SXSW 2014 Re-cap: A Conversation with Julian Assange

This is part 5 of my SXSW 2014 re-cap. You can find all other re-caps here.

Issues of privacy in the age of the internet had their own sub-track at SXSW Interactive. There were skype-in calls with Julian Assange and Edward Snowden amongst other panels, and while I was only able to attend the call with Julian Assange, it was very interesting, however.


Assange’s points regarding the current, overall state of the (political) internet:


  • The internet has penetrated every single aspect of our lives – our jobs, our banking, our travel bookings, even medical services take place online. With governments being able to watch everything we do online, it means that we are moving towards a world where no-one can exist outside the nation state.


  • The internet used to be in a politically apathetic state until 2009/2010. Wikileaks revelations, Snowden’s revelations, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy Movement really sparked political interest and action online. Especially the revelations about the NSA  revealed that the internet, which we had regarded mostly as a space for fun and enjoyment, had been invaded by powerful political interests.


  • As a result, the Internet has now become a political space in every aspect.


Assange’s explanations of what it is like for him, other Wikileaks members and Edward Snowden to spend their lives on the run:

  • Members of Wikileaks and of the NSA revelations had to flee their home countries and cannot even stay in anglo-american states anymore for fear of arrest and extradition.


  • The great visibility of Wikileaks and of Snowden also provide a sense of security for the persecuted, however.


  • Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is of course difficult, but still as good as it gets as it is safe and lets Assange continue working.



Julian Assange on Skype at SXSW 2014
Julian Assange on Skype at SXSW 2014


What does the complete surveillance by the NSA and PRISM mean for our lives and our societies?

  • The good thing is that to systemize injustice you must put it down on paper so you can manage it as an apparatus. This also means that it becomes detectable for us.


  • Still, the penetration of the internet by the NSA means the penetration by the NSA of our society (see point above re: internet invading every part of our lives). The internet and our society have merged, meaning that the NSA has access to every aspect of our society.


  • We’re at a point where we are being presented a picture of the world and of the internet that we’re supposed to consider the reality, but behind that picture is a completely different world that both we and people like Assange and Snowden only get glimpses of. Kind of like The Matrix (my own comparison)


  • No-one has been fired or persecuted since the NSA revelations, meaning that the Obama administration is not serious about their NSA concerns. Obama doesn’t have the actual power to disband the NSA nor the CIA – so there is virtually no civilian oversight of these institutions.


  • You will not be able to keep your head down and act innocuous. Totalitarian power is arbitrary and no-one is safe. We all have to fight it, whether we like it or not.


  • You don’t have to be particularly brilliant or special to stand your ground and fight surveillance. Of the Wikileaks Team itself, Assange says: “We test and try. We simply do not accept the appearance of fear.” Which is why they succeed, according to Assange. 



Personal Notes/Comments:

The question if the NSA/PRISM surveillance is justified is a very contested one in many countries, especially the US. The question if people like Assange and Snowden should be persecuted for treason or celebrated as heroes is just as polarizing. The situation overall is a very complex one, and one that we simply haven’t encountered before, so it is difficult to really wrap your head around it (for me at least).


The argument for essentially total governmental surveillance usually names fighting crime – and better yet, fighting terrorism – as justification for its existence. While those are really important missions, of course, it is quite difficult to judge if these missions are actually needed in the first place – simply because there is absolutely no civilian oversight and no public reporting, just like Assange stated. All other crime-fighting units usually publish statistics once a year – how many crimes happened, how many were solved, what types were they, etc. We have nothing of the sort from institutions from the NSA. Instead, we get what  The Guardian‘s John Naughton has so brilliantly described in his commentary on the GCHQ spying revelations: A Kafka-esque game of cat and mouse between institutions like the GCHQ or NSA and the public.


State Although intrusive surveillance does infringe a few liberties, it’s necessary if you are to be protected from terrible things.

Citizen (anxiously) What terrible things?

State Can’t tell you, I’m afraid, but believe us they are truly terrible. And, by the way, surveillance has already prevented some terrible things.

Citizen Such as?

State Sorry, can’t go into details about those either.

Citizen So how do I know that this surveillance racket isn’t just bureaucratic empire building?

State You don’t need to worry about that because it’s all done under legal authority.

Citizen So how does that work?

State Regrettably, we can’t go into details because if we did so then the bad guys might get some ideas.

What it comes down to, in the end, is: “Trust us.” And the trouble with that is that in recent decades our political elites have done precious little to deserve our trust. (Emphasis added)


Naughton’s article sums up nicely what the situation currently boils down to, in my opinion. I’m not naive or stupid (I hope, at least) – I know that there is much more going on behind the political and military scenes than what the public knows, and that’s probably often a good thing to preserve peace and a society’s interests.


Still, in order for democratic states to work, we need transparency. It is not by accident that democratic constitutions first and foremost lay down the law for what the state CANNOT do, thereby protecting the people from the state. Whether it’s protecting freedom of speech and/or opinion, the right to bear arms, unwarranted arrests or seizures, the right to fair trial, the right not to be discriminated against based on race, gender, religion, or the like – it all comes down to restricting the rights of the state, mostly because we’ve seen governments after government violate these rights again and again in history.


Governments are run by people, and while there are many good and nice people in the world, I think we can all agree that not all people can be trusted, and that there can especially be quite a few extremists out there – religious, political, ideological. Fortunately, there are laws to protect us from ill-meaning people in both our general society and the government. But in order to enforce these laws, we have to be able to detect their breaches in the first place. In the game institutions like the NSA are playing, this detection is purposely impeded, however, under the mantel of “national security reasons”.


Maybe institutions like the NSA and PRISM are completely necessary and justified. We can’t say, however, because we don’t know what their statistics are, how much terrorism and crime they have actually stopped and prevented with their surveillance. We don’t know anything about them except for the fact that they are watching us, so we can’t make any informed judgement about them. All we know is that in the past, governments weren’t the most trustworthy institutions.


Finally, I think one of the things that bug me most about these surveillance revelations is that we cannot answer the question why the surveillance is so widespread. In the past, whenever governments were watching their people’s every move and action, it was part of a repressive political system. Being from Germany, I know several people who can tell you about this surveillance first hand – first during the Third Reich, and later during the USSR. In these time periods, the people knew they were being watched,  they knew why they were being watched, and they knew what the state wanted from them: Conforming to the political ideology. Nowadays, literally everyone is being watched – not only the people who might be bad guys – and nobody knows why. What do these states want from us? Are they trying to make sure we make use of our rights for free speech? That we don’t let others stop us from exercising our own religions? Why are they really watching us?


We’re living in the longest period of peace the Western world has experienced. We’re immensely lucky in that, but we also have to be weary to be lulled in a sense of false security. Even if totalitarian surveillance systems like the NSA and GCHQ were set up with the best intentions in mind – I usually like to assume people mean well – they CAN be undermined. They CAN be subverted. They CAN be used for non-democratic purposes – especially when there is no transparency, no real reporting and no actual accountability. Just because we have already seen extreme cases like the Third Reich, the USSR, Francoist Spain, North Korea, etc. it doesn’t mean that they won’t happen all over again. Yes, national security is important. Yes, preserving national interests is important. But all measures taken to ensure the two should be proportionate to their cost. Right now, it just seems like the cost of total surveillance is much greater per individual than its benefits per individual. 


What do you think? Do you think the current level of surveillance is justified? Are we even able to make an informed judgement about the level of surveillance? Wouldn’t we need more transparency to really do that?





SXSW14 Re-Cap: 5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie

Welcome to the fourth part of my SXSW14 re-cap, which will focus on the 5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie panel. To go to any of my other SXSW14 re-caps, please click here.




JP Richards, Vice President Digital Marketing, Universal Pictures

Ethan Applen, Executive Director, Warner Bros./MediaCamp

Maria Pacheco, Senior Director, Marketing, DreamWorks Animation

Bettina Sherick, Senior Vice President, Digital Strategic Marketing, 20th Century Fox International

Moderator: Kevin Winston, CEO & Founder, Digital LA



Introduction & General


The way movies are marketed socially depends on various factors, e.g. the movie’s content, its audience, a possible existing fan base, etc.  What is always important, however, is that you must maintain a continuous story and that you have enough content to really keep the social media activity going continuously on all platforms that you are using. It can also be highly useful to have talent that supports your social media strategy and posts about the movie themselves.


If you do not have enough content for an actual social media run or campaign, just create a digital PR kit for your website and let audiences discover it themselves.


Possible hooks/content opportunities on social media include:






An example of the Pitch Perfect Memes used to promote "Pitch Perfect"
An example of the Pitch Perfect Memes used to promote “Pitch Perfect”



The biggest objective in social media marketing of movies is to tell stories about the stories.




  • The Fast & The Furious: Social narratives focused on production, talent, behind the scenes; including posts from actors of happenings on-set; tied-in with existing fan hype, which includes the hype surrounding the movie series itself and the hype surrounding its action stars.


"The Fast & the Furious" on Twitter
“The Fast & the Furious” on Twitter


  • 50 Shades of Grey: Only limited behind-the-scenes content available for sharing on social media (so far). As a result, the marketers have resorted to using lines from the books in place of actual movie material to fuel excitement in the existing fan base.


  • Planes: Game app containing prizes launched months before the movie’s release date; leading to 12 million downloads before the movie even was in theaters; catered to young, male audience interested in games and allowed for push notifications to all app users on opening day.



The "Planes" game app
The “Planes” game app



Common Challenges


  • Talent: Obviously, your talent cannot be told to post about a movie and in what manner, but usually promoting a movie in social media is beneficial to the social media growth of both parties, so most talent is quite cooperative. Also, movie directors should be included early on in the communications planning process to maximize any content they may have to offer.


  • Pictures/content: The picture approval process is huge and has to go through both the studio’s internal and the talents’ approval stages. Obviously, this takes a while, so candid, on-set pictures (e.g. cell phone pictures) that are being shared by the talent itself on social media is often a much easier and flexible alternative. Also: Due to high-resolution trailers, fans now have much more potential stills at their hands than many studios themselves. As a result, movie marketers can re-tweet/re-blog/share fan generated content, but not make use of this non-sanctioned material without breaching their own approval requirements.


Boosting Communication During A Movie’s Release


To increase the buzz surrounding the release of your movie, the panelists recommend the following:

  • Build up continuously to the movie’s release with the content you have at your disposal.


  • Post content on Twitter tying into TV ads and amplify these Tweets.


  • Be sure to invite your key influencers to your movie’s special screenings – e.g. bloggers & journalists, but also fans and influencers of key brands featured in the movie, for example.


  • Re-use all trailers and stills you have at your disposal as much as possible.



In the film industry, a social media campaign never ends, as it can always be reactivated for home entertainment releases.


Own Notes/Comments


While the panel featured great marketing executives, I personally found their recommendations rather basic. I am pretty sure that the panelists didn’t actually share the biggest tricks they’ve got up their sleeves in order to maintain their respective competitive advantages. Still, despite the fact that the panelists mentioned at the very beginning that the social media content of a movie’s campaign would have to be tailored to its target audience and possible existing fan base, the main type of social media content mentioned for the majority of the panel was behind-the-scenes material. Behind-the-scenes information can of course be extremely relevant to the right audience and seems to be easier to come by, but it would have been great to hear more about more innovative types of content such as the Pitch Perfect Memes or the Planes and Turbo games.

At the same time, a topic that remained completely untouched was any way in which the story world of the movie itself could be integrated in and expanded on within a social media campaign. After all, we are currently faced with countless movies that cater to existing fan bases – all Marvel movies (e.g. Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, X-Men, etc.), 50 Shades of GreyThe Muppets, Spiderman, Transformers, Sin City, The Hobbit, Paranormal Activity, just to name a few.

Given that it is these existing fan bases that movie studios bank on when producing more and more movies of the aforementioned franchises, it seems quite surprising that there was no talk during the panel about how the story worlds of the movies themselves can be used as the biggest hook of all. In movies, it is the story that sells. If you have an existing fan base that is deeply invested in your story already, they will be keen on any shred of new content you can provide them with. These fans have bought primarily into the story itself, not into the process of how the story is being made. So it would only be a logical step to use the story of a movie to a much greater extent in marketing, just like in the campaign surrounding the release of the most recent installment of The Hunger Games.

Granted, the latest transmedia marketing feat surrounding the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a great novelty, and looking at the difficult picture approval process the panelists talked about, I would assume that it would be just as difficult to get additional types of story content for social media approved. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to hear about such possible limitations, including any challenges one might not even think of as an outsider. Because as a fan, it can get quite annoying to read things like:

“Marvel’s “The Avengers” (2012) Character Spotlight: Agent Maria Hill
The high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill is a talented commander, an expert marksman and capable hand-to-hand combatant, and is the second most powerful figure of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind Nick Fury.” (Official Avengers Facebook Page, January 27th 2014)

Hint: If I liked the movie on Facebook (or any other social medium), it usually means I have seen it, in which case I know all the above info already from watching the movie, meaning that this post is just boring for fans.  

True story extensions on social media, no matter how small, would probably have to be created and written by the same creators responsible for the movie (franchise) itself. Unless of course – and I’m sorry to constantly be using the example but it was just so good and smartly done – you do it like The Hunger Games: Catching Firewhere the additional content didn’t actually say much about the story of the upcoming movie, but focused on other aspects of the universe like parties celebrating Katniss & Peeta as victors. By doing this, the campaign did expand the story world the fans bought into, but without endangering/revealing the different story lines of the upcoming movie.

Lastly, I would also have liked to learn more about how to keep your audience engaged once the movie has been released. Again, additional story content would be a great way to do so, but even without it, there must be more possibilities than just “re-using any trailers and stills” you may have at your disposal, as mentioned on the panel. Of course, it is difficult to get by the amount of new/interesting content needed to keep your audience engaged, but there are already movie social media pages out there who do a great job at keeping fans interested and on their toes, such as the Facebook page of the Thor movies. It uses all kinds of content – movie stills, movie quotes, documentaries, DVD count-downs, fan content, comic material and meme-like pictures – and instills them with value to the fans by tying them in with larger social media trends such as the #tbt hashtag (which in this case was even converted into “throwback thorsday”).

The panel only had one hour, of course, and it is absolutely impossible to fit everything about social media movie marketing into this tiny time frame. The panelists were of a very high caliber, and so again, I don’t think they would have wanted to share all their secret sauces and tricks with us. I am very grateful that they made time in their undoubtedly busy schedules for this presentation and they did make excellent points throughout. It would just also have been nice to learn  about cutting-edge approaches to social media marketing of movies in more detail rather than just touching on them, given that the panel was classified as “intermediate”.






SXSW14 Re-cap: Building An Interactive Storyworld

Here comes part 3 of my SXSW14 re-caps: New Narratives: Building an Interactive Storyworld.

For an overview of all SXSW14 re-caps, please click here.




Aina Abiodun, Founder, Storycode

Karim Ahmad, Sr Digital Content Strategist, ITVS

Mike Knowlton, Partner, Murmur

Ted Hope, CEO, Fandor / Double Hope Films


At the moment, most advertising remains very classic and in-your-face. However, the times of such advertising are over and it now needs greater sophistication.  Your audience expects branded content rather than pure product placement, for example.  Everything else – blatant „buy this!“, „buy that!“ is white noise.

This is especially important as audiences have become aware that they live in a world of infinite choices, and that their attention is part of their purchasing power. This means that audiences nowadays also expect to have their own say when it comes to content.

The solution for this are interactive narrative storyworlds. These don’t have to always be branded, of course, but if they are, they are a very powerful marketing tool.


To create a storyworld worth engaging and interacting with, try these recommendations:

  • Don’t be afraid to create a Storyworld – it’s easier than it sounds and it can start as simple and small as possible.


  •  Adjust to the media used – not only in terms of content, but also in terms of time. Sometimes, a series of short films complemented by content on other platforms meets your audience’s media habits better than one long feature film, for example. Of course, in order to do this, you must know your target audience’s media habits very well!


  •  Provide concrete points of access for interaction.


  •  Everyone has their own personal background, and this background will automatically influence a specific users experience of your story, meaning that there will always be multiple story engines for your content.


  •  Make stories for play and let go of creative control. In order to be truly interactive, you have to collaborate with your fans and let them join you at the helm.


  •  At the same time, make sure you’re not overwhelming your audience with interaction and limit the interactive moments. Few, deliberate interactive moments are much more powerful than constant calls to action.



One of the examples: Take the Knife - Interactive YouTube Video
One of the examples: Take the Knife – Interactive YouTube Video



Examples of interactive storyworlds presented at the panel were:



Side-note: I would also like to include Welcome to Sanditon in the list of examples.  It was not mentioned at the panel, but it is another great demonstration of how you can include and provide interaction for your audience by relenting some (but not all) creative control. Welcome to Sanditon will also be featured in one of my upcoming blog posts.


The next re-cap will cover 5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie.

SXSW 2014 Re-Cap: Second Screens


This is my re-cap of the How to Monetize the 2nd Screen Evolution panel from SXSW 2014. Check out the overview of all my SXSW 2014 re-caps here.



Gregory Consiglio, President & COO, Viggle Inc. 

Jesse Redniss, CSO, Mass Relevance Inc.



The most favorite second screen apps remain Twitter and Facebook. Show- and network-specific ones still struggle. Twitter and FB remain so popular because they allow social consumption – fans of a show want to share their thoughts and reactions with others, especially if they don’t have friends or family in the same physical space who share their interest in a particular show. “The funny shit was happening on Twitter, not at the Oscars.” was mentioned at one point, and it’s a very apt summary of second screen usage.


Needless to say, a second screen app has to complement the viewing experience. In what way depends on the show and the fans – sometimes behind-the-scenes content might be the right thing, other times additional story content or games bring value to the fans. There is no one-fits-all formula.


And that is the key point: Advertisers have been keen to push ads on to second screens ever since they first realized that viewers were watching two screens simultaneously. Understandable, of course, but paired with very classic approaches to marketing, it meant that many, many second screen apps were bursting with simple advertisements. The additional content was taking a backseat – and with it, the value the fans derived from the app. If you bore or annoy your fans, they’ll be gone – with just one swipe or click.


The Official Oscars App
The Official Oscars App


A great example of catering to fan interest AND branding is the Official Oscars App. As one of the most televised events in the world and involving a string of A-list celebrities, a huge part of the audience watches the Academy Awards live – starting with the Red Carpet, and then through the show itself. Social media are buzzing – everyone’s got something to say about the dresses, the hairstyles, the presenters, the nominees, just/unjust awards… and so on. And everyone would love to be there, too. Well, with the Official Oscars App they can be – albeit virtually. The app lets you switch between cameras of show areas not covered by TV cameras (all the time), and you can even follow specific celebrities around. A bit creepy, I’ll admit, but it also caters to the ultimate voyeuristic tendencies of our society when it comes to celebs – the very reason why the Oscars hold such widespread attention in the first place. Everything in the app is branded, of course, but the value to the fans is what is in focus.


Finally, ways to monetize second screen apps AND to provide value to the consumers are:


Ads within the content, but only if they’re entertaining

Branded additional content – fun and entertaining

e-commerce links – buy the dress XY is wearing, etc.

Inner-network promotion of shows/cross-promotion, if it is targeted


Ideally, second screen apps should always be targeted in terms of advertisement AND content to the individual user for an optimization of value for both sides in every way. This can easily be done via FB logins, for example.


Tomorrow I will upload the next re-cap on Building Interactive Storyworlds.

SXSW 2014 Re-Cap

Welcome to Geek Heaven!
Welcome to Geek Heaven!



I just got back from my very first SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, and it was simply amazing and invigorating. SXSW vibrated with great minds, great talents, great projects, and great conversations. This conference is where the good stuff happens, and where people do and think cutting-edge. If you’re interested in social and/or digital media, this is the conference you should attend. It’s not cheap, but it is absolutely worth its money!


That being said, there is one tiny critique I have regarding this year’s SXSW. It was my first time attending this conference, of course, and since I had heard so much about it my expectations were quite high, but in terms of the panels and talks, SXSW was not as innovative as I’d thought it’d be. A lot of what was said in the panels was old news, and it almost feels like the social and digital media scenes, including the field of transmedia, are a bit stagnant at the moment.


If I were to summarize the key point of pretty much every panel I’ve gone to in one sentence it’d be this:


„There is this thing called ‘your audience’, and if you want to survive in the digital world, you better a) know exactly who your audience is, and b) listen to what your audience says and wants.”


Not necessarily a new concept in our field, yes, and definitely one of the reasons why I was a bit disappointed at the lack of innovative presentations. That being said, however, transmedia experience designer Steve Peters, whom I met at SXSW for the first time, reminded me of a crucial point in one of our conversations – SXSW panels are crowd-sourced.


Months before SXSW, everyone can submit panel proposals with descriptions, and attendees can vote for the panels they want to see in the schedule. So while the panels themselves did not offer any new trends but digital media basics again and again and again, the decisions the crowds made shows that content creators and especially advertisers only just realize the extent of the changes digital media bring about, and – yay! – have started looking for answers and instruction.


Despite the incredibly fast pace of the digital revolution, organizations and institutions continue to adapt slowly in the eyes of digital natives. This is good news and bad news: We’re still not quite where we could be with the tons of possibilities given to us by digital and social media, so we’ll have to continue explaining and defining things. BUT there is a change in thinking happening amongst those that make the decisions. So we’ll just have to hang in there a little bit longer!


Nevertheless, what was just as I expected was the exchange with media and communications professionals around the world. I’ve run into big names and smaller names at SX, communications executives and media freelancers, and all were open to talk and discuss the most recent developments and ideas, united in our common passion for digital and social media. Geek heaven, really. 😀


You can check out the 2014 program here. I’ve had a pass for both Interactive and Film, and as you can see from the schedule, it is slightly insane in terms of volume. I’ve tried to catch as many panels and talks as I could, and have taken plenty of notes throughout. To keep my SX re-cap easy-to-read, I will only give you a detailed review of those panels that I found particularly noteworthy. That said, I do have all my notes still, of course, so if there’s a panel that you would like more details on, just let me know and I’ll send you my notes on that particular panel (un-edited version).


Overall, I attended the following panels and talks. Those highlighted with bold letters are the ones I will focus on in my re-caps (although not necessarily in that order):


How to Monetize the 2nd Screen Evolution (Description)

A Virtual Conversation with Julian Assange (Description)

New Narratives: Building an Interactive Storyworld (Description)

Keeping Score in Socials: It’s More Than Likes (Description)

Make Them Hate You (Description)

Tomorrow Is Another Day: Surviving a Social Media Crisis (Description)

5 Lessons Learned from Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie (Description)

Digital Engagement & the Conscious Consumer (Description)

How Jane Austen Conquered Social Storytelling (Description)


Each of the bold titles above will link to the respective blog post in the next few days.


Enjoy! And do let me know if you have any questions or comments! 🙂