South by Southwest, or SXSW as most know it, is the largest film, interactive, and music conference-meets-festival in the world.
One can easily be overwhelmed with choices - which panel? what party? what do I wear? All valid questions, but for the most part, if you’re attending SXSW on behalf of a business or brand, you probably have some goals other than “Drink as much free booze as possible."
• SXSW is broken into 3 official events, each with a significant amount of overlap into the other. There’s the Interactive portion (SXSWi), Film, and Music. Although most people attend only one or two of the events, some attend all three, which I highly recommend everyone do at least once in their lives.
• You’ll hear about “unofficial” events & parties. “Unofficial” means that a paid SXSW badge is not required and that the event is not officially hosted by, or affiliated with SXSW. Oftentimes an RSVP or special wristband is required for these types of events. Try to research and RSVP for as much as possible ahead of time so you’ll have the proper credentials.
• Print out details for each and every event you’d like to attend. Include date & time of event, as well as address & a brief description. I recommend having a separate schedule printed for each day of the festival you are attending. Yes, it’s very old school, but you’ll thank me when your electronics die or a group of strangers is impressed with your preparedness. Heck, make a few copies and make some friends.
• When to get in line?
• Panels: 20mins-1hr before. Use this time to post on social, charge your devices, & get to know others.
• Keynote: 2-4 hours beforehand. Yes, really. President Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, are two of the Keynote speakers this year. Take care to ensure nothing on your person would disallow your presence in the ballroom. For these two keynotes, security will be strict and waits will likely be significantly longer than normal.
• Unofficial parties & events: 30-60 mins beforehand for the smaller ones. Larger ones, expect to wait a minimum of an hour, depending on popularity.
• Music events. 1-4 hours in advance. The ‘lower’ your badge and the more popular the show, the longer your wait.
Going Social at SXSW:
• Networking is not a necessity. *Gasp* There, I said it. I don’t care how many wonderful people you meet. You’ll meet dozens upon dozens of really awesome, interesting, intelligent people… all probably doing things you wish you were doing. You’ll listen intently. You’ll take notes. You’ll trade contact information. And you know what? None of it matters because by the time you get home you’ll be overwhelmed with what I like to call “pieces of people” in the form of fliers, business cards, and brochures. I urge you, dear reader, instead of networking, find your tribe. Or go and make one. How do you do this? One very simple step:
Seek out like-minded people. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the same industry, have the same goals as you, or are even anywhere close in age. Find people you enjoy spending time with. Go to panels together. Take turns picking parties and events. Get up to no good together. Have FUN. These people will be the framework for your success in getting to know others. Everyone else will remember your group. When they dig through their bag of goodies and copious amounts of business cards, they’re remember “Oh, that girl from Thin Pig Media and her group of friends was really fun and interesting!” Additionally, you’ll have friends for life, and hopefully they’ll return to SXSW year after year as you expand your tribe, becoming influencers of the festival.
Posting Content During SXSW:
What you post is far more important than how often you post.
• Twitter: Unless you’re live-tweeting a panel, most of your followers don’t care to read what you’re up to. They want content that matters to them. If they’re taking time to read your tweets during the festival, they’re probably not at SXSW. Think of what you’re learning and share it.
• Instagram: Post clear photos of something unique. A seated panel or crowd looking at a band is not unique. Be sure to use any event-specific hashtags, and tag the geo-location of your photo. The venue “Stubbs BBQ” is a better location tag than “Austin, TX” or “SXSW”.
• Facebook: Longer posts work great here. You want easily digestible shareable content with 2-4 photos, with 3-5 paragraphs, similar to the format of a short news article.
• Snapchat: Share your snap story on a day-by-day basis at SXSW. People will love it!
• Periscope, Facebook, or Google - go live! Viewers who can’t make the festival or perhaps had too much tacos & tequila will enjoy seeing what’s happening live.
How Often Should You Post?:
Post as much as you like! I mentioned above content is more important than frequency, but there are a few things to note:
• Twitter: The average ‘lifetime’ of a Tweet is 18 minutes.
• Instagram: Post 2-4 times per day, depending on your audience & brand.
• Facebook: Content is surfaced by “popularity," so focus on posting things people will want to share!
• Snapchat stories, Periscope, Facebook Live & Google Hangouts are time-sensitive and make the most sense when access is limited. Did you get into the Barack Obama keynote? Go live! Keep in mind this form of communication is really fun, but also tends to target a younger demographic. Know your audience before focusing your time here.
Use Tools To Schedule Your Content:
One way to save yourself time & continue interest on your social feeds is to use a tool such as Sprout Social to help schedule posts ahead of time. Let social work for you - even when you’re sleeping…who are we kidding, no one actually sleeps during SXSW!
While Attending the Event:
• Be memorable!
• Wear a unique hat or style of clothing. Don’t be afraid to be silly or stand out.
• When exchanging contact information, don’t hesitate to include all of your social media handles & website or blog links.
• Take a ‘selfie’ with the person. This will help them remember you!
• Reciprocate. If they add you on social media, add them back.
• After the festival, follow up with a note and some details about where you met. “It was so nice to meet you at the Thin Pig SXSW Party, I really enjoyed discussing content marketing with you. Look me up if you’re ever in Seattle, and you can also add me on Instagram & Twitter @thinpigmedia.”
Keep Those Electronics Charged:
The convention center is ground zero for sad, powerless electronics. You’ll see dozens of people huddled around outlets, impatiently waiting for their devices to return to life. Don’t be like them. If the walk to your hotel room is too much to bear, you do have a few options.
• If you’ve got VIP lounge access, make a beeline there. Refreshments, seating, & outlets galore.
• There are charging stations within the trade show and convention center.
• Some panels at the convention center have seating that is close to a wall outlet. Get there early and grab one of these spots. They’re rare, but sometimes you’ll get lucky.
• Almost all downtown hotel lobby restrooms have outlets. Sure, you’re hanging out in a restroom, but when people see what you’re doing, don’t be surprised if others join in. Make the best of it.
• During the daytime, find bars that do not have special events going on. Sit at the bar, grab a beverage, tip your bartender, and ask if they’d be so kind as to plug in your device behind the well. It’s Austin, so it helps here to be self-depreciating and admit you’re one of those annoying tourists and apologize. Endear them further by quickly ordering a Lone Star, soda, or something super simple. Now is NOT the time to ask questions about the local drinks.
Stay In The Loop:
Here are my top 3 recommended resources to stay in the know:
The bottom line at SXSW is to be sure to make meaningful connections with other attendees, and utilize the time you’re waiting in line to post content on social that will engage, excite, & educate your readership, going live only when it makes sense.