Trolls, Engagement and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: 5 Things We Learned at SXSW 2017

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by Jessica Bedussi


Each year, advertisers, brands and technologists flock to SXSW for sessions and parties. In the midst of all the free booze, BBQ and endless amounts of swag are a lot of really smart people with really smart things to say, offering attendees new ways to think about advertising, social media, technology and platforms.


Here are 5 tidbits from SXSW we’re taking home with us:



The days of text-only Facebook posts, forums, and organic reach are long gone in the social media realm. This doesn’t mean authenticity has gone with them. Consumers can and will call out brands pushing inauthentic messaging or grabbing for likes and shares. During, “Contemporary Curation: How Imagery Shapes a Brand,” David Moon of BazaarVoice put it best, “Engagement for engagement’s sake is one of the first flaws in a campaign.” Every post is an opportunity to forge a relationship with a new consumer or create a brand advocate out of a loyal customer. Authenticity and genuineness are essential in both reactive and proactive content.




Trolls are anyone who positively or negatively affects the norms of a social community. If you’re a community manager, you are most likely familiar with the effects of trolling. During the “Trolls: To Feed or Not to Feed” panel, Alicia Trost, Communications Manager for Bay Area Rapid Transit shared two questions her team asks when deciding whether or not to engage with trolls:

Shining a spotlight on a troll with a copy/paste answer or wishy-washy response will only feed him or her more. The only way to neutralize a troll is with facts and humanized responses.




During “This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on Ads,” neuroscientist Dr. Manuel Garcia-Garcia stated 65% of consumers are heads down on mobile devices while watching TV. Second screen extensions and live coverage of televised events can be an essential way to connect with your audience via social. Knowing viewers are often distracted by the second screen can be discouraging for TV advertisers, but there’s a silver lining: it can help them create more commanding TV ads.  Dr. Garcia-Garcia recommends an attention-grabbing sound that snaps users’ attention back to the first screen.




Along with digital activations, brands capitalized on real-world events, and attendees flocked to brand activations throughout the conference. HBO set up elaborate “Escape” games for a variety of its programming. Casper offered bookable napping rooms complete with Casper mattresses and cookies & milk. AMC set up a pop-up Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant to promote “Better Call Saul.” Hulu creeped everyone out with dozens of handmaids roaming downtown Austin to promote “The Handmaid’s Tale.”




Each year has a buzzword or phrase. This year, it was “echo chambers.” It seemed like in nearly every session someone referenced the idea of online bubbles, where our own opinions and ideas are reflected back to us as a result of social media algorithms. While many cited Brexit and Trump’s election as negative effects of this phenomena, others offered solutions to fix the problem. During “Echo Chambers: Healing our Social Media Algorithms,” Claire Woodcock offered Netflix recommendations as a shining example of how to introduce users to different content with similarities. The idea is to find themes in content and then use those themes to position a different viewpoint in a way that is still appealing to users. Overall, it’s clear both media companies and the advertising industry are thinking of ways to burst these bubbles and widen our perspectives.
What did you find surprising/interesting/shocking at #SXSW this year?