In mid-March the biggest culture and technology conference and festival in the world wrapped up in Austin, Texas. Twenty years ago, SXSW (South by South West), was all about giving voice to indie musicians, now it is where you can meet the next Mark Zuckerberg. In short, it is the place to be if you work in the creative or technology industries.
I don’t. I work in communications and sustainable development, so there was no chance I could get to Austin this year. However, I curiously followed it online. It became the perfect way of taking a peek at new trends that will either change the way we work or are useful ideas to enhance what we are already doing.
In my lurking, I found five things business communicators everywhere can steal from the organisers of SXSW:
1. Make it fun!
It not only about the gamification, that is using the mechanics of digital games to foster innovation and employee engagement, it’s about using creative solutions to getting audiences to learn, share and grow. SXSW filled Austin with music and technology. Even Neil Young showed up to pitch for a startup and suddenly raised almost three million dollars.
Robin McCasland, Chair of IABC’s International Executive Board and Director of Internal Communication at Dell, talked to me about the influence of SXSW on corporate communications and highlighted that “what we do for fun is having a big impact in how we work. Take video for example, the symbolic effect of a CEO making what looks like a home-made video is getting more and more powerful. As professional communicators we need to balance being authentic, with being professional and strategic”.
2. You don’t have to be there, to be there.
I was a virtual delegate: just one of the millions of curious people around the world following the different sessions online. If you are in communications, it is likely that events are one of the tools in your arsenal. SXSW reminded me that I must make sure that the content produced is also available for those who can’t make it to the venue. Social media and the intranet are just two ways of reaching them and shinning a spotlight on the conversations you want your audience to have.
But even if you are a speaker, you don’t have to be there, to be there. One of the most followed sessions of the week were keynotes by Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, both speaking remotely. So if you want the best in the field to address your audience, don’t let space and time zones limit you.
This takes me to my third point, the most-written about discussion of the week:
3. Protect your privacy, while being open and authentic
Assange and Snowden’s keynotes reminded us all that privacy is “in” again. As Mashable’s Kenneth Hein reported, even Millennials who used to shun anything that wasn’t shareable are getting privacy conscious.
Monserrat Padierna, Head of Communications and Strategy at Bigfoot, was there and remarked “both Snowden and Assange called on the technology community to help put the fire of the internet out. They motivated thousands of professionals to look after our users’ privacy as a priority”.
In corporate communications we’ve always been cautious about security, however we still need to be advocates for employees sharing and organisations gaining trust through open and authentic communications. How do you find the balance? SXSW did not offer a solution to that dilemma and I’m afraid neither does this post. But I would love to hear from IABC’s members on what their experience has been.
4. Wearable technology is coming our way
If SXSW is a good indicator, last year’s fitness wristbands were just the beginning. At IABC’s Europe and Middle East Leadership Institute, Silvia Cambie said that wearable technology is going to change the business of internal and external communications.
Of course, as Stephen Welch, IABC’s UK President, put it “‘wearable’ is just a technologically miniaturised version of ‘we are able’”.
Google glasses? Really? When? I’m a bit of a non-believer on this camp. Leading designers were cautious about embracing technology in their creations. But I am fascinated by the idea of a purse that charges my phone and a pair of sunglasses that stops me from getting lost on my way to a meeting.
5. Keep expanding frontiers
Communicators are becoming the facilitators of the business conversation. Even if you are working in internal comms, social media is affecting your work. The “boundaries are blurring” that was the conclusion of my chat with Robin.
Our role as business communicators has to include being the voice that brings the “real world” in to build effective business strategies.
If you are like me and your company works beyond the realm of the creative arts, then it’s easy to find inspiration in music, the arts and technology to keep our work fresh. Bring in the designers, get a bit of theatre into the boardroom, let the musician make the pitch for a client.
SXSW had keynote sessions, panels, interactive formats, different stages and even “official buskers”. All to give voice to as many talented people as possible.
Spending a week observing them was enough to give me some ideas of what new things I want to bring into my organisation and what IABC can offer our members. Hopefully you can also find some inspiration there.