Viral Marketing A Major Theme At SXSW Interactive

Having had a couple of weeks to ponder my experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive I have settled on the decision that viral marketing (and the content that enables it) represented the most ubiquitous theme that I recognized throughout the event.

I came to this conclusion after thinking back on the conversations I had with people I met at the event, many of whom told me they were in the business of media, marketing, media marketing or marketing technology. I also draw this conclusion based on the number of companies I saw whose goal was to help other companies harness the masses taking action (or not) on social media websites. Indeed, grabbing the attention of the masses online and moving them to act appears to be the holy grail of the internet business world these days.

All the discussion around how to harness the power of the masses reminded me of EDS’s Herding Cats commercial that was on TV back in the time of great dot com era hype. Since many people I mention that commercial to don’t remember it I have embedded it below for your viewing pleasure.

That video is actually very ironic because it was very popular when it aired on television and now we find that videos with cats tend to be ridiculously popular vehicles for viral videos on the internet.

Within this viral marketing trend there also appears to be a strong focus on Facebook. For all I hear about how Facebook is in trouble due to youth abandoning it for cooler, less public platforms the fact is that the adults (the ones who spend money) are there. And so a lot of brands have camped out on Facebook so that they can grab the attention of the masses. Hence, B2B marketing service providers want to show their potential customers how they can be the ones to help brands get the most out of Facebook.

Video is also a strong point of focus and I think that when we talk about viral internet video we’re talking about YouTube. I’m of the belief that a video posted to YouTube can be much more beneficial and more cost effective than a commercial placed in a TV program. TV commercials placed in the Super Bowl may be an exception but that only represents a few hours in the year. The rest of the year YouTube is the place for commercials to go big. What’s different from TV is the fact that content on YouTube can bust out of the standard thirty second commercial format so that it can better entertain and tell a story. More and more companies are focusing on helping brands to produce those kinds of spots.

Native content is another point of focus that is gaining in popularity. Native content is essentially advertising that seems more like an article on blog or media website, or perhaps like a regular post on a social network. I think that this kind of thing represents a double edged sword. On the one hand people tend to ignore straight-up ads and on the other hand native content (if not properly identified) can mislead the consumer into thinking they are reading unbiased information. However you feel about it, it’s a term that I heard a few times while conversing with people at SXSW.

A final thought that I have regarding trends from SXSW Interactive actually stems from a conversation I was having at a SXSW Film event. I was mentioning to a young film maker that there was a session that focused on how film makers can improve the chances of their film trailers or clips going viral on the internet. He thought that was a great idea for a session and also commented that he feels like we’re in a time of convergence with respect to media. I thought that was a great point. Whereas ten years ago music, film and interactive events could easily attract separate attendees the fact is that today those categories of media have never been more interrelated with each other.

I can’t say for sure where all of this is leading but I can say that there are many people dedicating their efforts to using the internet to develop more effective ways to organize and reach the disorganized masses out there. It’s possible that all of this effort could lead to new and powerful media platforms that can be leveraged by small businesses and individual content creators. Whatever happens I think that flexibility is the key for all stakeholders in internet based marketing because recent history has conclusively proven that consumer tastes and the overall landscape on the internet tend to shift much quicker than ever before.

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