What Purpose-Driven Leaders Can Learn from SXSW

Mar 16, 2018 12:30 PM ET

This week, individuals, executives and world figureheads convened in Austin for SXSW Interactive – a mammoth event where leaders shared ideas, solutions, innovations and a positive outlook for the future.

Although the conference features a Social Impact track where activists, social enterprises and entertainers shared how they are creating solutions, the theme of Purpose extended far beyond this singular track. From VR, to AI and IoT, the concept of creating a better, more equitable and eye-opening world was a common thread throughout sessions, activations and even parties during the week. For those who weren’t able to be on the ground at SXSW here are three takeaways business leaders can apply to their social impact and Purpose work:

  • A Strong Mission Shows Your Brand When to Act…and When Not To: On Sunday, during a panel entitled “Fighting Back with CSR: How Companies are Uniting,” panelists shared key learnings for the evolution of CSR in complex times. James Lynch, Director of Executive Communications at Airbnb, explained how having a strong company mission helped them know when to act during landmark moments over the past year. Lynch commented, “If you live your mission, moments in time where your mission is on the line is when you speak out.” This allowed Airbnb to quickly activate following 2017’s travel ban. Fellow panelist Mohan Ramaswamy, Founding Partner at Work & Co., echoed this statement and added that a strong mission can help a brand understand when not to act as well. “The idea of focus is really important. Right now you can get distracted, having a clear mission helps you know when and how to communicate.”
  • Pair Good Data With Emotion and Relevance to Break Through: Saleem Alhabash, Assistant Professor of Public Relations and Social Media at Michigan State University's Department of Advertising + Public Relations and Marcus Collins, SVP, Executive Director of Social Engagement at Doner, hit the stage for “Emoticulture: How Data & Science Create Happiness” to share some stunning data. Every minute there are 317,000 new Facebook status updates, 448,000 tweets and 66,000 Instagram posts. So how can a brand break through? The key, explained Collins, is not just the vast amount of data marketers have at their fingertips, but taking this data and infusing it with one thing: humanity. Alhabash built upon this, stating content that sticks “is relevant to me and something that ignites my emotion.” Collins closed the session by insisting marketers must be “radically empathetic.”

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