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matthew knell posts

Mar 13th 2013

Who won SXSW Interactive in 2013? (Spoiler alert: No one... and that's a good thing)

So, let's review.

Fast Company declared Google Glass the "winner" of SXSW Interactive 2013. Sort of. AllThingsD declared that parties- not products or panels- stole the show, adding, they were "where there real work is done". The Wall Street Journal also suggested that the focus is on re-embracing the physical.

And, of course, there was Grumpy Cat.

So, who won overall? In my opinion, none of them.

The reality is that SXSW, this year, as every year, is really what visitors make out of it. Veterans of SXSW (this year was my third), learn quickly, and painfully that there is no possible way to consume and interact with everything available - or even a majority of it. This is partly because there are so many options and partly because the panel / discussion / dinner / party you really wanted to go to was full 30 minutes before starting.

So rather than trying to pick a winner, I'll focus on a series of themes that stood out during my days in Texas:


(The MakerBot: Replicator 2 and products made with Autodesk iPad app. / Photo: MakerBot)

(Photo: Matthew Knell)

  • Brands as incubators - the Nike+ FuelBand has inspired a whole new way of thinking for marketers - offering products and solutions that extend your brand through making your consumer's lives easier. In this regard, Target's retail accelerator, in partnership with Fast Company's Co. Labs, is challenging developers to build innovative mobile apps to improve the retail experience for a $75,000 prize. Target will offer API access to their retail data, and will work with finalists to make sure their solutions fit the target brand. These sorts of partnerships will become more common as brands, looking to be more nimble step outside their own walls for fresh inspiration, and developers look for more interesting data sets to play with and problems to solve.

(The Samsung TecTile Wall /Photo: Matthew Knell)

  • Touchless tech... the next big thing? - Using Near Field Communication (NFC), Samsung allowed you to pay for a pedicab ride, or get a free cupcake or ice cream just by waving your NFC-enabled phone at tags (Samsung calls them TecTiles) all over the city of Austin. Samsung had no shame in flaunting one of its biggest product advantages over Apple devices, and put it to good use in trying to meet Maslow's hierarchy of needs for conference goers.
(#sxswRTM Panel: L to R: Bonin Bough, Mondelez International; Gary Vaynerchuk, VaynerMedia; Steve Doan, Oreo; David Berkowitz, 360i; Albert Chou, Expion; David Teicher, Associate Editor, Ad Age / Photo: @stevehall)

  • Real-time marketing is challenging - The challenge to replicate the Oreo Super Bowl moment has driven marketers to rethink how they create social content. A spirited exchange on a Expion sponsored panel, called "The Power of Microcontent and Marketing in the Moment" featuring some of digital's biggest thinkers, showed the ink isn't even dry on the right ways to do "real-time marketing." Its success and failure depends on having the right brand and team to make it happen.
(Grumpy cat greets her fans! / Photo: Matthew Knell)

  • IRL matters - The appearance of Grumpy Cat at Mashable House illustrated what makes SXSW best, the limited opportunity for people to crossover from Internet to real-life, to meet each other, put faces to Twitter avatars, and above all, cheer for a cat who stole the Internet's heart.


Adding one more entry into the chorus of voices sharing their perspective on SXSW has allowed me to better absorb what matters to me through the noise. While many have declared the festival "over" or "a thing of the past", I still find the experience unique enough to where I'd recommend trying to go yourself if you've never been. The real winner in this sweepstakes is you.

Apr 17th 2012

Reaching a Million People One Tweet at a Time

When we had the opportunity to rekindle our relationship with TOMS to help celebrate this year's One Day Without Shoes, we spent a lot of time of trying to think of the right way to extend our relationship. In 2011, we had over 1,000 employees all around the world kick off their shoes to raise awareness for children who don't have them.

At first, we considered the idea of doing something twice as big. And then ten times as big. And then 100 times as big, arriving at the number: 100,000. We decided interacting with 100,000 people to tell them about the One Day Without Shoes message would be the number that we would rally our employees and customers around. But how do you count people "we told about something"? It's relatively easy in social media to measure likes, followers, comments, and retweets by using some basic social media analysis tools - but what we were doing was something a little bit different. Each one of these social actions would contribute to the number of people we "told about something", and our goal was really just to reach people with the message.

We then turned to our friends at Simply Measured, and took a look at what reports they had available to help us and found that they were able to measure "Reach", a calculation that measured the potential audience size for our tweets (i.e. how many people may have seen our message through Tweets made by ourselves and others sharing the campaign). Reaching people through Tweets was something we do every day, but previously we'd been unable to quickly and effectively measure this on a campaign basis. Simply Measured has been a great partner to work with, and have even shared a bit more about the methodology used to measure our metrics in a case study on their blog.

The end result was a set of tactics that included ways for all sorts of different users, across a few different platforms, to help incite people to join the movement:

  • We donated a TOMS One Day Without Shoes mail sign in page that ran from April 7th to April 9th. The sign in page reaches an average of 10 million impressions a day**
  • Our about.me team encouraged consumers to change their profile pages to help raise awareness and blogged about the event.
  • AOL Advertising offered up a Style Your Sole party to the agency who was able to best evangelize their employees to share the word.
  • MapQuest donated advertising space on top of every map today to raise awareness about the campaign.
  • AOL Artists around the world are pledging to go barefoot with AOL as well. Check out AOL Artists' Tumblr for updates on which artists are going barefoot and to see them in action.
  • We shared the campaign in taxicab spots that ran in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston (check out the video below).


All of these calls to action had a social component that would allow users to take an action, and then easily share what they were doing.

We launched our campaign on March 18th, with an initial goal of reaching 100,000 people by April 10th - the day of One Day Without Shoes. That day, we were lucky enough to have TOMS Chief Shoe Giver Blake Mycoskie join us to tell the story of TOMS and One Day Without Shoes. After the event, we started to invite our employees to contribute tweets about the topic, and offered a few tweets from our AOL Twitter account, and to our surprise, we were over our 100,000 reached goal in less than 18 hours. In the tradition of thinking big, we decided to reset our goal to one million. Sure enough, by the end of the campaign, we had some stats to be proud of that we want to share. In total, we reached:

  • A potential audience of more than 1.2 million people on Twitter
  • Around 20,000 people through About.me, where more than 600 people changed their profile to a special TOMS background. (read more about their success)**
  • Millions through the TOMS messaging on MapQuest and on AOL Mail.**
  • Nearly 200,000 people who visited the TOMS page on AOL Impact**
  • Hundreds of employees took part in events all across our offices and shared the news via Twitter


It was great to see so many people respond positively to our campaign and us to learn a lot more about how social content can spread.

Reflecting on AOL's contribution, Blake added, "Because of AOL's continued support of One Day Without Shoes, we were able to make an impact. Through this year's partnership, we built a program with highly measurable results. We can't thank enough everyone that participated, and because of your contributions, we were able to bring so much more awareness to our cause."

We hope you were able to take part in TOMS One Day Without Shoes and if not this year, then mark your calendar for next year! Learn more about the TOMS One for One movement at TOMS.com.


(Photo by Eileen O'Brien)

** Internal AOL Data

Apr 9th 2012

Help AOL "Make the Stage" at Internet Week




Where's the one place that journalists, advertisers and hilarious Internet memes gather each Spring? Internet Week New York, of course! This year's conference will be held May 14-21, and in the spirit of the open web, IWNY is putting the power in the hands of the people.

As part of their extensive schedule of programming, IWNY has held 8 panel slots open allowing industry experts to Make The Stage by submitting their own panel ideas in the following areas: Advertising, Entertainment, Fashion & The Arts, Impact, Mobile, Social Media, Start Ups and Technology.

This year, AOL has submitted two panels that are up for voting:
  • "Building Social Content & Taking It Places" - A look at how AOL is uniquely positioned to create social content by mixing premium content and conversation with AOL's Senior Vice President and Head of Sales Strategy, Marketing and Partnerships Janet Balis.
  • "True Tales From The Interest Graph: Big brand perspectives on how to leverage what people like" – Join AOL's Social Media Director Matthew Knell, along with Katie Richman from ESPN, Katie Morse from Billboard Magazine and Katy Kelley, VP at Cohn and Wolfe, for a panel called focused on how big brands are starting to use the new generation of interest graph sites (such as Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram) to focus their communications on things people like.
Now, we'd love YOUR help to make these panels happen! The panels that receive the most votes will secure spots on the Stage at Internet Week NY.

To vote for "Building Social Content & Taking It Places", click here.

To vote for "True Tales From The Internet Graph", click here.

Please note, you will be required to create a login/password and users are allowed to vote only once.

Learn more about Make the Stage and Internet Week 2012 here, and stay tuned for more news about AOL at Internet Week NY in coming weeks.

Mar 26th 2012

Timelines, Profiles and Milestones: AOL On Facebook and Twitter Add Some Color (World)



Earlier today, in celebration of reaching 300,000 likes, AOL rolled out its new Facebook Timeline page, adding a little bit of color to our story - both literally and figuratively.

The most striking visual element on the page is our new cover photo, featuring the Color World canvas as designed by AOL Artist Mike Perry. The canvases, as created by our AOL Artists, are a great way to use the visual space that Facebook Timeline provides. We will be changing them to feature our artists with each new release starting later this month, so stay tuned for more! For now, learn more about our AOL Artists by visiting http://www.aolartists.com and stay tuned to this blog for more canvas updates.

If you look back through our Timeline, you'll see selected nuggets from AOL's 27 years in business, including our birthday (May 24, 1985), the day "You've Got Mail" was released (December 18, 1998), and, my personal favorite, the first post on our page after I joined AOL (you'll just have to click to find out what that was). We will continue to add highlights to our history as they happen, so be sure to take a look back through our history each time you visit the page.



In addition, we're excited to partner with Twitter and be a part of their Enhanced Profile program which offers us an opportunity to showcase our Color World canvas again and offer a "sticky" tweet of content at the top of the page of highlighting things we think you should keep tabs on.

We are excited to continue to bring stories and news from the AOL and Huffington Post each day, so if you haven't joined us yet, why not give us a follow on Twitter, or Like our page on Facebook!

Mar 16th 2012

Jay-Z, a Social Fridge and Cats vs Humans: The Best Brand Activations at SXSW 2012

Along with hosting a wide array of content, SXSW Interactive has become a showplace for companies trying to bring their brands to life for the thousands of people who attend the conference. As the price of a SXSW badge continues to rise, and the conference continues to spread its wings through larger parts of Austin with more than 15 sites spread out the city, larger brand activations have also grown from swag giveaways to include content and programming featuring experts on par with those speaking at panels.

After a few days of unexpected Austin rain, I joined Kristin Ciccone and Grace Meiners of the AOL Advertising team for a walk around Austin to see how marketers brought brands to life. Here were some of our favorites:



American Express Sync with Jay-Z Show

It's hard to discount the amazing job American Express did at SXSW. By launching their new Twitter sync product which allows you to tweet with hashtags to "load" discounts to your American Express card for major partners including Whole Foods, Zappos, McDonald's, Virgin America and more, they were able to redefine social commerce.

But on top of that, they offered up an amazing launch incentive for people to sync - a live performance featuring none other than Jay-Z, in as small of a venue as he has played in years - which required people to sync their cards, and present them early in the morning to receive tickets. I was lucky enough to qualify for tickets, and the show was amazing. The post show tweets on #JayZSyncShow were full of thanks to American Express for making things possible. Nothing better for brand sentiment than that.



PepsiCo Central
Pepsi brought back their Zeitgeist screen for another year, featuring social content contributed by conference attendees, on a giant screen designed to have the feel of a train station. The space also featured a series of product demos and nutritional facts, a social vending machine, and an interactive phone booth that words can't even describe. Pepsi also hosted a schedule of brainstorming sessions featuring Gary Vaynerchuk, Toby Daniels of CrowdCentric, and Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit amongst others. But my pick for the coolest swag of the conference, and the best interactive experience was the "What If" program, where they gave 200 conference attendees specially designed LiveScribe pens (pens with a little camera inside to record drawings and gestures) and notebooks to share their SXSW experience. Read Kristin's interview with the folks who designed the program and learn more about the inspiration behind it.




GE Garage

Featuring a "social" refrigerator that opened only after 10 people checked in on Foursquare, a MakerBot Replicator 3D printer, a precision laser cutter, some folks welding (!) things, sample of products by Quirky (a brand that makes products submitted and voted on by users) and regularly scheduled demonstrations with people who, well, make stuff, the GE Garage was a genius way to bring GE's component business to life for consumers. Take a deeper look at GE Garage on our Advertising Blog.



Spotify House

Spotify's home away from home, east of the Convention Center, featured a home-y experience, live musical acts, and a respite from the craziness going on downtown. It opened its doors right in the gap between SXSW Interactive and SXSW Music, as the company sees itself as innovating in both worlds. We caught up with their crew and enjoyed a little chillout time.




Friskies' You vs Cat

After my last post previewing some of the must see panels at SXSW Interactive, one of the best e-mails I got was a request to come play Buddy the cat in a new iPad game called You vs Cat. I was more than happy to oblige, after all - cats and tech are pretty much the center of the Internet universe. Kristin and Grace and I dropped by to meet Buddy, play the game (we lost) and learned a little more about the inspiration for the product.



Spotsi Knife Throwing

Spotsi, a Portland based startup that builds an app that facilitates user generated tours, took a very low tech and local approach to their activation - knife throwing! It was one of the more Texas things that we did and we talked with their CEO about the unexpected connection between their app and knife throwing.

All in all, the marketers were out in force again this year, competing in a noisier than ever atmosphere. But for me, the brands who "won" SXSW were the ones who cut through the noise by telling their brand stories in the most actionable way possible.

(Thanks to Emily Hom for her editing support.)

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