South by Southwest (SXSW) officially ended three weeks ago and it took me roughly a week after to mentally recover from it. For all intents and purposes, SXSW is one of the largest music festivals in the country that also features an interactive portion based around marketing and social media, and a film portion that debuts new movies with all the biggest stars in attendance. This massive event attracts people from all over the world and completely takes over the downtown portion of Austin, Texas for a week in March every year.
This was the first time I’ve attended SXSW and I had a fantastic time. It was hectic, stressful, amazing, fun, tiring, exciting and so much more.
I could give you tips on what to do to make sure you avoid making the rookie mistakes I did, but let’s be honest, there are thousands of blogs out there describing how to survive this festival. Instead, check out some of my favorites and not so favorites of SXSW as a marketer navigating the festival alone for the first time.
Constantly being surrounded by like-minded individuals
I can’t begin to explain how many random conversations I was able to have with fellow Social Media Managers, people in the advertising field, decision-makers in the field, etc. while standing in line for a slice of pizza, trying to cross the street on a busy road, or waiting in line for some overbooked event. Conversations about updates to social platforms, who the best panel speaker of the day was, and even hash tag usage was plentiful. Sometimes these moments were more valuable than the actual sessions that were prepared and sponsored as an official event of SXSW.
The sessions were an interesting part of SXSW. They’re basically panels sponsored by SXSW featuring people who have “made it” in the industry and they discussed some topic at hand relating to marketing, social media, or something in that realm. My favorite session was one lead by Facebook and Instagram. It gave great insight from some of the biggest brands in the league. For example, one of the speakers in this session stated that Instagram ads hold a consumer’s attention span longer than Facebook ads. They also mentioned that consumers like to use Instagram to follow brands and celebrities, and use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family.
Live Music Literally Everywhere
SXSW is famous for being a huge live music festival. Most of the bands at sponsored SXSW events are smaller, less known acts, but amazing, nonetheless. The big-name bands get hired by unofficial SXSW parties, and a lot of them aren’t announced until the day before, or the day of the party. This is a fun aspect of the festival because you must stay engaged on Twitter to figure out what surprises are happening. For example, Lana Del Ray announced her performance on both Twitter and Facebook, but The Chainsmokers kept their performance more private and only tweeted about it a couple times.
As much as I enjoyed some of the sessions I attended, some of them were not very valuable to those already in the industry. Many were very basic, as in “Instagram is great for pictures” basic. We totally understand that it’s an intense venue in which to speak, but unfortunately some speakers I encountered missed the mark.
Also, if a popular topic was being covered, or a popular speaker was appearing, attendees needed to be in line an hour before the start time to ensure he/she got a seat. I did find out that a sizable percentage of people that attend SXSW don’t attend the sessions. I heard several people state they didn’t learn enough in past years and it was a better use of their time to network instead. This is something I would focus more time on in the future. Overall, I vote for attending less sessions, avoiding long lines, and simply enjoying the experience and meeting new people with different insights and experiences.
Groups of People
While I am a very social person, it can be intimidating trying to start a conversation or get into a session when everyone around you is in a group. I recommend going to SXSW with at least one or two other people. This way you can separate and get more coverage of the event and share what you learned or you can navigate the craziness of the event with someone else. If you are planning on attending alone, try to find a tribe or develop one quickly after arriving. Some people choose to message individuals through the messaging portion of SXSW’s social profile once they obtain a badge. Some people try to find other singles on one of the first days and connect throughout the week. If I were to go alone again, I’d spend more time at the beginning networking and finding other individuals to attend sessions with or even to brainstorm with. Think power in numbers. SXSW is a huge event to navigate solo.
Overall, this was an amazing event to attend. I gained knowledge for professional purposes and had fun at the same time. SXSW is an awesome event for marketers to attend. Find a couple of key sessions to attend, network as much as possible, get some downtime when you can, and see as much live music as you are able to see and you will have a wonderful time!