Eco & Social Go Hipster at SXSW Eco Conference

When the hipsters-come-moguls behind SXSW put their seal of approval on a conference devoted to eco-issues and sustainability, you know a once niche issue is about to go pop-culture mainstream.  Since I have a deep background in issues related to sustainability and the travel industry, I was excited to head to my former hometown of Austin to check out the second year of the SXSW Eco gathering back in October.  Besides, you don’t have to say “organic tamale local food truck” twice to lure me to a groovy setting for a conference.

Sighting of a Maersk container tweeted and posted to brand’s Facebook page.

It might seem counterintuitive that the world’s largest container shipping company Maersk Line was the break out social media star at a conference focused on celebrating innovation in sustainability.  But in a brisk 20 minute Q&A with Maersk social media guru Jonathan Wichmann, the company outlined some spectacular success in using social media to tell their sustainability story—and even help avert a potential environmental catastrophe.  Wichmann explained how counter intuitively, a shipping company known for not revealing too much information gave him a free hand in creating social media channels and engaging with customers.  No surprise, really, that giving the community manager a heavy dose of trust and freedom led to an outpouring of affection from consumers around the world who have been tweeting and Instagraming (really sorry for making that a verb) sightings of Maersk containers around the globe.

For a mainly business-to-business company, they developed quite a large consumer following on Facebook with over a half-million fans.  So when a Maersk ship collided with a whale that stuck to its bow on its way into Copenhagen port, they could have had a potential social media viral crisis with individuals taking and posting gruesome photos.  Instead, the Maersk social media team jumped into action, using their channels as educational tools to inform the public about how unfortunately incidences like this occur frequently with all types of ships, and how Maersk is investing in ways to decrease the problem—for all shipping lines.  Always inspiring to hear how social media helped head off a crisis—rather than create one.

The author works to pass the test.

On my way outside to the food trucks (with a bounty of vegan options, ‘natch), I was persuaded to test drive the eco-friendly Chevy Volt.  I’ll give kudos to Chevy for cleverly connecting to the conference and interacting with guests with their giveaway of a solar-powered Smartphone charger (even if it wasn’t iPhone friendly).  And even more for stationing a police officer to conduct Breathalyzer tests prior to driving (no margarita for me).  But I couldn’t help thinking that their event team should be encouraging me to tweet my pic using a special hash tag – even volunteering to take the picture for me.

In fact, the whole conference could have used my recent blog tips on making events more social.  But hey, that’s okay, SXSW Eco is evolving, and gives me a reason to attend next year—and get more eco-socially involved.

JP Buchmeyer, VP Digital Engagement, @jpbuchmeyer


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