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SXSW: “Social Media: How to make it in Europe”

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SXSW 2011Short version first: I’d like to present at SXSW 2011. You can help if you vote for my panel proposal. Here’s what it’s about.

Earlier this year, I went to SXSW without knowing that I’d end up giving a session myself: I was asked (and more than happy) to fill in for Robin Grant and his talk, and judging by the feedback we got I think it worked out well. (With just a few days notice I wasn’t so sure first…) Here’s a write up of my impressions: Lost in Translation: Nuances of European Social Media.

Since there was such a strong demand and the participants all got really involved in the discussion, I’d like to offer a follow-up. Same over-all topic, but a year into the discussion. There’s still a lot of ground to cover. Personally, I’d prefer to do it in the same setting like last year, which was one of the smaller rooms for interactive discussions rather than a big-ass panel. It’s just so much more productive. Like last time when Igor Schwarzmann and Kevin Dykes joined me on the panel, I’d like to

Here’s the official pitch as it is on the website:

Social Media: How to make it in Europe Description: You know how to rock Social Media back home in the US. Now what? There’s another huge market just a quick jump across the ocean. Yet, it’s a different world over there. We’ll discuss with you what strategies work in Europe, what you need to pay attention to. And we’ll share first hand experiences of working in Europe. We will bring you a panel of experts from several European key countries who report from the trenches. What are your main challenges when entering European markets? What are your opportunities? Which role do cultural differences play? Will German bloggers really hate your brand and will you get sued in the UK? We will try to dispel a few of the fears and myths often associated with European Social Media, share first-hand experience and give hands-on advice. So you can focus on taking your business to the other side of the Atlantic and rock Social Media over there, too. Questions answered:
  1. What can I expect from Social Media in Europe?
  2. How do I avoid major pitfalls when entering European markets?
  3. Your experiences with Social Media in different European markets?
  4. What are the first steps we should take when planning to go to Europe?
  5. Is Europe really an overregulated, scary place for startups? (Don’t worry!)
Tags: Europe, Localization, socialmedia

If you’d like to support me going to SXSW again, please vote here. (To vote you need an account on SXSW.com.)

That said, there is a number of other panels I’d recommend checking out (there are so many!) from a first glance: There’s Tim Hwang’s The Ecology of Awesomeness. (Tim co-founded the Awesome Foundation, so he knows a thing or two about awesome.) Ray Kurzweil talks about The Singularity. There’s a panel on innovation in Iceland which I think has quite a potential (remember, Iceland just decided to become a safe haven for journalists). There’s probably a great deal to learn in How Good Companies Go Horribly Wrong. The Sunlight Foundation‘s Jake Brewer talks about the Rise of Free Citizen Agents. Tim Bonnemann talks about Open Government through Participation: Designing Successful Online Consultations, an idea he’s been working on for a long time, and I can’t wait to see the results. Why We Frag: Propaganda and Geopolitics in Videogames sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. And of course I’d like to also point to my good friend and Cognitive Cities co-author Igor Schwarzmann‘s panel proposal How Does Scifi Influence Our Future Cities? I have an idea of what this presentation would look like, and I promise it’ll be a treat. (Heck, I even officially vowch for him.)

So, long story short: I’d appreciate any help in getting this panel off the ground. If you want to support it, please vote here.

Updates: As I get to learn about more cool proposals, I’ll list them here. Spread the love! Soundcloud‘s Dave Haynes will be talking about Love, Music & APIs.

Radio interview on Radio Eins

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radio eins studio

Yesterday Igor Schwarzmann and I were invited to Radio Eins show Escape. In the studio we chatted with hosts Daniel Finger and Sven Oswald about our trip to SXSW, location-based services and how Igor managed become the mayor of the rooftop terrace of the Austin Convention Center. Good fun, thanks a lot Sven & Daniel!

Clickt here to listen to the interview.

The interview is in German. You can subscribe to the Escape podcast here.

Image by Igor Schwarzmann (some rights reserved)

Lost in Translation: Nuances of European Social Media

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Today I filled in to host a panel on European Social Media at SXSW. And boy, did I enjoy this session – the audience just rocked. Needless to say, my colleagues and buddies Igor Schwarzmann (@zeigor) and Kevin Dykes (@kdykes) and I had a a great time.

There’s a number of points that I’d like to share with you.

First: Thanks to Robin Grant for for thinking of me after realizing he couldn’t make it over to Austin in time for his own talk. (I wasn’t expected to speak at my first SXSW…). Thanks to the audience, all of whom were great & enganged & shared great stories. Thanks to my co-panelists Igor and Kevin for helping out on such short notice (they had hardly 24h advance notice). And a big thanks also to all of you who pitched in with ideas, stats, links and kind words when Robin and I asked for input as a last-minute preparation for this panel. (This was truly a crowdsourcing effort.)

It’s great to see such a diverse audience like this one in this room, full of the smartest people, a lot of whom are doing business of sorts with or within Europe. I learned a lot from their stories and examples, and I hope the conversation won’t stop here.

But there’s content I’d like to point out too:

Hackerspaces. Someone in the audience talked about a hackerspace she’s involved with in Tokyo, and she made some great points about the connection between social media and the hackers & other early adopters. And it’s true, social media seem to be driven strongly through these techno-philes. I assume this is because there’s a global communication sphere where techies world-wide can connect and share stuff easily. But what roles do hackerspaces play? This should be interesting to research. (Would love to continue this discussion – sadly I was too slow to talk to her, so you read this or know who that was, please ping me!)

Conferences. One question was what the Euro equivalent to SXSW is. Igor and I had discussed this before. I haven’t been, but PICNIC in Amsterdam would probably be close in that it attracts a similar set of folks and also has a strong tie to music. But of course there are other conferences well worth checking out. Depending on personal preferences: reboot in Denmark is a not-quite-annual conference; smaller than SXSW, but absolutely great. It’s not commercially run but a labor of love, so expect a different tonality. The annual meetup of Chaos Computer Club between Xmas and New Years in Berlin is the place to go if you’re into hacker culture. re:publica is where the German bloggers, hacktivists and NGO folks meet the social media crowd. If you’re more into professional agency kind of events, Next (Berlin) might be for you. There’s plenty of smaller, one-day or one-evening events like Ignites, TEDx or similar events (disclosure: I’ve been involved in some of those recently). This list is nowhere complete, so please share more conferences in the comments.

Marketing. When asked for global brands successfully engaging in social media campaigns in Europe, all three of us struggled. Someone pointed out that Dell and Walmart have been doing well; besides that, there’s not all that many overseas campaigns that stand out that any of us remembered. Temporary lapse or serious issue? Hard to tell. There are of course examples of big global brands engaging in European countries via social media, like Mercedes Benz and their (very successful) corporate blog. I’m not aware of any Zappos-like story, though. With smaller companies and particularly startups it’s an entirely different story of course. These folks know how to engage their audiences. This is where it’s happening.

Who should I be watching? We were asked which European social media mavens to follow on Twitter. This is a tough one as two filters were requested: They should be blogging in English, and with a strong focus on social media (not their hobbies or lunches). In another crowdsourcing effort, a few names popped up. and then some more. I’m adding some right now. (Full disclosure: most of those I’ve worked with or am friends with, or both):

(Update: We were asked about global brands that successfully engage in social media. In Germany I recommend checking out Madlen Nicolaus‘ work for Kodak Europe, how O’Reilly Germany‘s Nathalie Pelz works the social webs or – if you’re more interested in corporate blogging – the Daimler Blog (maybe better known as the folks behind Mercedes Benz or Smart Cars).)

Startup culture. This is a hot one and has been discussed for a long time. Europe isn’t Silicon Valley. (Then again, Ohio isn’t Silicon Valley either.) There’s not the same culture of accepting failure at least in Germany, and where you have a strong system of social welfare people maybe don’t have to hustle just as much as where there isn’t. On the other hand, as someone pointed out, this also leads to higher standard of living in Europe (on average, particularly for the not-so-privileged). There’s a lot of assumptions in this statement and it’d be another discussion altogether. However, I think we all agreed that having a less-developed startup culture is not simply a lack of passion in Europe.

Cultural differences. This can’t be stressed enough: Europe is not just another USA. Europe isn’t even Europe, so to speak, but a large number of individual countries. Or as David Weinberger would put it: Small pieces loosely joined. One example I like to give is the role of personal branding. It’s almost a mantra in the US that it is important to build your personal brand. In Europe, this won’t get you far. In Germany or the UK pointing out your successes is – except when done very tactfully – considered boasting rather than legitimate communication. It’ll put people off. Culture clash, anyone?

Bloggers. Blogging isn’t really a major force in Germany (even though there’s some great stuff), but it is in France. (It’s different in other European countries.) Why is this important? You might want to reach out to bloggers, but on different terms. Since hardly any German bloggers make a living doing so, financial incentives are hard to use. Still, if you talk to them you might build long-lasting, productive relationships. If you offer them money per blog post, you might just have made a new critic. Be tactful and work with locals.

Details, details, details! Europe isn’t the US. Don’t take your assumptions for granted. Two small examples: In Europe, weeks start on Mondays, not Sundays – make sure to reflect that in your online calendar. In Germany, credit cards aren’t as ubiquitous as in the US or Sweden: they’re more costly, and the card carrier is liable for credit card fraud. (If someone uses your credit card in a fraudulent way, it’s nowhere guaranteed that you’ll get refunded, and it’s a bureaucratic hassle.) Keep those things in mind and work with locals. It’s all very doable, you just have to pay attention.

Europe is worth your effort. Speaking of cultural differences and boasting vs building your brand: I completely forgot to point out some strong points of Europe, and why it’s worth your efforts anyway – way worth! You can draw from a huge, diverse population and different backgrounds. Distances are small and it’s easy for EU citizens to move between countries without much paperwork. The market is huge (bigger than the US) both in terms of population and economics. In the web industry, and depending on your exact focus, competition might not be as tough in the US (yet). Plus, it’s pretty damn nice over there ;) Take Soundcloud as an example: Founded by a few Swedish guys in Berlin with a very international team. They picked the right time and the right folks from the right places and built a service that just rocks. European privacy or labor laws aren’t in the way if you don’t try to just copy & paste a US model but work within the different cultural, legal and economic framework.

To wrap it up, Robin Grant has put together a blog post with plenty of statistics about the European social media sphere. This is a great place to start looking for some basic info.

Alright, that’s my two cents for the moment. I’d love to continue this conversation with you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch, here in the comments, via Twitter (@thewavingcat) or email (peter@thewavingcat.com).

And again, thanks!

Call to action: Help me with a panel on European Social Media (by Friday)

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I need your help. A few hours ago I was contacted by Robin Grant of UK-based social media agency We Are Social, who told me he could not make it to his own talk at SXSW this Saturday, and could I step in. Speaking at SXSW seems like a pretty big thing to me (hey, it’s SXSW!), so I was hesitant at first, but of course curiosity won in the end. So I’ll be filling in for Robin at this talk:

Lost In Translation: The Nuances Of European Social Media ( Saturday, March 13 at 12:30 PM).

The original announcement:

Europe is ahead of the US in terms of the consumer usage of social media, and yet little attention is often given to the nuances of what is on one hand is the world’s largest economy and on the other a collection of 48 countries with very different cultures. Find out why the blogging scene in Paris is 2 years ahead of the US, the Brits are all a Twitter, the Dutch prefer Hyves to Facebook and the Germans will take any chance to give brands a hostile reception in social media.

For obvious reasons I have no time to really prepare anything, but I’d love to take your collective knowledge about European Social Media into the conversation. Now here’s what I’m asking you: send me your inspiring examples, stats, ideas and thoughts on the topic. Whatever you see fit, let me know about it, and I’ll try to work it in. Help a fellow geek out!

Best way to get in touch about this is via email (peter@thewavingcat.com) or Twitter (@thewavingcat). Thanks, thanks and thanks!

SXSW prep

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Just a brief status update – I’ll be at SXSW Interactive from Friday to Tuesday. If I don’t reply to any of your emails or calls, please bear with me.

I’m writing this from New York, more concretely from a friend’s apartment where I have access to wireless. It seems there is still not one decent prepaid or other short-term data plan for cell phones in the US. (Hint to all providers, and most importantly to my new provider O2: Offer flexible roaming packages – one month US data flat for $39,99, one month France data flat for €29,99 or whatever. Just do it!) So I’ve been hopping from wireless to wireless and cafe to cafe for the last few days. Again, if I don’t reply in time, you know why.

I’m really curious to experience my first SXSW – everybody I talk to tells me it’s one of the great conferences. Since the schedule is totally packed and so many parties required to RSVP long ago, I’m not even going to plan it out in detail. Instead, my travel buddy Igor and I will be going with the flow.

What I’m particularly interested in is to talk to US startups who’re interested in coming to Germany, and of course to fellow geeks, and just hang & geek out.

If you’re there and would like to meet up, I won’t make any promises as I’m expecting it to be rather chaotic. But feel free to ping me anytime so we can see if we can make it work! Best way is probably through Twitter (http://twitter.com/thewavingcat) or email (peter@thewavingcat.com).

SXSW: Lost In Translation?

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SXSW InteractiveWhile 2008 was a major conferencing year for me and this year I was slightly more selective (and instead am co-organizing one myself called Atoms&Bits), I’m planning to only attend those conferences next year that I really, really want to experience. Off the top of my head, that’s Reboot, SXSW, maybe Shift and a barcamp or two. Everything else I’ll have to see.

That said, here’s some news that just reached me about SXSW Interactive:

Robin Grant of We Are Social has put in a proposal for a SXSW panel called “Lost In Translation: The Nuances Of European Social Media“:

Europe is ahead of the US in terms of the consumer usage of social media, and yet little attention is often given to the nuances of what is on one hand is the world’s largest economy and on the other a collection of 48 countries with very different cultures. Find out why the blogging scene in Paris is 2 years ahead of the US, the Brits are all a Twitter, the Dutch prefer Hyves to Facebook and the Germans will take any chance to give brands a hostile reception in social media.

In case the panel is going to happen, Robin kindly offered to invite me along with a few other European social media practitioners to take part in the panel.

Besides being invited, I think this topic – engaging the European market – is becoming more and more important particularly for US startups. And while it’s true that the German market can be tricky, it’s not impossible to navigate, and there’s lots to gain. (Side note by way of giving an example: Just today I hosted a blogger roundtable for the Jusos election campaign (full disclosure: paid gig, see client list) and it was not at all hostile but in fact very constructive.)

I’ve worked briefly with We Are Social in the past (my client list) and had the pleasure of interacting with Robin a few times. We’ve never met in person, but I feel like I can give a two-thumbs-up for this panel. And if you vote for the panel, maybe you’ll help me get to SXSW.

Voting the panels is easy: after signing up, it’s a simple thumb-up/thumb-down vote.