This week, the top brand takeaways from SXSW. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
This year’s SXSW conference proved to be a community of professionals talking about building meaningful communities — mostly of customers, but also of users and employees. Using innovative technology to do so was a common theme in conversations involving fashion, beauty and tech company leaders, both on stage and offsite.
Held in Austin, the annual conference kicked off on March 10, which also marked the launch of its first fully IRL presence since 2019 — in 2022, the event went hybrid, attracting 280,000 total attendees across channels. Brands leaned into opportunities to thought-lead by positioning panelists on main stages. They also hosted their local or industry networks at conference center-adjacent events spanning cocktail parties and experiential “houses.” In short, if they weren’t leading conversations about how they’re building a community, chances are, they were actively fueling their community in Instagrammable settings decked out with F&B and swag.
On March 11, Manish Chandra, founder and CEO of Poshmark, took part in a fireside chat centered on the concept of community as “the new business imperative.” Unexpectedly, themes throughout his talk mirrored those highlighted by Rachel Delphin, CMO of streaming platform Twitch, during a coffee meeting the next morning.
While discussing Twitch’s focuses and differentiators, Delphin centered on the importance of focusing and building on the company’s strengths, amid a platform landscape rife with feature launches. She also stressed the need to set the stage for and support the Twitch community, rather than attempt to control or manipulate it, particularly in a self-serving way.
“When you focus on love, money comes. But when you focus on money, nothing comes,” Poshmark’s Chandra said.”We’ve always kept to our true north of focusing on engagement, providing core services to our community and getting out of the community’s way. … When you build something based on the principles of community and content, commerce flows into that naturally,”
For Twitch’s part, “Our focus continues to be on enabling streamers. We want them to be able to earn, grow their communities, easily engage those communities and have a rewarding experience,” Delphin said. “We’re the playground, and they’re the players.”
Both Poshmark and Twitch have established signature IRL events to further facilitate peer-to-peer user connections. These events include community-run meetups of 8-12 sellers or streamers, which the companies fund and furnish with essentials. Delphin said Twitch launched the concept 10-12 years ago. The gatherings currently occur daily, largely in cities including Austin, Los Angeles and Miami. Meanwhile, Poshmark only recently debuted its version, dubbed Posh N Sips and held in coffee shops. It plans to support 100-150 meetups this year, with a goal of doing one at each of Starbucks’ 13,000 U.S. locations.
On a much larger scale, there’s PoshFest and TwitchCon. The former is a 10-year-old annual event taking place over two days, most recently in Houston. Sellers spanning generations learn from each other in interactive sessions, Chandra said. TwitchCon, launched in 2015 and centered on game on product previews, pulls in up to 30,000 attendees twice per year; this year, the events will be held in Las Vegas and Paris. Both Poshmark and Twitch leverage the large events to gather feedback from their communities. Delphin said that after one attendee requested the ability to tag a fellow streamer in a session title, Twitch launched the feature six months later. Both executives said these events double as community reunions and are heavy in hugging.
“We saw [community] patterns happening, and we productized them,” Chandra said, regarding the events’ motivation. “It’s important to know what the customer wants and adapt to that.”
Chandra had a tech-focused career before founding online fashion resale marketplace Poshmark in 2010, in step with the launch of the iPhone 4. The intention out of the gate was a “very social, very community-oriented and 100% mobile, simple [company]” that was “equal parts tech, community and fashion,” he said. The company went public in January 2021, before being acquired in January by Naver, the largest online search engine and e-commerce company in South Korea. Poshmark currently has 100 million users spanning four countries, including Canada, the U.K. and Australia.
Chandra said that a plus of becoming a private company again is being able to allocate capital in a way that’s in keeping with his goals. With Naver’s support, Poshmark will further invest in machine learning and video capabilities, including livestreaming. It will also grow its global presence. The potential he sees in AI is around increasing sellers’ bandwidth by offering them support in scaling their own communities with virtual assistants and stylists.
Likewise, Twitch is prioritizing developments that support user engagement and processes. In late 2022, it expanded its Guest Star feature; streamers can now interact with community members beyond the text-based chat feature by bringing them into the livestream. Also, streamers are now notified of community “milestones,” allowing them to celebrate followers of a year, for example.
Moving forward, Twitch wants to make it easier for streamers to export vertical video clips, which can be used to promote their streams on other platforms. Also in the works is a video feed showing highlights from relevant streams that users missed.
Technology and innovation have been crucial to growing the Poshmark community. Chandra referenced the company’s early challenges, including navigating the “high concurrency” of virtual “Posh Parties,” where users simultaneously populate and shop landing pages focused on different brands and themes. He also pointed to the company’s breakthroughs in areas including payments and shipping. For example, Poshmark was the first company to offer consistent a USPS shipping rate, based on the average weight of its orders.
Both Twitch and Poshmark are attuned to the influence of their users, with executives at both companies noting the unique power of those with micro-communities. Unlike in Asia, where mega-influencers drive large livestream sales, Chandra said micro-influencers are set up to drive a large livestreaming industry in the states. He foresees Poshmark someday being populated with “millions of sellers selling thousands of dollars worth of stuff that’s generating billions of dollars.” That’s instead of “hundreds of sellers selling multi-millions of dollars of stuff,” as is happening in China.
Delphin said that “most people on Twitch are part of smaller communities,” despite the media attention that the “big streamers” get. Relationships are often formed in the chat feature, with many streamers knowing their followers by name and saying hi to them when they join a stream. On the same note, Poshmark community members personally greet users when they join the platform, through a Meet & Greet feature.
“You don’t edit and post on Twitch; it’s not showy perfection,” Delphin said. “A [typical streamer] just says, ‘I’m gonna go live.’ And that lack of artifice is what people really gravitate to so much.”
Still, each platform has birthed mega-influencers in their own right. Delphin pointed to streamer Pokimane, who fuels community by engaging her 9.3 million followers with prompts like asking for confessions or gossip. Like many streamers, she’s become an influencer in other realms, collaborating with beauty brand Winky Lux on a palette in 2019, for example. In 2022, beauty brands with a presence at TwitchCon included Mac and NYX. McDonald’s and Wendy’s also had booths.
In terms of staying focused, Poshmark has always given its sellers 80% of their items’ sales, even as competitors have raised and cut seller rates. And it has no current plans to offer resale as a service, despite resale players like ThredUp building big businesses around the opportunity. “You have to focus on customers and get inspired by your competition, but ultimately stay true to who you are,” he said. “Plus, it’s hard to focus on many things.”
Likewise, Delphin said, “Other social [platforms] are picking and choosing what others are doing. But we are long-form, live streaming. We believe in it. We are the best at it. And we [focus on] doing it better, instead of looking around.”
Poshmark’s users spend 20-25 minutes per visit on the platform; Twitch users spend an hour.
Both executives confirmed that they have no intention of becoming an all-encompassing mega-platform or discouraging users from engaging on other platforms. “You have to go where the people are, whether that’s a city or a platform,” Chandra said. Poshmark recently started engaging on Discord, after noticing a Poshmark community had begun forming there.
According to Delphin, Twitch is its members’ “primary home,” in large part because they’re incentivized with monetization. However, they actively use other platforms to build their streaming communities. On March 11, Twitch sponsored the streamer awards, which is owned and operated by community members.
“Community is integral to our marketing strategy; our brand is being marketed by community members [across platforms] every single day,” Delphin said.
Finally, both Poshmark and Twitch stressed the importance of creating safe community environments.
The value of loyal communities was a theme that echoed throughout SXSW, as was the current transition to the type of radical transparency that can, in part, be fostered by Twitch-style livestreams.
Raphael Bouquillon and Hellen Katherine of integrated marketing agency MG Empower agreed that livestreams and the metaverse could have big potential as brand tools. That’s especially as spending power moves to today’s young generations, who see no online-offline divide and openly broadcast their lives.
“Even in the luxury space, a lot of brands are relinquishing some of their control,” said Bouquillon. “TikTok has worked to put the power in the hands of the consumer. And If you don’t embrace that and create space for people to interact with each other, you’re going to be out of touch, and dusty.”
He added, “Influencers are the campaign.”
And Katherine noted that influencers and their communities offer insights that brands don’t have.
Meanwhile, Lush chief digital officer Jack Constantine described the brand’s SXSW pop-up, Lush House, as a “community hub.” It featured panel discussions and Instagrammable buildouts, despite the brand’s notorious rejection of big tech.
And finally, Tommy Hilfiger president and chief brand officer Avery Baker spoke about the company’s community-style approach to leadership. Called “partner leadership,” it falls between command and service leadership styles, she said. Read about it this week on Glossy.
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