Gen Z Lessons from SXSW

March 27, 2023

woman standing in front of a south by southwest mural woman standing in front of a south by southwest mural

by Maria Santana, Senior Manager, culturecore

It’s impossible for brands and marketers to keep up with the constantly evolving trend cycles of young consumers. At the best of times, we get high engagement and praise from audiences, but at the worst, we can lose audience trust. We need guidance. So I headed to SXSW to understand how other leaders in the social space are approaching this challenge, and while I came away with many insights that can help shape how we approach social strategy in 2023, here are three that stood out.

It’s time to break up with trends… as we know them! Geez.

Matt Klein, Head of Foresight at Reddit, offers an alternate solution to keeping up. Slow down. Be basic. At his SXSW session, he stated, “We’ve been conflating trends with what’s trending.” According to Reddit’s research, “47% of average consumers aren’t familiar with the trends that marketers are obsessed with.” Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t be participating in what’s trending, but it’s time to start moving toward what matters to consumers. Basic human desires, like support, safety, control, and camaraderie.

Matt Klein and Allison Day of Reddit remind us humans care about human things, not trends.

Taking risks requires a process.

These days, the most impactful way to stand out on social is by taking risks, but to do that, brands need to be willing to take them. Risks can help us tell bigger, better stories. How can teams get comfortable with advocating for risks? Julien Gamboa, Director of Social at Maximum Effort, emphasizes that brands must develop and build their own process to calculate risks, starting with social. Creating a vetting process might feel counter-intuitive, but it’s how brands can become more agile on social. At Maximum Effort, their process ensures risk opportunities align with their north star before moving forward with c-suite and legal buy-in. Through this process, teams can start understanding risk tolerance and impact and then build metrics that help encourage a culture of calculated risk. Julien’s point was that if you can get good at taking calculated risks on social media, you’ll get more comfortable taking more significant risks elsewhere, potentially changing your business in surprising ways.

Rachel Karten of Link in Bio, Zaria Parvez of Duolingo, and Julien Gamboa of Maximum Effort.

Consumers are in the comment section.

“Consumer expectations of brands have never been higher. We expect brands to meet us where we’re at and instantaneously act on our feedback,” says Jamie Giplian, CMO of Sprout Social. She urges brands not to underestimate the power of building brand loyalty through the comment section. Marketers often look for efficiency and automation in community management, but consumers are in the comments for connection, and those two things don’t match. She left us with an interesting approach to consider. How can we find new ways to co-create stories with our consumers through the comment section?

Marketers have a lot on their hands, from trend cycles to risque content to community management. Developing processes that encourage slowing down to calculate risks and leaning into community conversation can help us build better social strategies. I could write about 1,200 more words about how impactful SXSW was for me as a strategist (and maybe I will), but for now, if you’d like to hear more, set up some time, and I’d be happy to talk your ear off 🙂.