This year, more than 30,000 of us made the trip to SXSW (South By Southwest) 2014 Interactive. A diverse group descended on Austin to immerse ourselves in all things tech—not necessarily to find the next Twitter or Foursquare—but to hear and see what all the hype will be about later this year, when the rest of the world catches up.

Attendees like to think that we’re the ones to know first. Luckily, we often are. If the big 2014 wearable tech launch is actually a dud, for example, or whether drones are just a fly-by-night fad.

There was a lot of competition for attention in Austin, a lot of companies trying to make a big splash to get all eyes on them. This, of course, brings with it the potential for the not-so-great attention-grabbing ideas to get bad word of mouth.

This year, there were over 800 different sessions (including a dozen or more with Adobe employees), the SXSW Accelerator competition, Adobe’s own Creative Camp (our annual SXSW program where attendees learn and play with our web tools), in addition high-profile appearances by Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, and near-constant opportunities for inebriated socializing.

The question for my social team was this: Could we be Adobe product-agnostic and add yet another activity to the already long list to create some Adobe brand love with the people in Austin?


Our ultimate goal was to get higher share of voice in the SXSW social conversations compared with 2013, spanning very different communities—from creative people in the Web and video world to marketers and social media managers.

We needed to bridge our creative and marketer stories. To do this, we partnered with Razorfish, the digital agency responsible for the infamous tweeting bikes at last year’s SXSW, and created a unique social experience for 2014. We set up shop in an Airstream trailer at the #UseMeLeaveMe Digital Campground and invited people to star in their own Austin-themed videogram.

This is the video invite we posted the day after we arrived to get the word out for people join us.

When people arrived at the Airstream, we put them on a stationary bike in front of a green screen, and our director screamed actions for them to play out, which coordinated with the animation (which they couldn’t see) behind them. Our editor then used Premiere Pro to create the final 15-second video right in front of everyone’s eyes on a 42-inch screen. In just minutes, our actors got the video via email and could share to their favorite social networks.

Did We Break Through the Noise?

We had more than 500 people come through our Airstream trailer making digital mementos, and more than 25 percent of the videograms were shared publicly on social networks. The top Instagram post was “hearted” 64 times and got 26 comments.

Overall, there were 115 percent more posts about Adobe on social channels compared with SXSW 2013. And all of Adobe’s combined efforts in Austin created the kind of brand affinity we wanted, with 10 percent positive sentiment overall—twice as high as it was in 2013 and many times higher than it measures on average. We reached these numbers with no paid social media on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else.

The Most Important Thing We Learned?

Physical activations at SXSW are a great opportunity for brands. We received loads of kudos from just about all of the 500 people who entered the Airstream because it gave them an experience they hadn’t had before.

In your own efforts, be sure to have a clear social call to action if you want lots of public sharing of your experience. Most people who created a videogram said they were sharing the videos, but we have to take their word for it because, if they didn’t use Instagram, Twitter, or share their post publicly on Facebook with the right hashtag, we couldn’t measure it.

Did you go to SXSW and connect with a particular company? Share your experience in the comments.