motivate, inspire and encourage teams in the fast-paced space of digital, innovative teams.

  • “Let your people be their best in the way that they want to work,” says Swan Sit, Nike’s Head of Global Digital Marketing. “That’s just as good as a bonus.” She encourages managers to use MBTI to understand their teams on a deeper level, and then adjust their leadership styles accordingly.

  • Have candid conversations. “Being very clear about what we’re trying to solve for,” says Pandora’s Lizzie Wilhelm.

  • Set your True North, then empower and align your squad toward a customer-centric strategy. “You have to create a culture that allows people to speak up, and not only rewards great ideas, but allows room for something silly.”

Dance, Dance, Revolution. “There’s a difference between being invited to the dance and being asked to dance.” 👏🏾 What a gem. In “Allies in Equality: How Diversity Shapes a Brand,” Walmart’s Ben-Saba Hasan dropped plenty of knowledge on how to create inclusive spaces in the workplace. He shared how researchers discovered that our brain fires the same neurons when we’re in pain as it does when we feel excluded. Think about that — coming to work in pain every day. So how can you revolutionize the dance floor to ensure everyone gets a chance to dance? Look for opportunities to be more inclusive in how you live your life and do your job. Also, practice what you preach. Keep in mind that not all rectangles are squares. In other words, not all diverse spaces are inclusive spaces and vice versa. Diversity and inclusion are not mutually exclusive. (Exhibit A) When you invite people to the table, are you ensuring they get the opportunity to eat? Are they being asked to dance? Metaphors aside — once you create diverse spaces, do your employees feel empowered to speak up?

Caught SXSW fever? Itching for more?