We Are Social takes SXSW 2022

For those who want to know what’s to come for brands over the coming year, there’s only one place to be; SXSW. From new tech innovations to groundbreaking concepts, the festival provides essential insights into how our industry is shaping up. To get the inside scoop on what went down, we sent team members from across our global network to soak up the knowledge that the festival had on offer. Here are some of their highlights. 


Lore Oxford, Global Head of Cultural Insights

When I got to SXSW, I was desperate to learn about DAOs. Because frankly, wtf even are they? Of all the web3 tech that’s drawn hype in the past year, Decentralised Autonomous Organisations have remained shrouded in mystery, with entry points and information about what they *actually* are or do seeming few and far between.

As it turns out, the reason DAOs are probably less sexy to the media landscape is because – unlike metaversal experiences or branded NFT auctions – they’re quietly achieving actual usefulness and social change. And there’s nothing less sexy than that, right?

What’s a DAO?
Multiple panels at SXSW led with the same insight: a DAO is basically a group chat with a shared bank account, in which everyone in the group gets a vote on how the cash is spent. 

Where does the cash come from?
Usually, when a DAO is founded there’s a seed pot, invested in by VCs or founders, and the pot grows as people buy the DAO’s tokens (a cryptocurrency specific to the DAO). Token holders also get voting rights on how cash is used or distributed.

These ‘shared bank accounts’ are creating a more transparent way to fund the causes and creators people care about.

This notion landed most profoundly with me during a panel discussion hosted by Coindesk’s Michael J. Casey: ‘Move Over NFTs. Here Come the DAOs’. The panel itself was an eclectic mix of humans that ensured the friction and discomfort of conflicting viewpoints that so often leads to productive discussion. But importantly, all of them have achieved successful change or progress with their own forays into the DAO space: 

What it means
People are already funding specific artists on OnlyFans or Patreon. DAOs will enable patrons to fund whole collectives that share their identity, values or ideals.

What it means
Transparency in the charity sector is a major issue. DAOs will give donors more visibility on – and agency over – who is making decisions about where their money goes.

What it means
Amid feed fatigue, people are seeking connections with like-minded strangers in more closed communities. DAOs will offer people a space to not only participate in these communities but fuel and fund them, too.

People have long been funnelling their cash into the causes they care about whether cultural, political or social: according to a study by Wunderman Thompson, 89% are loyal to brands that share their values. DAOs will give them better ways to do it.

In the future, we’ll see brands:


Joe Weston, UK Head of Sport

The biggest theme for me coming out of SXSW was a real focus on the negative impacts of technology, and how the industry needs to focus on solving some of the unintended, and in some cases intended, negative impacts of social technology.

I saw several impactful talks on this subject, including ‘CyberWar 2022: From Eastern Europe to Across the Globe- Nicole Perlroth connects with Jonathan Reiber of AttackIQ’ and ‘How We Will Solve the Disinformation Crisis: Nandini Jammi & Claire Atkin have co-founded Check My Ads, the only adtech industry watchdog’. However, it was Tristan Harris’ talk ‘Humane Technology: Why The Social Dilemma Is Not Destiny’ that really stood out to me and was a personal highlight of my SXSW. Tristan Harris is the Co-founder & President at the Center for Humane Technology and based his presentation on a solutions rooted exploration to address the urgent issues outlined in the award-winning documentary, The Social Dilemma.

Tristan was not only an incredible presenter but also had such a macro perspective on how technology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, ideology, legislation and governance all intertwine to produce the current negative consequences we see around misinformation on the major social networks.

He started off by calling “AI a neutron bomb for trust on the internet”. A strong start.

He then moved on to the psychological theory of ‘perception gaps’ which is a documented phenomenon showing how we always overestimate the popularity of beliefs of another group – particularly prevalent around negative perceptions. 

The scary thing about it is that it is now proven that the longer we spend on social media platforms, the bigger those perception gaps grow. This is due to the fact that the algorithms powering our news feeds prioritise polarisation, only showing us the most ‘extreme’ sides of the argument, when the vast majority of the population are far more moderate.

He excellently described this as ‘we’re fighting phantoms’. The idea that we are arguing with people based on what we ‘perceive’ them to believe rather than what they ‘actually’ believe. I think we can all recognise that. 

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Tristan very quickly moved on to presenting a vision for the future based on a new set of ideological beliefs for technological development and science called ‘Humane Technology’.  He argued that we need to think in terms of ‘systems and root causes’ and it’s only by thinking in this way that we can make any significant changes.

He says that the situation we find ourselves in now is the result of the prevailing ideological beliefs in technology right now. Things like ‘give the user what they want” or “technology platforms are neutral” and “prioritise growth over everything else.” Tristan wants to create a new set of principles outlined in his talk and showed how you can take those ten principles and flip them into a new set which will hopefully produce positive outcomes. 

To finish, he outlined just why this is all so important to all of us – not just something for the computer scientists and developers to worry about (although he does want to train 100,000 computer science technologists in humane technology)As he says “the biggest issues facing society are incredibly complex and are therefore issues of collaboration. Covid. Climate Change. Refugee crises. They all require coordinated, collaborative efforts to solve. So we can’t have technology that focuses on polarisation…As the world and its challenges become ever more complex it has never been more important for tech to focus on creating shared understanding.” 

That last point really summed up my whole experience of SXSW. For me, the biggest takeout from the festival was about how can we use technology to create shared understanding. How can we bring people together around knowledge and not push people to the edges. It’s only when we can force big tech into a new way of thinking that we’ll be able to address these issues. 

I’ve come away concerned but also cautiously optimistic that people like Tristan Harris, the Check my Ads team and countless others are focusing the whole industry onto these issues. 


Kelson Ong, Group Account Director, Singapore

For me, the most exciting part of SXSW were the “non-obvious” themes that underpinned everything. As expected, there was a fair amount of content based on Web3, NFTs and DAOs, but I decided to also listen in on topics that I normally would not get the opportunity to. Out of these talks, some key underlying themes emerged.

Regardless of the industry you work in, there was a lot of stress on the need for everyone to be more curious, or rather, adopt “intellectual curiosity” as coined by Reggie Fils-Aimé, ex-President of Nintendo of America, when questioned on qualities next-gen leaders need to embody. He said that it’s about “asking questions, not just to challenge someone but to understand someone’s perspective or point of view.” In a word clouded by bias and misinformation, it’s imperative we question our assumptions, challenge our beliefs, ask why/why not and ultimately like how Jon Burkhart put it, “interrogate like a toddler.”

Amy Webb, CEO of Future Today Institute, started her session on Emerging Tech Trends with an exercise called Dallenbach Cow to emphasize the importance of “re-perception” – the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something new in existing information and noticing what others missed. Because the data has not changed, our perception has. Why is this important? Because reperception is the essence of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. And in a world of ambiguity, it helps us make better decisions.

What intrigued me was the number of questions from the audience on leadership, even though this wasn’t the session’s key focus. Which qualities does one need to be a leader, and which are the most important? What does the next generation of leaders look like? These were just one of a few questions that came up. One interesting quality that was mentioned (and has become more prominent in recent years) is the need to have a fundamental belief in the power of diversity because varying points of view get to better solutions. When I take a step back, what was clear to me through the questions asked is that the new generation seeks qualities in a leader different from what some of us used to think are important qualities, so it’s essential we listen and adapt.


Harvey Cossell, UK Chief Strategy Officer

Irrespective of whether the metaverse truly exists right now didn’t really seem to matter at SXSW this year because, in Austin, Texas, it was everywhere. Whether it was one person talking about the future of gaming, another waxing lyrical about NFTs, or another extolling the virtues of DAOs, it was all there.

This was obviously unsurprising. After all, since Mark Zuckerberg went all in last year  (changing the name of his company to boot) the metaverse has been omnipresent in our industry’s media. And yet here I am doing the same thing – the irony of this is not lost on me one iota.

However, the reason I am writing about this today is because there has been much written, but so much of this has been obfuscated and conflated. SXSW was also guilty of this to a certain degree with some of the sessions I went to on this hottest of topics.

That isn’t to say that the sessions were not interesting or intellectually stimulating. There were some very smart individuals who are innovating in this space, but so much of it is way too upstream for brands to really latch on and utilise in any meaningful way.

And when you consider that our job as communicators is to be just half a step ahead of our consumers, we need to try and work out how we can begin to move into this space without completely losing them. Enter the talk that really gave me a sense of the strategic journey we need to take our clients on in this space.

Metaverse: Lose the hype, grow your business was an interesting panel discussion with all the usual buzzwords and rhetoric, but it was the first time I had heard someone talk about this being a journey. John Roese, Global CTO at Dell Technologies, was the only person in the myriad sessions I attended that spoke in this way. He talked about how whilst the metaverse is ultimately about creating the ability for people to move from digital world to digital world, we haven’t built the ability to move seamlessly between them yet.

Now, I know we all know this, but he went on to talk about this journey being a series of steps and this is what really resonated with me. Being the archetypal strategist I am always trying to understand how we get from A to B and this suddenly gave me the clarity of how we move forwards with our clients. Thus making this one of the most useful takeouts from my time in Austin. How he talked about it was as follows.

Stage one is all about immersion. Where digital worlds created to date have been closed, those in the metaverse are open. They do much the same as they did before, but think of these worlds as having side doors in them that can be opened. However, if a brand builds multiple worlds they are all going to need to be similarly open.

Stage two is therefore about consistency. Taking the door analogy, this is about ensuring that side doors to different experiences all line up. There is no point in building metaverse worlds that don’t sync up and align because if they don’t they aren’t going to allow freedom of movement in the future.

Which leads to stage three, Freedom. The ability to open the doors between worlds, allowing the seamless passage of people from one digital world to the other without having to clamber out into the real world before diving back in elsewhere.

This is ultimately how the metaverse will deliver scale and be a success in the future. However, the challenge for us as we guide our clients on this journey is to not start with the answer being the metaverse and then work back to the question. We need to be very clear about the problem we are trying to solve and what the metaverse can deliver that other channels and modes of communication can’t.

We need to resist the temptation to go after the new shiny thing without any clear purpose because if we don’t we will create beautifully immersive interconnected worlds that deliver zero return for our client’s investment. And that would be the worst.