I share this story as a great example how finding your tribe during SXSW can mean the difference between simply “networking” and making lasting friendships that simultaneously make you (and your brand!) more memorable to others.
Several years ago during SXSW, two young men approached me asking if they could photograph my SXSW official Platinum Badge “for an article they were working on”. As a veteran attendee and former employee of the festival, I knew better. They were probably going to print out the badge and attempt to scam their way into SXSW events for free. Little did they know, not only does SXSW utilize a microchip to be scanned inside each badge, but they also have swift penalties for anyone who attempts fraud - including the badge holder.
Instead of allowing them to photograph my badge, I declined and called them on their bluff. Knowing they were likely just looking for an enjoyable time, I proceeded to offer to show them “how SXSW is really done”.
This was their first year at SXSW. They had come down to Austin, Texas from New Jersey entirely without official SXSW badges, and also without RSVP’s to any unofficial events. Total newbies. Don’t get me wrong - they would have had a good enough time figuring it all out on their own - nearly everyone does, and that’s part of the beauty of SXSW. But they were fortunate to cross paths with me, a 10+ year SXSW veteran able to remove the learning curve entirely.
Each day during the festival we proceeded to attend dozens of panels, parties, events, special movie screenings, giveaways, keynotes, and more. As a group, our presence was far stronger. People remembered us. If a special event let in just one of us, they would let in all of us. Our group continued to grow and turned into an easily-recognizable bunch of people who were not only fun to be around, but always at the “it” parties. Everyone wanted to be us, and in turn, they shared their tips and access with us. Because of this, we learned so much more and had so many more enjoyable experiences than if we had been flying solo. This, I believe, is the most important SXSW lesson of all.
If you try to “Do SXSW” as a company or as a brand, but forget about being a person, you’ll find that you won’t enjoy it as much or get as much out of it as if you were to share your interests and time with others.
It has been several years now, and these same fella’s have continued to attend SXSW, making a larger and larger splash each year. They each own businesses and continue to make great things happen for themselves and others.
Here’s a video these very same guys made last year entitled, “What is SXSW?”. Clearly they’ve got the hang of SXSW!