YouTubers, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Socialnomics — SXSW Day 2

I’m trying to keep up my daily recap blog articles, so far so good! If you’ve not heard of SXSW (South by South West), it’s a huge event that takes place in Austin, Texas, every March. Think of it as (probably) the largest tech, social, digital, creative, design event on the planet. Over 800 sessions, and hundreds of parties over 4 days, with a mind blowing list of speakers all in once place. At a stretch, you can get to around 6 sessions in a day, so while I’m sharing some of the more interesting that I attend, that are over 200 each day that you could actually take part in.

Before I go any further, I should add that I know that many will look back at Day 2 being a huge highlight of SXSW 2015. It will be hard to top the final session of the day, being Gary Vaynerchuk and Jack Welch free-styling on what it takes to win in business today. I had the privilege of meeting Gary just prior to his session, and then had a chance to chat to him afterwards. More on that later though!

We started Day 2 with a session on privacy and social data hosted by Jason Baldridge (Chief Scientist at People Pattern), Jennifer Golbeck (Professor at UMD), Philip Resnik (Professor at UMD), and Michelle Zhou (CEO at, titled; ‘Are You In A Social Media Experiment’ (with the answer being unequivocally “yes”). Researchers and academics talked through how they use social data to draw conclusions about users, both in an informed surveying process, but also with publicly accessible data.

We’ve all heard about when Target actually knew a customer was pregnant before she did based on her purchasing behaviour (and they targeted contextual advertising accordingly), but there was a fascinating discussion by the panelists around Facebook’s (much criticised) study last year where they were tweaking the content users would be exposed to in their newsfeed to determine whether Facebook could positively or negatively impact individual user emotions based on the sentiment of the content consumed. This sparked a fairly interesting debate around the ethics of such an experiment where there was no expressed consent involved, but furthermore, that not only were minors opted in, but the survey dangerously included users with mental health conditions. Targeting messages to manipulate an emotional state isn’t new (think World Vision TV ads, political campaigns at election time, etc), but with so much data available about you specifically, when applying mathematics, machine learning, and real time data, this messaging can be tailored to inspire action in YOU specifically. That’s fascinating.

We (JMD) run experiments with content every day (often to test engagement levels on different pieces of micro-content, with different subsections of a target audience), so it was incredibly interesting to hear about the other side of the research and data. To see an example of some of this research in action, I’d encourage you to check out, log in with your Twitter account to get an understanding of the depth of some of the conclusions that can be made about you. You might be surprised.

Shifting gears a little bit, the next session I jumped into was ‘Changing The Face Of Fame — Social Media Celebrities’. I can’t understate the influence this panel has on an incredibly large and growing market. The panel featured; Cubby Graham (Charity:Water), Rob Fishman (, which was recently acquired by Twitter), Paula Veale (Ad Council), and Jeremy Welt (Maker Studios). The underlying theme of the discussion centred around how brands can (and do) work with social influencers in a new wave of endorsement marketing.

Rob Fishman (Niche) represents over 9,000 of these content creators, or social media personalities, who receive over a collective 1.5b views every month, and Maker Studios is the world’s largest network of short form content creators, receiving over 12b views on YouTube across their network every month. These agencies not only help their creators to develop great content and grow their audience, but they provide new ways to monetise their audience.

Never before has there been so much interest from big brands to work with online celebrities (who are now shifting to becoming mainstream personalities), but it’s not without it’s challenges. With so much noise in the space, it’s not a surprise that these agencies have dozens of employees who spend countless hours each week learning more about their creators, so they can match brands and personalities with the most synergy. It’s not enough to call up a YouTuber with 3 million subscribers, and pay them to throw your ad in their videos.

One of the most interesting factors in this space is that engagement between a social content creators and their fanbase is generally incredibly high, which means with the right match up, an engaged audience of 10,000 people could move the needle far greater than what would conventionally be needed when reaching millions of people through traditional media, and it’s not just emerging/edgy brands working with online personalities — brands like BMW, Coca Cola, HP and Pizza Hut continue to work with social personalities with fairly incredible results.

Rob Fishman, co-founder of Niche, told a story of a time he took just a couple of celebrities on Vine to walk a Hollywood red carpet event. There were kids in the front row who didn’t know who Robert De Niro was, but they were screaming in excitement when a couple of their favourite Vine celebrities walked past. It’s a sign of the times.

Next, I was excited to see Erik Qualman (otherwise known as EqualMan). I first read Erik’s book Socialnomics around 3 years ago, and I’m sure everyone has seen his Social Media Revolution videos over the years.

Erik talked through his take on the trends in social, and personal brand (whether you’re an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, or just someone excited building your profile). A few of his noteworthy points included;

  • Social search is coming, and every person/brand is going to have a rating in some (often multiple) contexts. TripAdvisor now tells you how your friends are rating hotels, in addition to what the population thinks, because they know that a contextual recommendation is often far more valuable for you.
  • Digital leaders are made, not born. Anyone can build an audience, and the more niche, the more likely you are to capture the attention of your specific target audience.
  • A recent study of conversations on Tinder, showed that people who kicked off the discussion with a smilie face emoji with a nose: :-), are 40x more likely to get a response than messages that feature a smilie face without a nose: . This stresses the absolute need to test everything in your brand messaging!
  • Historically, Disney World have had official photographers that follow the Disney Princesses around the park. If you wanted a photo with a princess, they’d take one for you, and you could buy the high res print for $20. Today, you can ask the professional photographer to take a photo with your own phone. Yes, they’re losing money on the photo, but the “happiest place on earth” is now the most Instagrammed place on earth.

Finally the big one, the session we’d been most excited about leading into SXSW… ‘What It Really Takes To Win In Business’, a chat between Jack Welsh and Gary Vaynerchuk. Jack is a business legend, he has over 40 global CEO’s reporting to him, and is personally worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A legend in his own right. But in our space, it’s hard to ignore Gary Vaynerchuk. I first read Crush It (Gary’s first book) back in 2011, and I loved it. I’ve followed GV’s career closely, was an avid wine library viewer, have watched every keynote on YouTube, consistently read his work, to the point where I’ve been told that my speaking style is very similar to his (which is possibly either just because it is, or because I’ve subconsciously modelled my style based off his influence).

I saw Gary and Tim Ferriss share a SXSW stage back in 2012, but today was different. We got a chance to meet Gary briefly prior to his session, and following the presentation he spent around 15 minutes talking with us (and handful of others) off the stage.

These experiences are what continue to make SXSW an inspiring event for me. I’ve got an inherent belief that we all need to follow and model great leaders, and Gary has been a huge influence on me in recent years. I believe that when you get that opportunity build context and a relationship, it gives you so much more perspective, which is unquantifiable.

If you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas, don’t hesitate to comment or shoot me a message.

If you’d like to follow the day-to-day, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Cheers everyone, see you tomorrow!

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