SXSWi 2011, Day Two: "Oh, the humanity!"

The undercurrent of chatter is "Don't forget the human connection"


developerWorks: This is the developerWorks podcast from South by Southwest Interactive 2011. I'm Scott Laningham, with Todd Watson, and it is day two, our wrapup podcast. How was your day, Todd?

Watson: [SINGING] The stars at night are big and bright ... deep in the heart of Austin. [LAUGHTER] It was great, man. It was a good day. I'm jazzed. I think despite the insanity of you know, the fire marshal probably needing to get involved intimately in managing this crowd.

developerWorks: Oh, man. [LAUGHTER]

Watson: I have heard some really good stuff. So, I'm excited to talk about it.

developerWorks: Thousands, thousands of people.

Watson: Yes, just to set the scene. I mean, there was one keynote that was at two o'clock, and literally, the top floor of the Austin Convention Center was inundated with humanity. I felt like I was back in Tokyo Station in 1998 when I first visited Japan, with just a million people running around. It was intense. So, definitely looking forward to chatting about it.

developerWorks: There was some gridlock in the halls, but.

Watson: But we had an interesting start to our day, didn't we?

developerWorks: We did. The social media clubhouse, which is a location here by the social media club, that our own Kathy Mandelstein is very involved in with the local Austin chapter, which she says is one of the largest chapters ...

Watson: It was one of the most thriving chapters in the U.S.

developerWorks: And you and I both joined, because we didn't ...

Watson: Yes, and our good friend Sandy Carter, who's the social business evangelist for the Lotus® business and a long-time social media stalwart and also author of a book about social media.

developerWorks: Yes, so we had a nice opportunity to do about 20 minutes on video live with them this morning. It was on UStream, and I think if you go to UStream and you search social media clubhouse, it should come up. Or social media club. They did say that those videos were going to be a little delayed and they're being posted. They were streamed live this morning, but it's a little later. But we had a great talk about all these issues that are floating around here at South by.

Watson: Yes, and Sandy in particular talked about, again, kind of what I think is a key theme emerging at the event, which is some of the organizational implications and how businesses from all kinds of industries are starting to take advantage of this opportunity.

developerWorks: You know, and the whole transition from tool talk to culture talk was ... and we talked about that some yesterday, but that was really what she was focusing on a lot this morning, too.

Watson: Yes, and I think that's also kind of extrapolative of a key theme that I'm hearing that's a little bit in between the lines of what we've historically talked about at South by Southwest. And I wrote the headline, don't forget the human connection, right? Because I think heretofore, you and I have come to this event, it's been all about the tools and the technologies and the software applications.

And all of that's important, don't get me wrong. But you know, what you and I hearing at this year's event is an undercurrent of don't forget the humanity. If I could just flash forward to a session I heard that was one of the most interesting I've heard yet, it was about the use of social media in the recent Middle East uprisings.

developerWorks: Right.

Watson: And what we heard from Clay Shirky in his keynote yesterday and what was reaffirmed in the session today is that that didn't just happen overnight; that these relationships were built on the ground in a lot of these constituencies in Egypt and in Tunisia over many, many years.

And that social media tools just help enable the flash point [that] occurred. But if those relationships hadn't existed before then, it would have been very difficult to see the kind of nuclear fusion we saw in those crowds coming together and instigating change. And I think that's an important distinction juxtaposed with some of the things we've heard in the past at this event about just the tools and technology.

developerWorks: We both sat in on the last broadcast, didn't we?

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: "Entertainment is social, what next," I think was the name of that one. And I thought it was interesting. They were talking about cultural implications of social technology, and one thing that was discussed there was we're now having so much co-viewing of media events across distances, where before everybody had to be in the same room watching a TV to be able to interact around events in real time.

And now, the Internet, you know, and social platforms, have made that possible where people are watching Twitter feeds and talking back and forth while they're watching the World Cup.

Watson: The World Cup's a great example.

developerWorks: And that the Twitter feed was actually getting more attention than the game.

Watson: Yes. I was in India during the World Cup, and I remember doing that co-viewing experience. They had wireless in our hotel lobby bar — where I hung out every night of course — and we were watching the games probably 13 hours ahead of the U.S., but I was interacting with people all over the world through Twitter and through Facebook and you know, talking trash and all that. And it was a lot of fun, and I felt part of the bigger World Cup community because of it. Until the Americans lost, and then I just quit watching.

developerWorks: [LAUGHTER] I said "watching game"; I should have said "watching match." I exposed my ignorance there.

Watson: Yes, c'mon, on the soccer pitch, not the field.

developerWorks: You know, I asked the question and I thought it was interesting to answer, and other things that it had twirling around in my head when I said, you know, if the Twitter feed becomes critically linked with the events and even more important sometimes in terms of eyeballs, that doesn't mean that the event, whatever it is, is inconsequential, because there wouldn't be the Twitter interaction without ... around the event without the event, right?

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: But then I said, well, what about the implications for the news business? You know, I mean, what does that mean about how news ...

Watson: Well, so, man, could you tee up the ball any softer for me? So, in the social media in the Middle East session, and this is tragic, so I want to put that out there right now. We were talking about authenticity of news and how a lot of The New York Times correspondents and others on the ground in Egypt and Tunisia, you know, they had cultivated sources that they felt even virtually that they could rely on.

We were sitting in the room and there was an Al-Jazeera correspondent sitting right behind me, and he broke the news literally as we were sitting in the room that an Al-Jazeera cameraman had been murdered today in Libya. And it had been confirmed, and it had been confirmed by ... And they said, well, how do we know it's true? And they said, because we have somebody on the ground who was there.

So I think there's a specter of authenticity in the question around, how do we know it's real, that is going to be a challenge in citizen journalism and beyond moving forward, because it's very easy, we've seen rumors spread, for example that were unsubstantiated. And we've seen even markets get moved because of that. So, I think you're on to something there.

And again, as we go forward around this, fear can't be the driver, and we do it or we don't do it. It's about how do we utilize it to make what we're already doing more effective and our mission more inclusive, right?

Watson: Exactly.

developerWorks: But let's jump around some of the other ones real quick. I mean, we saw a little bit of banking on big brands, celebs for the web. That was a similar session, but it was focused more on celebrities and maybe content ...

Watson: Was this the Kevin Pollak?

developerWorks: Kevin Pollak and Rick Fox.

Watson: Yes, I loved that. I know you want to use this line, I hate to take it away from you.

developerWorks: No, I wanted you to say it. Go ahead.

Watson: If you're not creating you're waiting. Is that not you and me to a T? I mean, get out there and do it.

And I think for a Hollywood celebrity maybe whose star has dimmed a bit, and I admired Pollak for that, why not go out and do your own thing online, and then whatever it is, a talk show, what have you.

Now, I think we've seen the other end of that with our friend, you know, Mr. Winning Tigerblood recently, with Charlie Sheen. But you know, on the other hand, Sheen got two million plus Twitter followers in a short, 24, 36 hours.

So I think there's something to that, never mind just take away that sentiment if you're not creating you're waiting. And I think for a lot of those celebrities whose star has faded, you know, this is a way to revitalize their career.

I mean, I saw a line around the block for Ellen Page a little bit earlier, I didn't even know she was here, and it was ... I don't know how they got all those people in the room. So, you know, I think that we're going to see a lot more of that moving online.

AOL was one of the partner vendors that was talking about how they're creating a platform for those people. I think Madonna did something a while back, Lady Gaga, and we're going to see more and more of that.

developerWorks: So, are we the ones that are waiting or creating, you and I?

Watson: Well, we're creating and waiting.[LAUGHTER]

developerWorks: We're creating and waiting to figure out if people care about what we created.

Watson: Exactly. Well, I think somebody's out there listening. [LAUGHTER]

Let us know.

developerWorks: Let's talk about the brand ... I saw this one, and then, and maybe you want to talk about what else you heard. But, brand journalism was an interesting one. And one of the first things they said was, advertising needs to be more like content rather than the other way around, content, you know ...

Watson: Well, isn't that kind of how Procter & Gamble started, way back in the 1930s, they sponsored the content around soap operas, right? And they were kind of part of the story line, is my understanding. So, we've come full circle. But I like that sentiment, and I think that a lot of big brands should probably take note of that.

developerWorks: You know, another thing that came out of that session that I thought was interesting was Twitter has developed ... people were saying in the early days of Twitter that, you know, what I had for lunch, what I'm wearing today. You know, whether my shoelaces are busted or not. That's just, what a waste of time.

Watson: Inane.

developerWorks: Yes, inane.

And you know, I tend to agree [LAUGHTER]. But one argument was made that part of what resulted from that was development of relationships where there was more trust and where the more substantial discussions could actually go on.

Watson: Well, I think Sandy mentioned in her livecast this morning, if you remember, she went to Mumbai and she was on her way and she had tweeted that she was coming to Mumbai. And the social media club in Mumbai, about 162 members, showed up at her hotel because they wanted to meet with her.

And she had no idea that this was happening. She got to the hotel and the general manager said, well, Ms. Carter, if you could, please, there's some people that would like to chat with you. And had put them in a big room and she walks in and looks and says, no, they can't be here for me. And it turns out they were.

So, her reputation preceded her. So I think it's a matter of how you use Twitter. Okay? I think if you're a thought leader like that, people want to hear from those individuals just like I guess they want to hear from Charlie Sheen, or Oprah, or some of these other people.

So I think it's a matter of how you use the technology. And again, let's go back to Keith Dean, don't forget the human connection. If you can use that as a way of connecting the web of other people, then I think there's some interesting uses of it.

I think there's also downsides, though. This is the other thing we talked about in the Middle East session. You know, what if other people are listening in? You know, and we got into this discussion of how do you secure these technologies so that people who are whistle blowers or other things, you know, aren't, you know, attacked, or gone after because of what they said or who they said it to.

So, there's some interesting dynamics in not forgetting that human connection. You've got to think about both the laws of unintended consequences as well as the good that can come out of it as well.

developerWorks: When you're thinking about companies that are desiring to use things like Twitter with their employees to try to strengthen their brand, and but the wisdom says, don't go out there and direct market, just don't say, we've got a special this week at, bzz! or whatever, do you think that the primary value in employees that are using tools like Twitter is that when they're having intelligent discussions, when they're making a connection, and maybe the connection to the company they're aligned with is extremely soft, it maybe simply the view [or all] in their profile.

Watson: Right. Well, let me give you a good example that Josh Bernoff had in his session yesterday. He's a Forester analyst, and he had gone, he was in Massachusetts, and he was using Twitter to do a kind of a call out to the 12 Force, which is the Best Buy employee base, that monitors Twitter.

And he said, I'm trying to find a mobile phone power cord, but I need to go to this store, because he was in the general vicinity. Not only did somebody respond from 12 Force and tell him that the cord was in stock, but they said, it's in stock at this store, here's the phone number and address. And you know, somebody will help you when you get there.

So, flash forward, he goes to the store, finds the thing. And then he's in the store, and he decides, you know, I've been looking and thinking about getting a Blu-Ray player. Long story short, Josh laughed, he walked out with $1,100 worth of merchandise even though he was going to go in and buy a $25 mobile adapter.

So I think that answers your question, that by providing service you're helping instigate loyalty and the opportunity to get more value, in this case monetarily, from the customer. But I would imagine it also left a heck of a brand impression on him and others that he tells the story to.

developerWorks: And that brings us to the last session that we heard, which is not the last one of the day, but it's the last one before we were doing this podcast ...

Watson: Before our brains go?

developerWorks: ... which was customer experience trends and insights, Colin Shaw who is the author of Beyond Philosophy. And maybe buying all that stuff is paramount to most of us missing the gorilla that walked through the video we watched, I don't know. I mean, he was demonstrating how intense focus makes you miss some other very relevant information that's going on.

Watson: Yes, and I thought his talk, short though it was, was really poignant and spot on, because he talked about how technology is driving commoditization of all kinds of things. We saw this at IBM with things like some of the earlier versions of our application servers and portals, and so we had to realize that we've got to move up the value chain and provide more service and support around using those technologies.

I think similarly, we're seeing that in the social media realm. And he mentioned that loyalty is an emotional attachment, right? And by having and providing that brand experience, whatever it is, it's 12 Force helping you find what you need, you're walking into a Walmart looking for a piece of merchandise, and having a helpful person get you through that transaction is part of the brand building experience.

On the other hand, we've all had the airlines where we can't get through on the website, we can't get through on the phone, and then we just start cursing in all those characters at the top of your keyboard ...

developerWorks: Right.

Watson: ... with exclamation points because they're not focused on that. So I think his point was if I could go back to look at my notes quickly, he talked about ...

developerWorks: He's also talking about what subconscious message are you sending ...

Watson: Yes, and not just repeating the transactional experience we've had in the analog world using social media but rather recreating a new opportunity or experience that's really centered around what that opportunity that social media presents. And I think that's where a lot of organizations are missing the boat.

To your early point about Twitter, we're just a billboard, flashing things out into the ether. No. Add some value, help a customer through an experience, and the next thing you know, they're going to be coming knocking on your door and they're going to be telling everybody else what a great experience they had. Apple's another great example.

developerWorks: He said, 50 percent of the experience, and is he talking about the transactional or the social media experience, is about emotion. Do you remember that statement of his? Anyway, all I know is, he did say social media is largely driven by emotions, so that the bottom line is, which emotions are we communicating in what we're doing, and are we doing ... are we communicating those emotions, as he said, that frustrate and devalue or the ones that create trust and result in happiness?

As Tony Hsieh was talking about with his ...

Watson: Exactly.

developerWorks: ... Happiness bus tour, right? Delivering Happiness.

Watson: Yes.

developerWorks: But, we'll be back tomorrow with more great content from South by Southwest. Todd Watson, Scott Laningham, this is the developerWorks podcast. We'll be back tomorrow.

Search terms for these topics: | Copenhagen Wheel | Sandy Carter | Clay Shirky | Kevin Pollak | Rick Fox | Ellen Page | Keith Dean | Josh Bernoff | Colin Shaw | Tony Hsieh | Delivering Happiness | South by Southwest 2011 | SXSWi 2011

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ArticleTitle=SXSWi 2011, Day Two: "Oh, the humanity!"