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Mob Rules – Keynote Hijacking at SXSW

An interview-style keynote at the SXSW (South by Southwest) tech conference featuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with Business Week journalist Sarah Lacy got rather out of hand this week. Why? For several interesting reasons. First and foremost, the content was poorly prepared – neither the guest nor the interviewer had a clear sense of what the keynote would discuss and actually ran out of stuff to talk about. Also, according to some who were there, Lacy, having written a book about this guy, seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about herself and her personal experiences with the one she calls “Zuck.”

But what’s really interesting is what happened when the crowd sensed that they weren’t going to get what they came for. They took over. Fueled by Twitter, the mobile phone networked community of people constantly twittering (text messaging meets a chat room) about what they’re doing at any given time, the crowd started to build up a hearty amount of disdain over the content on stage. Soon all of Twitter was dominated with conversations about this train wreck of an interview. Then, the worst of social media took over – the crowd simply started shouting out questions and took over the interview. It finally devolved into an unconference. Twitter and unconferences – two very south-by-southwest regional phenomena.

What made a crowd of people suddenly feel they had the right to hijack the conference? Perhaps it was mob mentality. Perhaps it was social media and user-generated content spilling over into the real time real world. Perhaps the same internal controls that prevent most people from acting out violent video games don’t apply to being rude and disruptive at a conference?

And perhaps this one of many disruptive events to come that will remind us that, increasingly, the audience wants to be part of the conversation and if don’t give them a voice they may raise their own.

Video below:


9 Responses to “Mob Rules – Keynote Hijacking at SXSW”

  1. Megan Volpie says:

    Mark is still in his infancy. He has a long way to go. The 20/20 segment was pretty good. Anyone else catch that?

  2. Rob Everton says:

    I didn’t catch that, although I just heard that the SXSW story was featured on the MSNBC homepage next to the Spitzer scandal. Have not been able to find it there myself. Way out of proportion.

  3. Shocking!As an event planner, this might be my biggest fear. Lesson to be learned: always be prepared…

  4. Steve Gogolak says:

    I caught that 20/20 segment. Zuckerberg is young and he acts it, at least on the surface. I think you can tell by looking at him that he has BIG ideas, but doesn’t know how to express them adequately. That tension between his brain and his mouth adds to his excitement and anticipation.

    It also seems that the crowd was rowdy from the beginning. I think that the informal aspect of the interview-style keynote provoked audience response. For one, they were accepting of shouts even in the first minutes, so the crowd felt comfortable interjecting right away.

    Once she solicits the audience and starts the Q&A, it’s all over – “talk about something interesting…”

    Cool video commenting thingy, too. :-)

  5. Bob pascarella says:

    I’ve had some tough experiences on events. Like a comedian who brutally roasted the entire senior executive staff. I had to get the “hook” out. That hook may have been handy on this show too.