A Wide-Eyed First-Time Attendee’s guide to SXSW Interactive

I attended South-by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive for the first time this year (yes, the first time, despite what several people seem to think), accompanying Voce client Monster.com. What did I, the newbie, see and think?

Actually, before I dive in, I was impressed by the “sxswcares” effort, shaking the attendees into at least some awareness of the world around them, and add some action to our week of talking, by encouraging people to make Red Cross donations to benefit the earthquake/tsunami victims in Japan. So hats off to Leigh Durst and company (I know Leigh, apologies to the rest of you , some of whom I met briefly). And please- go to http://www.sxsw4japan.org/ and do what you can.

OK, now here are my SXSW newbie observations:

Everybody Has a Book

@stevegarfield #sxsw

(Steve Garfield, Author of "Get Seen")

I think it’s great, though I always reserve the right to snark. It’s awesome to see friends have success. Many of us in the social media marketing/PR cliques like to poke holes in the bubbles around the books. Many of us in these circles like to smell our own, um, fumes. Both of these groups include the same people (yes, I am looking at you, and me). I count on my friends having thick skins and senses of humor, especially when I tell stories like this:

I had a dream (true) during SXSW that I was the co-author of a Wiley-published book on social media. The problem was, I didn’t know which one. after autographing a copy of a book and noticing my name wasn’t on the cover as author, I started cussing people out until someone mentioned that wasn’t my book- I had written a different social media book. I couldn’t tell the difference, and neither, apparently, could most of the other people in the dream.

I actually told that story to a Wiley editor. Did I mention the long hours on our feet sometimes lead to unguarded moments?

I also toted around a copy of Olivier Blanchard’s new book Social Media ROI. I plan to read it (I promise), but didn’t have time to crack it on the trip. To further puncture the “celebrity” idea of celebrity authors in our relatively isolated group of marketers, I had a bunch of people, all of whom shared the trait of not being Olivier Blanchard, sign the book for me. Olivier thought it was funny, by the way. Good for him.

olivier blanchard social media roi

Actually, the best thing about SXSW is that if I ever am tempted to think I am “cool,” friends (you know who you are) are ready to prick that balloon, and someone else who actually is cool (periodic conference foil Ewan Spence filled that role quote well) invades my space to remind me what the word really means.

Boston People are the Best (sorry, people from everywhere else)

This is just a blatant excuse to shout out the Boston in Austin Tweetup folks, and the fact that the people from Boston (including those who have left to colonize Austin and make it really cool. The Boston Tweetup was crowded from start to finish, a great testament to the passion of the entrepreneurs, developers and marketers in our area. Now, let’s raise the city’s innovation profile, please. Companies like oneforty, Backupify and Hubspot– the party sponsors- are great examples, and I know there are plenty more.

#bosinaus photo for @JoeCascio #sxsw

Trade Show vs Conference: The Changing of the Vibe

SXSW is huge; there are three conferences, Interactive, Film and Music, that overlap, with a trade show bridging them over four of the ten days. The first few days were all conference speaking and panel sessions, and a real atmosphere combining collegiality and idea sharing sprung up. On Monday the 14th, the trade show floor opened and you could feel the whole event flip over to a new thing. The sessions continued, but all of a sudden there were more people, and a different vibe, as the exhibitors and “booth people” all of a sudden had a huge presence. It wasn’t a bad thing, but the change struck me more than I thought it would. did anyone else feel the same way?

SXSW Expo Floor Panorama

(SXSW Expo Floor Panorama by CC Chapman)

The Only Thing Worse Than waiting in Line is Being Crabby About It

The parties are to relax and have fun. If you choose to attend an event that has a wait to get in, be fine with it and move on. Don’t treat the door people like crap because you don’t like how they are doing things. I saw a little mild unjustified behavior that made me (probably visibly) roll my eyes a little. Relax and have fun, folks. You’re going to have to turn around and work all day on four hours or less of sleep. Did you have fun at SXSW? Did you get things done?



  1. The dream part is hilarious! And good on Olivier for thinking the book signing was funny. I adore people with good senses of humor and who don’t take themselves too seriously.

    Nice write up–sounds like you had a nice time.


  2. Nice write up Doug. This was my third year in a row attending SXSWi and boy have things change. The first year I was like a kid in a candy store. I was able to meet and chat with all my social media heros. Last year brought more people, more parties and more sessions. It also brought more fanboys, fangirls and douchebags. This year was even crazier but I forced it to work for me. My reconnections were fewer but definitely more meaningful. I’m both scared and excited to see how the fourth year goes but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

  3. Jen- thanks! (And I didn’t say anything about olivier not taking himself too seriously ;P)

    Derek, – Yes, I wonder when the event hits a size limit. I made a ton of connections too, including people I “knew’ but had never met (whether we thought we had or not). I decided not to drop a “great to meet you” list of names because, well, does anyone reading this care?

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