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We Are Social: what we saw at SXSW

AI, culture, authenticity and more..

What were some of the biggest themes emerging from SXSW 2024? We Are Social were on the ground in Texas – here are the talks that caught their attention.

Jim Coleman – UK CEO

Billion Dollar Teams: The Future of an AI Powered Workforce

Ian Beacraft @ Signal And Cipher

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the workplace are unavoidable. While some express concern over the potential threats of AI, Ian Beacraft’s SXSW talk offered an alternative perspective on how AI serves as an essential operating system for modern work environments.

During his talk, “Billion Dollar Teams: The Future of an AI-Powered Workforce,” Beacraft explained how many businesses are currently approaching AI in the wrong way, focusing on the technology first rather than the framework needed to allow AI to thrive – effectively, the tail is currently wagging the dog.

One of Beacraft’s most notable insights was the rate at which AI models are advancing. AI capabilities are improving at a multiple of ten each year, meaning what we see today will be 100,000 times more capable within 12 months – a speed of change and enhancement that we’ve never seen before.

He spoke of the future of organisations becoming “agent-driven”, where instead of fearing job displacement, he envisions small teams of humans utilising multiple AI tools to have the maximum impact – ultimately creating more roles due to greater efficiency. Beacraft believes that it is very possible to see a future where each of us has our own personalised AI assistants, trained to mirror our human counterparts. It’s a wild prediction of course, but it’s undeniable that all of these things will change the workplace as we know it. The future is definitely still powered by people, but enabled by AI.

Jenni Smit – Head of Design

Social Media is Dead, Long Live Culture Media

Krystle Watler – Head of Creative Agency Partnerships @ TikTok & John Dempsey, General Manager @ Bodega Portland

Krystle Watler and John Dempsey revealed a slightly alarming statement during their SXSW talk – social media is dead. And, as our social media-reliant minds whirled into panic, they reassured us that instead, with the emergence of the Cultural Era, brands must adapt to new ways of connecting with audiences.

Walter and Dempsey explained that in the new Cultural Era, audiences cannot be measured by traditional social graphs. The success of content is no longer judged solely by reach or engagement metrics but by the value it delivers to the audience. Instead, human behaviour, and, in turn the Culture Era, is defined by co-creation and community. Brands are collaborating with their audiences to shape content and experiences, as authenticity and entertainment value are more important than ever.

Walter and Dempsey went on to explore how important it is for brands to understand the potential of niche cultures and audiences. If brands wish to authentically tap into them, they must participate in them themselves. Brands that are most successful are committed to cultural intelligence. They truly understand their communities and create content that prompts and responds.

As brands navigate the complexities of the Cultural Era, they must embrace a shift in their approach to audience engagement. By prioritising authenticity, entertainment, and cultural intelligence, brands can forge meaningful connections with diverse communities and thrive in the ever-evolving digital landscape. And one key takeaway that plays in my mind – we have to storytell before we sell.

Alex Harris – Editorial Director

A Trend by Any Other Name – Decoding the Reality of Trend

Andrew Dawson, Social Networks Practice Principal @ Brandwatch
Shayla Cole, Social Intelligence Lead @ Meta Creative Studio
Matt Klein, Head of Global Foresights @ Reddit
Carrie Stern, Measurement & Optimisation Lead @ Google

At the heart of the discussion, from the panel “A trend by any other name – Decoding the reality of trend,” lies the difference between a true trend and a trending moment.

Where real trends are difficult to define and track, tracking memetic moments is entirely different. And, the panellists all agreed that to over-intellectualise here is to set yourself up for failure. The data is often in a way wrong. You may look at something like Girl Math, or the viral Capybara trend on TikTok, and the numbers may show the moment is on the downtrend, so you shouldn’t engage. But, that’s where gut instinct comes in and will tell you otherwise. That intuitive insight can be far more valuable because audiences just get it – and a data sheet can’t show you that.

The emphasis is that the human element cannot be underestimated in the realm of cultural engagement. Community managers, with their intimate understanding of audience dynamics and preferences, play a pivotal role in guiding brand strategies. Their expert insights complement traditional data, providing a richer understanding of the audiences brands seek to engage.

Matt Klein’s closing quote was particularly pertinent: “There’s a danger to over-intellectualising trends. We can post-rationalise so many more good ideas than actually do them. Our obsessions with data and trends gets to a point of does it even matter? We forget we make culture too. Instead of just using data to justify why, we get to decide the future we want to make.”

Will Scougal – Managing Director and Co-Founder, Make My Day

We are not a monolith – How brands can resonate with black consumers with authenticity, not appropriation.

Randi Matthews – CEO Multi-hyphen media
Dr Patrice Le Goy – PHD International Psychology
Latoya Christian – Partner, Executive Director, GroupM

Authenticity is a topic that touches all facets of modern marketing. From influencer partnerships to AI-driven campaigns, brands are constantly striving to connect with consumers in genuine and meaningful ways. However, the path to authenticity is riddled with complexities, as what resonates authentically with one community member may ring hollow to another.

The panel of speakers at the We Are Not a Monolith talk all encourage brands to to go deeper, and not just think about basic indicators, but examine what authenticity really means to a community and how it’s really relevant to their lives.

The discussion got me thinking, ‘how do you qualify and quantify authenticity? How does a brand know it’s being authentic’. The panel believes the answer lies in social with effective and authentic culture in the discussions and content that people around you create.

The key takeaway for me, is that authenticity is in fact a social metric. For brands to be authentic at scale, and to drive an authentic conversation, they need to start and end in social.

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