6 Reasons Why SXSW Is Still Awesome
It's now de rigueur to trash SXSW. Actually, it has been for a couple of years. And while anything that includes a session entitled The Digital Cronut should most certainly be mocked, that's not what we're going to do. Because it's already been done. By everyone. In the most snarkiest of ways. That simply make the snarker look like like they are trying a little too hard to stay one hip step ahead of the curve. Before it curves again.
But...when you have a panel entitled High on Hashtags and the main takeaway, according to Search Engine Journal, is that "hashtags help discovery of trends, topics, sentiment," it's hard not to snark. But, we're not going to do it.
Yes, the intimacy of pre-2010 SXSWs is gone but when you think about it, no one should be complaining about SXSW at all. If you were in attendance during the glory days of social from 2008 to 2010 and think back to what you were advising your followers and clients to do -- jump on the social media bandwagon because it is awesome -- you have no right to bitch about the fact they all have, indeed, jumped aboard. It is, after all, what you wanted them to do, right?
Well, now they are. And the early adopter intimacy that was once the cornerstone of SXSW is gone. But, again, that's what you wanted, right? You wanted everyone to buy your books, to pay your consulting fees, to hire you as social media manager, to rise to Oreo Dunk-in-the-Dark stardom, right? Come on. Admit it. If they didn't buy, SXSW would still be intimate...but you would be poor, not internet famous and still telling people MySpace is awesome. Can't have it both ways.
So here are 6 ways SXSW is still awesome. Hopefully, you will agree.
Networking With Old Friends and New
Now, yes, festivals like Cannes Lions and trade shows like ad:tech, IAB, AAAA's, ANA certainly serve as great networking platforms for marketers and advertisers but they are insular, exclusive and do not offer the opportunity provided by SXSW to leave your immediate circle of business and personal contacts. In other words, they don't allow you to broaden your horizons, explore the tertiary peripheries of your particular business segment and to serendipitously hobnob with some of the smartest people on the planet from all walks of life.
Offsite Panels Broaden the Content Offering
While there are plenty -- hundreds -- of excellent panels that are part of the SXSW experience, in the past year or two, "pop up panels" have become quite popular. This year, Expion hosted two such panels at Pete's Dueling Piano Bar and at one Mondelez VP Bonin Bough and Vayner Media Founder Gary Vaynerchuk squared off on the topic of the social and/or collaborative economy -- a notion made popular by Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang -- in a manner that can only be described as vehement agreement. Entertaining? Yes. Informative? Yes. Worth attending? Absolutely.
Another such panel hosted by ShareThis took place Saturday at the W Hotel. The event was a networking brunch combined with a panel which discussed the sharing economy. MC'd by ShareThis CEO Kurt Abrahamson, the panel included executives from Tumblr, Mashable, Adobe, NASDAQ OMX and the Mercury Fund. Summing up the three stages of the sharing economy in the publishing space, Mashable's Mike Kriak pointed to one, mainstrem media, two, the Mashable's of the world and three, the likes of Secret and SnapChat. Abode's Bill Ingram touched on the lifecycle of content, beginning with creation or curation, then deployment across channels and ultimately measurement and optimization.
And then there was the CMO Club House, a five day event sponsored by the CMO Club at which Altimeter Group Analyst Rebecca Lieb led panels which included MRY CMO David Berkowitz, Brian Solis, Joshua Baer and others. Open all day at 209 6th Street, the CMO Clubhouse offered a hangout for CMOs and other marketing types where networking could be had over breakfast, lunch
Pressing the Flesh With Your Digital Friends
Thanks to social media, we've been able to establish intimate relationships with people online without every having physically met or only see occasionally. SXSW offers a playground to experience friends in full-on human form. I like to call Steve Garfield a friend but I only see him once a year at SXSW. He's from my hometown of Boston and when I lived there, we never saw each other but it's always SXSW that brings us together. Reem Abeidoh from Microsoft is another person I rarely see. We met eons ago at an early Blogworld but SXSW brings us together. These are but just a two examples of hundreds.
And then there are the first time meetups. People you've known through social but have never physically met. Or at least haven't seen in years. Like Leora Israel who lives in Toronto and was at SXSW for her client BrivoLabs, a brand that partnered with Mashery which runs Circus Mashimus in the ACC where the popcorn flows and circus antics prevail.
So I'm wandering home from some party after having seen her earlier in the evening and I get this tweet from her:
Sadly, we never did get a Cronut but we did get to take a selfie of ourselves and the new friends we met while waiting in line:
And then on yet another night in an epic social media equation I like to call Steve Garfield + Leora Israel = Awesome Experience for Steve Hall:
Discovering Emerging Trends
SXSW may not be the premiere festival at which trends make their debut but there are still some exciting things that happen each year. Anonymity, most recent brought to light with the launch of the Secret app -- and a very fun SXSW-focused event page, was much discussed this year. A similar app. Whisper, was in on the anonymity buzz as well. All of which is very amusing since the early, pre-social media days of the internet were all about anonymity and silly AOL chat room screen names. While silly chatroom names may have given way to well-designed icons, the approach is the same, albeit in a bit more connected fashion via social media.
Wearable technology is enjoying significant notoriety. While Google glass tends to steal the show, there are much more useful players like CrowDemand which has come up with an ingenious, built in method for women to charge their phone just by placing it in their purse. The purse has a built in charger and the purse, itself, is charged by simply laying it atop a charging base while at home. The phone is charged simply by sliding it into a dedicated pocket inside the purse. All wireless. The company is partnering with fashion label to integrate all kinds of other wearable technology we will soon see integrated into out clothing.
With the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange taking top billing at SXSW this year, privacy (or the lack thereof) took center stage. As the shifting sands of privacy become ever more tenuous, Snowden said, "We need public oversight ... some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we're not informed, we can't consent to these government policies."
Large Brands (Versus Startups) Deploying Cool Technology
Since Pepsi Max built its Playground in a vacant lot in 2010 and CNN took over Max's Wine Dive the same year, brand activation at SXSW has never been the same.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, SXSW was the place you'd visit to experience cool, new startup technology. It's were Twitter got its start. It's where Foursquare got its start. While there are still startups at SXSW and that remains a big reason brands attend, this year it was mostly big brands sharing tech wizardry.
The Oreo Trending Vending Lounge used 3D printing to create customized cookies based on trending topics. IBM deployed a fleet of food trucks with Watson computer tech that would auto-magically recommend ingredients for people. Pennzoil, for its first SXSW visit, offered up a real-life Mario Kart experience with a real-time, RFID-enhanced tech.
Hosted Agency/Brand Parties Fuel Your Stomach and Soul
Now, of course, this is not the reason anyone goes to SXSW but thanks to brands like Fast Company which hosted the Fast Company Grill and MRY which hosted a killer party at Haven Saturday night and Crowdtap which hosted a party at the same venue Sunday night and Rocketfuel which hosted an amazing live band experience at Clive Bar on Rainey Street featuring The Joy Formidable and Samsung and PayPal which hosted blogger lounges and JWT which hosted a cocktail party at the very cool, new Container Bar, buying food and drink at SXSW is a thing of the past. I literally did not spend a dime on food or drink during the entire five day experience.
Now free stuff is no reason to attend SXSW but that free stuff is a gateway to the first reason SXSW is still awesome; networking. It's the lubricant that fuels one's ability to connect with old friends and forge new relationships with people you mat do business with in the future. And despite the increased size of SXSW, it's still as intimate as you make it.
And so to the naysayers who think SXSW has had it's day, I respectfully beg to differ. No, every other person you see in Austin during SXSW won't be someone you know. But isn't that reason we go to events like this? To meet new people? make new contacts? Discover new things? Experience new ideas? And take that all home after five days and apply it to our own universe? Yea, I think it is.