SXSW Interactive LogoToday is my first day back in the office after attending South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2015. This conference covers a variety of topics in the technology, marketing, design and communications industries. I attended for the third consecutive year with the charge of bringing fresh ideas back to the office.

Each year when I return from SXSW I find myself reflecting on the themes that have developed from the sessions I attended. I always choose sessions based on what speaks to me and what I find interesting, but inevitably themes arise. My first year I focused on tools and tactics. My second year I found myself focusing on work/life balance and how to “get it all done.” This year I went in with our newly-implemented content marketing strategic plan in mind. As a result I found myself drawn to a lot of sessions about content marketing, storytelling and journalism.

Below is a recap of some of the sessions I attended this year, along with some key takeaways and links to Storify pages with more information about the session and my sketchnotes from the panels. For a quick fix, I’ve included a SlideShare deck with notes grouped by platform.

Simple Ways to Massively Increase Content

  • The content you need = Number of Content Categories X Number of Audience Personas X Number of Stages in Your Sales Funnel.
  • High Effort Content (blogs, paid content, video) draws traffic from searches.
  • Medium Effort Content (Q & A, etc.) performs best in terms of search engine optimization.
  • Low Effort Content (user-generated content, curated content) does best with cross-channel distribution.
  • Being amazing is not scalable. That can’t be your goal.
  • Have managers & creators focused on the “best” stuff in terms of what works for your brand.
  • Aggregate! It isn’t possible to create it all yourself. (Aim to aggregate 80% of your content.)
  • Leverage your internal resources.
  • Even NBC Sports struggles with staffing issues for managing social media.
  • Storify recap & sketchnotes

New Media Ethics: Journalism in the Age of GIFs

  • Younger readers want more transparency and attribution.
  • Branded content should be clearly labeled, closely reviewed and distinguished from editorial content with text and visuals.
  • Intent can’t be read, so be explicit with how you’ll moderate.
  • If your site is open to comments, you are hosting a community. Post rules and consequences so expectations are clear.
  • Storify recap & sketchnotes

Failure as a Creative Catalyst

  • Know what you don’t know, and make that your motivator.
  • Make learning an active ingredient of your daily life.
  • Storify recap & sketchnotes

Behind the Social at PBS’ Largest Content Provider

  • Don’t spread yourself too thin. Before taking on another project / idea, consider if you can sustain it over the long run.
  • No one is going to listen to you if you’re pointing to yourself the whole time.
  • Be a member of your audience.
  • Engagement just means doing your job. But if you views outnumber your page likes on Facebook, go ahead an nerd out!
  • Go ahead and pull your numbers manually. It’s okay not to pay for analytics.
  • Storify recap & sketchnotes

The Art of Social Media

  • Be valuable to your audience.
  • Optimize your avatars and images. “Social media is Tinder, not eHarmony.”
  • Don’t ask for re-shares.
  • Don’t abdicate to interns.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Social Media: Breaking or Fixing News?

  • Have the platforms serve you – don’t live to serve the platforms.
  • Have a decision tree for what gets shared on social media.
  • Social networks need you more than you need them.
  • Provide an ethics contract and/or communications best practices for staff.
  • Use the platforms that make sense for sourcing your content.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Data-Driven Newsrooms

  • Categorize your content based on theme. Use analytics of themes to guide future editorial content. If something does well, do more stories similar to it.
  • Develop analytics reports that make sense for your organization. Determine what you actually care about. Verticals? Writers? Themes?
  • Look at trendlines and identify spikes & dips rather than focusing on specific moments.
  • If you find an older story is trending, repackage with a current headline and re-release.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Make Social Media POP! with Video

  • Edit ruthlessly.
  • Have a plan.
  • Always tell a story.
  • End with a call to action.
  • Upload to both YouTube AND Facebook natively.
  • Upload teasers to Vine and Instagram.
  • Explore the iPad/iPhone app Adobe Premiere Clip.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Big Picture Testing: Beyond the One-Off Result

  • Plan: What are your goals, what can you measure, and what can you do for long-term gain?
  • Have a written hypothesis to test.
  • Stop trusting your gut.
  • Think critically about your sampling.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Captivology: The Science of Capturing Attention

  • Three types of attention: Instant (spark), Short Term (kindling), Long Term (bonfire)
  • Ways to increase attention: automaticity, framing, disruption, reward, reputation, mystery, acknowledgement
  • Read more in the book Captivology by Benn Parr
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Fear and Creativity: Finding Your Craft

  • Check out the Zen Diagram at
  • Your craft is not your job. Your job pays the rent. Your craft leaves you feeling fulfilled.
  • A shadow career looks like what you should be doing, but it’s not quite right.
  • Six basic fears, according to Napoleon Hill: poverty, criticism, ill-health, loss of love, old age, death
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Slacktivism: Monster or Myth?

  • Slacktivism is a low effort, feel good action that doesn’t really make a difference.
  • Use storytelling to encourage sharing.
  • Storify recap

NPR and PBS: Public Media, Reaching New Publics

  • Moderation can be reduced if the community is on a platform with distance from the brand.
  • You need a diversity in staff to affect change.
  • Don’t try to shoehorn content into a form in which it does not belong. Not everything should be a video.
  • Management needs to make diversification a priority.
  • Match the demographics of your content to the demographics of your target audience.
  • Create programming specific for niche audiences – at the episode/post level or at the show/blog level.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

The Case of Design Thinking in Communications

  • Design is an expression of a purpose.
  • Design serves as a proxy for the organization itself. Sloppy design = sloppy organization.
  • Good design: thorough, long-lasting, aesthetic, honest, unobtrusive, eco-friendly, innovation, useful, understandable
  • Don’t be tone deaf. Listen to your audience.
  • Design principles: empathize, observe, brainstorm, prototype, test
  • Think in project teams.
  • Ground thinking in insights and observable facts.
  • Identify the design problem.
  • From quantity comes quality. Think of a lot of ideas.
  • Create a culture of rapid prototyping.
  • Hone your skills.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Telling Stories with Visualization and Interactivity

  • “Unless your site is about one thing, it’s about everything.” – Fredrik deBoer
  • Give consideration to how users will interact (i.e. swiping, scrolling).
  • Use an image and a compelling headline.
  • Consider vertical cropping of images to fit devices.
  • Allow the data/graphics groups to pitch story ideas based on what they see.
  • When visualization is scaled, it becomes sameness. (Example: graphs that look like parking garages – all the same design.)
  • Photography is powerful, but up close. Charts can show scale.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Beyond 140 Characters: How to Stretch Your Limits

  • Twitter stats: 288M global monthly users; 85% use mobile; 1B tweets sent every two days
  • Leverage rich media: photo cards, multi-photo cards, video cards
  • Spend one time on Twitter ads to get access to consumer analytics
  • Have a personality: identity, unique voice that is specific to the platform
  • You don’t have to tweet a message just because it’s a holiday!
  • Have one goal/call-to-action in your tweet.
  • Incorporate hashtags into the sentence.
  • Use images tied to the message theme.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Content is the Starting Line, Not the Finish Line

  • Be obsessed with ignition, not content.
  • Content on the Internet will be 5X what it is now by 2020.
  • Adults consume 10 hours of content a day. When will we max out?
  • Facebook organic page reach fell from 26% in 2011 to 6% in 2014.
  • Strategy: Find an un-saturated niche. Use an aggressive strategy based on key words. Nurture your audience to ignite by paying attention.
  • Six Elements to a BADASS Strategy: Brand development; Audience and influencers; Distribution, advertising, promotion and SEO; Authority; Social proof and signals; Shareability of the content.
  • Heroic brands are true to themselves, consistent, demonstrate a strong work ethic, and give service to others. This all adds up to trust from the audience.
  • Your alpha audience is the elite 2% who will share your content. Your metrics won’t tell you who they are.
  • Traffic = tourists. Aim for trust, not traffic.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Where’s Waldo’s Voice: Social Media for Mascots

  • Decide where the line is between business goals and entertainment.
  • Plan early to decide how social media can be integrated into campaigns.
  • Have a guide for your voice. AFLAC has a “Duck Dossier” and Chick-fil-A has a “Cow Manifesto.”
  • Build partnerships and trust to cut down on approval times.
  • Listen for opportunities to take appropriate advantage of pop culture.
  • Balance real-time efforts with brand protection. Accidents happen.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

The Innovator’s DNA: The Five Innovation Skills

  • Three types of innovation: Disruptive/innovative (new idea); Sustaining innovation (improving); Efficiency innovation (making it cheaper)
  • Innovate by thinking differently – Associational Thinking (Add two things together)
  • Innovate by acting differently – Catalytic Questioning (Brainstorm questions, not answers). Pick one challenge, brainstorm questions, prioritize questions, get to work.
  • Everyone can make a difference in a child’s life by allowing them to see you explore and question and innovate as an adult. Don’t let imaginative thinking die as you grow up.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Breaking the News in the Age of Snapchat

  • Skepticism is vital, cynicism is lethal.
  • How we use new technology matters.
  • Good writing is a result of good thinking.
  • Understand your audience and go where the conversation is.
  • Millennials are more likely to get their news from a greater variety of sources.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes

Infinity and Beyond: Pixar 20 Years After Toy Story

  • The technology then didn’t exist. Everything had to be created as they went.
  • Don’t compare today’s results to the original. It wasn’t as good then as it is now. (This outlook can be applied to your personal professional development as well.)
  • Ignore the technical restrictions. Get the story to work, and then figure out how to make it happen.
  • Prioritize. They can do just about anything technically now. It all comes down to where they want to put their money.
  • Take advantage of unique opportunities to do what you love.
  • Never be bored. Challenge yourself.
  • Keep working with friends at a place committed to producing quality stuff.
  • Storify recap and sketchnotes