SXSW Takeaways for Small-Business Owners

At SXSW, the world's leaders on interactive media shared how small-business owners can benefit from emerging trends. Here are some key SXSW takeaways.
March 16, 2016

Commonly known as SXSW, the annual South By Southwest festival held this week in Austin, Texas, features events in the realms of interactive media, film and music. The reveals and conferences surrounding the interactive media portion of SXSW often introduce cutting-edge technology poised to gain traction worldwide.

“When you think about the demographic changes on both the buyer and seller sides—younger “digital natives” vs. retiring baby-boomers—you realize that technology will continue to penetrate every aspect of our business and personal lives,” says Dave Stein, co-author of Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World. “Whether it’s wearables to meet healthcare provider requests or robots to further manufacturing effectiveness, efficiency and quality, tech is at the core of it all. SXSW introduces these trends and offers small-business owners the opportunity to delve into those trends that are promising, as well as to meet those who conceived, built and use these trending products, services and practices.”

For small businesses to effectively compete with larger rivals, the understanding and use of technology is often the great equalizer, adds Paul Friederichsen, CEO of BrandBiz and a former creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi. “SXSW empowers small businesses with awareness of the tools and techniques they need in today’s hyper-competitive environment,” Friederichsen says.

Here are some of the significant trends and SXSW takeaways for small business that emerged at this year’s event.

Social Media Leads to Social Messaging

At this year's SXSW, much discussion centered on the shift currently occurring from social media to social messaging, with a significant increase in consumers wanting more intimate sharing in more private networks. This shift is so significant that it may be redefining how brand marketers connect with consumers. The goal now seems to be enabling more intimate conversations.

Marketing is vital and can help small businesses be competitive, Friederichsen believes. “The social media to social messaging trend revealed at SXSW will have the greatest impact for the vast majority of small businesses. It is, without a doubt, the next evolution of marketing communication.”

Stein agrees. “One key trend is the use of social media and messaging to attract and nurture new customers and clients. The amount of noise and hype in the social arena is deafening, but we’ve seen smaller companies propel significant growth through the use of social media strategies relevant to the markets they are pursuing. Social media messaging technologies can provide sales and marketing people with a further and deeper reach into the mind and wallet-share of their target markets.”

Online Harassment

In light of the fact that online activity can and has led to online displays of dark, hateful behavior online and cyberbullying, SXSW held its first Online Harassment Summit. The day-long event featured a wide variety of speakers and tackled solutions for such subjects as why hate thrives online, the economics of online harassment and the bullying of youth online.

“Small-business owners have the biggest challenge when it comes to online harassment,” Stein says. “Having been a victim of harassment myself—the situation, fortunately, was resolved quickly—I understand how very debilitating this kind of digital warfare can be for a small business. Individuals targeting a business can cause the closure of social media accounts [Facebook, for example]. Larger companies have dedicated often well-equipped teams to deal with harassment, but smaller companies must be online to attract new customers and nurture existing ones, so they have the most to lose when it comes to targeted harassment.”

Next Generation Marketing

SXSW acknowledged the fact that today’s consumers rely on multiple digital resources to navigate their days and discover and engage with businesses—from online directories, to email, review sites and mobile search. Their presentation on this topic focused on this evolution in behavior and offered businesses tips for successfully navigating the digital age, such as how to buildup online reviews and communicate with key customers. As a result, it’s imperative that small business owners establish a strong, solid presence on the web.

SXSW Takeaways

As seen at SXSW, technology is continuing to advance, and it’s fascinating, notes John Kohl, president and CEO of TuneGO, a multi-platform music discovery network that connects independent artists with music producers, songwriters, promoters and consumers. “There are, however, certain fears that come with this robot-driven future and will most likely get worse as society continues to depend on technology, such as the hacking of automated cars," Kohl says. "For small businesses, the lesson is to use technology to listen to customers and show that they are valued.”

Stein echoes Kohl. “SXSW teaches us that small businesses need to understand that technology should be employed as a medium to deliver value that will support achieving business goals and objectives—not as an end unto itself," Stein explains. "If you want to acquire technology to play with, fine. But if you want to grow your business, you had better know precisely how that new, bright, shiny object is going to get the job done and what the risks are in accomplishing that.”

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