Is Social Media A Bubble And SXSW A Fad?
This SXSW coverage is brought to you by Red Square Agency. The agency that also brought you startling birds with a brass horn.
When you peruse the SXSW panel listing prior to making your way to the annual nerd-fest in Austin each year and you come across a panel entitled Social Media is a Bubble and SXSW is a Fad, interest is piqued. The panel aimed to explore if, in fact, social media is a bubble about to burst and whether or not SXSW has simply jumped the shark and become too large.
The panel, which was moderated by Attention Founder and CEO Curtis Hougland, kicked of with what, for a second, seemed like the introduction of some kind of new killer app that would ensure that your social media activity would always rise to the top. A few seconds in, it was clear the app was a joke but, because of the app's "boom! there it is" approach to popularity was an integral component, it did get everyone to shout "boom" before they asked a question. Which, of course, was funny. But even funnier was one woman who came to the session late and had no idea why she had to say "boom" before she asked the question.
The moderator began by defining the four components of a bubble:
1. Inflation in the cost of talent
2. Exaggerated financial valuations
3. A glut of companies
4. Irrational exuberance
Kicking things off, Business Insider Editor Alyson Shontell argued that from a user perspective, social media is not a bubble. Facebook, with its 850 million users, is here to stay. Additionally, it was also noted that social media has lost a bit of buzz because it's become part of the fabric of culture.
Audiences have learned, with the help of social media and other forms of online communication, that they can talk back to companies as often as they want. While the tools to do so may change, it was posited this form of communication has become the norm and will not be unlearned just because a few social media companies may or may not go out of business. Harkening the dot com bust, one panelist said "My quality of life didin't go down when pets.com went out of business."
Many of us in this industry are too close to it to realize that the general public doesn't care much at all about the latest, coolest app, which company just launched, which one just went out of business or why Highlight is being hyped as this year's SXSW breakout app. They just don't care.
While it may seem like a bubble to those on the inside, the average consumer, much like the panelist whose life didn't change when pets.com tanked, doesn't see it and won't be affected at all when many of the startups they've never heard of don't exist next year.
On the flip side, some of the "bubbling" of social media that has been identified is argued to have been the fault of brands (and their agencies) which continue to chase the latest shiny object because...well because they will be cooler if they do it before their competition. Too much emphasis is put on the shiny object for the shiny object's sake as opposed to whether or not the shiny object will actually deliver a solid ROI.
In terms of SXSW itself, it was almost unanimously agreed that if something doesn't change soon, the SXSW experience that was so special a few years ago will be lost forever. Many panelists and audience members felt the peer-powere Panel Picker approach to determining programming, while well intended, can end up being a popularity contest and not a quality determination of a speaker's ability to convey and educate.
I can tell you from having been to SXSW for five years, it's lost a bit of its cache. While it's not necessarily a bad thing when big brands become involved, the utter gigantitude of the festival is beyond comprehension. Will that stop me from coming? Of course not. I look at SXSW as both business and pleasure. For five days I can be in the same city as many of the people I work with online. I can connect with them non-digitally and I can meet new people I never would have met online because of the inherent randomness of crowd flow at SXSW. And, courtesy of the increase in brand presence at SXSW, I can experience some of the coolest things, eat some of the best food, hang at some of the nicest venues and drink all I want without spending a cent.
Some might hate the bigness of it all, the proliferation of brands, the corporatization of it all, but I love to see the change each year. And we all know there's only one constant in this world and that;'s change. There is no status quo. And SXSW will more into whatever it's next iteration may be. And I will welcome it.
This SXSW coverage has been brought to you by Red Square, a small national agency that just happens to be located in the SXSE.