Four ways to make SXSW better

I’ve just returned from year one of SXSW V2V — a Las Vegas spinoff of what has become an annual cavalcade of emerging music, technology, film, and an increasing number of really bad brand activations. You can read my take on V2V here, here, and here. What attracted me to V2V was the fact that it was smaller and more focused. I go to Austin for most years, and while I do enjoy it, I find it harder every year to justify from a business perspective, since the throngs of semi-pro tourists and the democratization of festival content seem to have taken a lot of the power out of the conference. I figured with only 1,500 people, and content narrowly covering innovation and entrepreneurship, we could collectively create a bit more value.

I was right, sort of. In general, I’d say that most of the presentations were at the Beginner level, but the small size and concentrated area kept the vibe more intimate and made for more productive conversations.

That said, here are five suggestions I’d like to offer the SXSW crew, not that they asked:

  1. Do more to facilitate connections between attendees. Sure, there are plenty of networking breaks, but that’s not enough. For example:
    1. The app and website should contain a social network. Contact me if you want to see examples of this done well.
    2. Badges should be scannable by smartphone. I met a bunch of folks without business cards. Their fault, to be sure, but you can still create more value here.
  2. Curate an Advanced track with speakers who push the boundaries of what practitioners need to know. The most common feedback I heard from friends after most sessions was “that was a lot of common sense.” I’d argue that common sense is good for people to hear over and over, but balance that with folks pushing the envelope.
  3. Offer videos of every talk for registered attendees to watch on the site. We can’t make every talk and sometimes have to skip one. We should be able to go back and watch it later.
  4. Let Behance (or someone) work with all of the presenters to design their decks. Some folks have great things to say but don’t have expertise in Keynote. Your audience shouldn’t suffer because you can’t make a good deck (although you really should work on your deck skills).

Propel // Don't Believe the Hype

Picture 6 You may have noticed by now that I like to report whenever I click on a web ad, mainly because it's such a rare occurrence. This morning it was a little interactive number from Propel. I'm not a Propel drinker, but it caught my eye with the familiar icons from seemingly unaffiliated websites. So, over I go...

Quickly, it becomes apparent that the theory is that since Propel enhanced water enhances your life with electrolytes, the Propel brand can enhance your life in other ways by providing digital resources for things like health, organization, and travel. Not bad so far.

Then we get deeper into the site, where the execution starts to get shaky. Here's why:

- There are 16 sites included in the roundup of resources. If it seems presumptuous to think that from the millions of sites out there, even from the hundreds of sites that aren't complete crap I can pick the 16 you really need, it is.

- At least one of the sites no longer exists. It features a message dated July 8th that it went out of business.

- One of the sites is from AOL. I'm not really anti-AOL, but the brand would get a lot more credit for helping us discover resources that come from companies without multi-million-dollar ad budgets.

- In addition to the sites, there's a Digg-style news feed. Why not just include Digg?

I could go on, but I hope by now you get the picture. This is actually a decent idea, just very poorly executed.

In general, it suffers two major problems:
1. It doesn't teach us much about the Propel brand, other than the fact that it wants to be helpful. That, in itself, isn't a bad message, but at that level of engagement there was an opportunity to go quite a bit deeper. In this way, it's not brand focused enough.

2. It doesn't leverage the power of crowdsourcing. The real opportunity is not in giving out 16 links to click, but to create a community and discussion around enhanced lifestyles. They should encourage user submissions and peer review, highlight community members who contribute the most or exhibit the "most enhanced" behaviors. In this say, the site is not consumer focused enough.

Propel folks, you're almost on the right track. Next time, let us help you get it just right.