My five favorite takeaways from SXSW 2017

Having spent the past four years in grad school with no time for conferences, I decided to jump back into learning by attending South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. I attended the interactive festival and I was pleased to find a wealth of healthcare topics and even more sessions on branding, marketing and communications. It was a great mix of content, speakers and a diverse range of opinions. I’ve discovered it’s pretty difficult to find a conference covering this broad range of topics, but SXSW delivers.

Here are my five favorite takeaways from SXSW. . . .

Even if something doesn’t initially seem like it’s a 100% match to your day job or interests, there are lessons to be learned. I sat in on a panel titled The End of Disability, which covered health technology’s role in improving the lives of those with disabilities. It was a fascinating panel showcasing how technology is being used (or in some cases has completely stalled out and failed to evolve, specifically a prosthetic arm which has changed very little since the Civil War era) to bypass damage in the body to aid people to do things like swipe a credit card, brush their teeth or play Guitar Hero.

For me, one of the more interesting exchanges was between the panelists and an audience member (and the subsequent social media chatter about the session) who argued that the title of the session was actually a disservice to the disability community, that the title was terrible, and language matters. The exchange was interesting, eye opening, provocative and has absolutely stayed with me. In my current role, it reminds me to test ideas, encourage the sharing of ideas, the importance of identity, and the value of diversity of opinion.

Transparency in social media is a beautiful thing. If you are a scholar of social media, you likely have seen the great work of San Francisco’s BART, where the social team has been applauded for its transparency and honesty with the public. In a session titled Trolls: To Feed or Not to Feed, social media thought leaders presented case studies and advice for dealing with negative or challenging comments on social. The BART system is dealing with aging technology and faces a lot of challenges. They have taken an approach on social which stems from strong collection of key messages about the challenges they face. The social media team speaks from that collection of key messages when crafting social media messages. They’ve taken the approach that if they will say something in a city council meeting, or in another public forum, they should be also saying it on social when faced with questions or complaints about service. It was interesting and a good reminder that transparency and authenticity can carry your social strategy very far.

Focus on mission, resources and stay true to yourself. Another great session was with Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of The New York Times, discussing the future of the publication, the current political climate, and how journalism is changing, and in many cases, not changing. Again, the real bottom line for me was focus on mission, putting resources in the right places, and staying true to who you are and what you do, even in the face of opposition.

Good storytelling is truly an art. Another session I loved covered storytelling in digital media. Panelists from Ad Council, Good, and Upworthy shared their “simple” secrets to creating compelling story using data. They spoke at a very high level on each of the 12 or so elements, but also offered a few really practical tips for improving storytelling. My favorite was the idea that you should never lead a video with your logo, people need to be hooked, especially in a social media timeline, in just three seconds — dive right into the story, instead of spending those precious moments with a logo. This was great advice that I know I can put into practice immediately.

Inspiration! It was hard to walk 10 feet without being inspired by something. I went to SXSW hoping to get some great ideas, and the conference definitely delivered. From the pitch stage, to creepy handmaids walking around Austin, to henna and puppies in the Trade Show, it was everywhere.

Thanks, SXSW. I hope to be back again soon.