Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival has long been a hotbed of innovation, ever since the days when only the most geeky tech lovers walked the streets in search of BBQ. In the past few years, however, social media-focused tech has occupied most of the headlines around the event, making the yearly conference a choice destination for marketers, too.
For example, over the history of SXSW, one of the most memorable spotlight-grabbers was the now nearly-ubiquitous microblogging service, Twitter, which saw a major increase in users during (and following) the conference in 2007. The Twitter team encouraged attendees—and those monitoring at a distance—to use 140 character updates to communicate with one another during, and between , sessions and panels. Foursquare’s SXSW launch in 2009 was another hit, bursting onto the social media scene with special location-based badges for conference attendees.
Interestingly enough, this year, music was the star –and not only of the music portion of the Festival, but also for the interactive program, as well. Media streaming and sharing is one of the hottest areas of focus in technology right now, and SXSW attendees explored the possibilities with founders and reps from companies like Turntable.fm, Rdio and Spotify.
It wasn’t all that long ago (remember Napster and Kazaa?) that music sharing was frowned upon by musicians and the RIAA alike. Now music streaming services like DJ, gamification startup Turntable.fm, recommendation engines SoundTracking, and streaming services Rdio and Spotify offer users the opportunity to purchase songs they enjoy—or that other users give a thumbs-up—on the spot from Amazon or iTunes.
And, it appears that musicians couldn’t be happier. Fans enjoy a great music experience and can take advantage of community recommendations, while artists (and their labels) benefit from the exposure. Even social network / mobile app, Path, offers users the choice to share what they’re listening to as a posting option.
“Social Discovery” apps were a topic of SXSW buzz, as well, but failed to make as positive an impression as the music innovators. Apps like Highlight and Ban.jo notify users when others (friends or not!) are nearby, and they provide ways to “circle” or group friends to receive specific messages or updates while users are on the go.
Marketers haven’t figured out how to use these apps to promote their products just yet, but as the category explodes (even in the wake of lukewarm reviews), Social Discovery is something we’re all going to need to keep an eye on.
And that, after all, is what SXSW is all about. More than anything, the Festival offers us a chance to see what the early adopters of tech are talking about, and what’s next for the rest of us. However, as more and more apps and platforms emerge every year, an entrepreneurial company’s ability to steal the show over those few days in Austin is likely to get more and more difficult. So, will there ever be another show-stopper like Twitter? That’s hard to say. But, one thing is certain: Marketers will always have to stay tuned in to SXSW to find out.
Photo credit: Brittany Ryan