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South By Southwest Interactive through the eyes of FedEx Digital and Social Media

March 9, 2013

Our FedEx social media team is participating in the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin this week/weekend, and we’d like to share some of our observations with you.

If you’re unfamiliar with SXSWi – it’s the gathering which really launched Twitter into the limelight a few years ago, and has recently provided a forum for some of the brightest folks in the world to share ideas about media, technology, and the impact of both on our lives.


Zack P. (FedEx Innovation):

As a first timer to the great SXSW Interactive experience all I can say is wow! Before leaving for Austin I planned my conference agenda around a couple of main themes: sense making (big data), behavioral design, and things related to reshaping of the business landscape.

By far big data was one of the biggest topics throughout many of the sessions and keynotes.  While big data has been a hot trend over the last five plus years, what’s changing is the narrative around using data to drive action.  I attended several sessions that demonstrated how asking the right questions can produce enormous insight into user behaviors that can be used to drive awareness and empower people to take actions around improving their lives.  We are truly at the frontier of being able to connect multiple data streams along with context to drive new forms of value. 

Many of these new forms are being demonstrated in the wellness market as establishing the right behaviors is becoming critical to retracting the epidemics that are currently driving the US into a serious “health” recession.  Some of the primary takeaways:

– Make data collection frictionless so that it’s easier to collect and track behaviors
– Focus on baby steps that make goals achievable – identify things which can be controlled and changed in small ways
– Build on top of what’s currently working – several authors mentioned the book Switch as a great resource to understand utilizing bright spots
– Allow for self-reflection – understand the differences between who we think we are vs. who we really are
– Use social networks that provide the right level of support and avoid self-promotion
– Develop prescriptive narratives through personalization – use technologies that measure, inform, and recommend

Over the course of four days, a few sessions really stood out to me as extremely informative when thinking about the dynamics of the current business landscape and the face of today’s corporation.

– Lyn Jeffery, Institute of the Future, gave a very interesting talk on Imitation as Innovation: Lessons of the Shanzhai – a look into China’s informal or dark economy and how this eco-system can move with incredible speed and agility to innovate. 

– John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, provided the basis for his latest book, Conscious Capitalism, through a framework that can help businesses create value for all stakeholders. Mackey offers a way forward for organizations that focuses on establishing a higher purpose – beyond the ideals of solely maximizing profits, creating shared value for all stakeholders, remembering we are all humans, and empowering a new generation of servant leaders.

– John Hagel, co-founder of Deloitte Center for the Edge Innovation and author of book The Power of Pull, provided an interesting viewpoint on why narrative is more impactful than storytelling.  Storytelling is finite with a beginning and an end while generally focused around the individual. Narratives are more open ended that leave the destination to be collaboratively determined. Narratives answer three primary questions: why are we here, what can we accomplish, and how should we connect to make things happen. 

I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to go and represent FedEx at this conference.  It was a great opportunity to learn from many talented people, be part of curious learning culture, and inject new thinking into my current tool belt.


Jeff M.:

By day three of South by Southwest Interactive, one message rang loud and clear: Think outside of your comfort zone and take risks.

A lot of the presenters took risks and tried something new. All of them had failures. Some had epic failures.

But the failures didn’t keep them from following their passion and figuring out what would make a good idea fly. The key here is that they didn’t stop when they hit a roadblock.

Michele Norris of NPR started the Race Card Project, The premise is simple, your thoughts on race in six words.

She started with 200 postcards she printed at Kinko’s (which in my head I said FedEx Office) and it turned into a global phenomena that offers a way to have a frank and open discussions on race.

Companies have used this simple exercise to break down barriers in racially divided businesses. It’s a simple, non-threatening way to talk about race relations.

A Danish company will be launching Cloud Chamber Mystery later this year. It’s a game, but integrates well-produced video, music, text and social media. You have to watch, research, listen and interact with other players to be successful.

You may say other online games do this… not like this one.

It’s like watching Hollywood blockbusters but YOU have to figure out the story. It’s not surprising the company has done e learning in the past and if the site takes off it would be a great place for companies to look to get alternatives to their traditional e-learning models.

One of the ideas above was done by one person who had an idea she thought would be cool; the other was a combination of years of experience.

One was wildly successful, the other is just getting off the ground – they have no idea if it will take off. Regardless, neither one stopped.

They followed their passions, took risks – one made a difference and one’s success has yet to be seen. But they went out and did what they wanted and didn’t look back.

No presenter at South by Southwest made it by keeping quiet.


Jason D.:

Having spent the first day getting the lay of the land and attending “expert” panel discussions I ventured out for smaller rooms with shorter “flash” sessions on Day 2.  

In these bang bang 15 minute sessions presenters skip the jabs and go straight to their power punches. Below are a few of my favorites:

Designer, author, consultant Denise Jacobs (@denisejacobs) presented Your Brain on Creativity. She focused on employing the Pomodoro technique working in 25-minute sprints.  25 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by a 5-minute break, recognizing the 5 brain waves and how to stay in a child-like creative Alpha state and banishing our internal critic by reframing failure as an opportunity to learn.

This led into the consultant Steve Portigal’s (@steveportigal) session on The Power of Bad Ideas. Here we focused on turning someone else’s bad idea into good.  With an example of a previous sxsw stunt of a Homeless hotspot being bad.  With last year’s FedEx charging courier being a good business example.

Software engineer Alec Zopf (@aleczopf) presented Plug Me In! Neural Interfaces for Musicians.  He highlighted biomedical advances and showed a few prototype devices that harness your nervous system to create and control music.    

After the flash sessions, I stopped into the most anticipated session of the day.
Harvey Levin (, who I branded the Gordon Gekko of Paparrazi, spoke on How TV & the Internet are converging on TMZ.  Suggesting both tv and the internet would be obsolete in 5 years he educated us on how to cross promote your assets in every medium possible and to “create it right and you can win”.  Get it right and you’ll be considered trustworthy and find it easier to build relationships.  

sxsw provides a ton of choices, which certainly helps when your first and 2nd choice for the hour are full.  The lines and occasional “bait and switch” of content presented not making it’s seductive title can be frustrating, but overall there is something for everyone that should leave you feeling inspired and ready to get back to work.  


Alex S.:

I’m a “newbie” to SXSW in every sense of the word. Not only am I new to the twenty-year-old SXSW Interactive Festival that my team and I have come to attend, I’m also new to the entire city of Austin, Texas. I do admit that both the city and the conference have hands-down impressed me thus far, and let me tell you why.

I didn’t realize the magnitude of intellectuals attending SXSW until I walked into the exhibit hall for the first speaker, Bre Pettis, and had to practically crawl over a row of iPad-armed attendees to find an open seat. People were obviously there to learn, including myself. His explanation of turning a start-up into a company that’s revolutionizing business was awe-inspiring, and absolutely set the tone for the rest of the conference.

After Pettis’s pep talk, I made my way to an online community manager “meet-up,” where I was able to chat with people who play the same role as myself in other companies – people who manage their company’s social media accounts, blogs or other websites. I also attended a discussion about creating online content led by three academics who have been extensively researching how and when things go “viral.” This is what I learned from both of these events, summed up in three bullet points:

  • There are no social media experts. Period. Because social media evolves so quickly, there’s no way for people to “master” the latest trend before it becomes quickly outdated. We’re all just flying by the seat of our pants, trying to make smart and safe yet creative and cutting edge social media plans for our respective companies, without getting into trouble. It’s a tricky situation.
  • It’s hard to make things go viral, but when they do, you better hope it’s for all the right reasons. A negative viral video can have major impact on a brand and has the potential to spread like a virus because, unfortunately, misery needs company. But, one piece of positive viral content can boost a company’s social reputation tremendously – it all comes down to how and when it’s delivered. Take Oreo’s Super Bowl post as an example (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, do a quick search online and you’ll quickly learn).  That’s a prime example of doing something at the right place and at the right time.
  • I am not as cool as I thought I was. Seriously! I’ve been surrounded by some of the coolest people I’ve ever met today, and I’m determined to leave here a much cooler person because I’m learning how they do what they do.

That just about sums up my first day, and I’m looking forward to the next few jammed-packed days of SXSW sessions … and Tex-Mex food.


We’ll update this blog every day – see you tomorrow!


    Belinda De La Cruz says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I can honestly say that being around all these power players has been invigorating. The sessions and keynote speakers have been all-inspiring. I hope that you and your team continue to have a fruitful SX. By the way, I met Nicole H. today! She’s fantastic.

    MayLyn says:

    Thank you for keeping me updated with what is going on with FedEx and the SXSW. So very interesting!
    Thank you for posting!

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