I heard that from several friends when I asked them about their SXSW plans for this year. This, along with the reviews I heard from people that attended last year (which I missed), made me a bit worried about what my third SXSW experience would be like.
It was my best trip yet to SXSW, hands down.
The wonderful thing about SXSW is it’s the only place in the world that gives you access to such an amazing group of people. I got to talk brand advocacy with Jackie Huba and Virginia Miracle. I talked marketing to teens via social media with marketers from Nokia and Coca-Cola. I watched as a few brilliant people organized an effort on the fly to raise tens of thousands of dollars for Japan quake victims. There’s only one place on the planet where all this could happen, and it is in Austin, Texas in March.
The SXSW experience isn’t perfect, but as is such with much of life, it is what you make of it. For example, one of the biggest complaints I have had (and heard from others), is that it doesn’t make sense to spend a couple of thousand dollars to go socialize for 3-4 days in Austin every year. I was determined to get real business value and leads from SXSW this year. So as soon as I had it finalized that I was attending, I started reaching out to companies/people that I wanted to connect with, as well as letting everyone know what my schedule would be. It made a HUGE difference in my experience in Austin. Hell I was talking business with a SXSW attendee in the Houston airport for my connecting flight TO Austin last Friday. Better planning and being proactive about attempting to connect with people made all the difference.
The Sessions: I honestly only attended one actual session, Valeria Maltoni’s session on Influence, and I only caught a few minutes of it. I did catch the Content Rules book reading with Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, as well as David Merrman Scott’s book reading of Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead. But I heard from many people that the sessions were surprisingly good this year. I was happy to hear this, because the quality of the sessions had been woefully lacking in my 2 previous trips to SXSW. Good to hear that wasn’t as big of an issue for 2011.
So the bottom line: Should you attend SXSW next year?
My advice is yes IF you properly plan. Here’s what I would suggest you do if you want to attend SXSW:
1 – Buy your badge as soon as possible. This will save you money, and you can always sell the badge to someone else later if you decide you can’t make it.
2 – Reserve a room in a hotel downtown. A big reason why you want to buy your badge early is so you can also get your room booked. Now a big reason why my SXSW experience was so much better this year was because I was able to get a room at the Hilton, which is literally across the street from the Convention Center where SXSWi is held. But you don’t have to go with the Hilton, the Marriott and Hampton Inn downtown will all put you within 2-3 blocks of SXSW and most of the off-site events and parties you would want to attend. I believe the Four Seasons is close by. Yes, these hotels are a bit more expensive, but I think the convenience factor makes up for it. Other than the cab ride to the airport, you should never pay more than $10 for a cab fare anywhere, even if you can’t find a buddy to catch a ride with.
3 – Decide exactly WHY you are going to SXSW, and plan accordingly. Are you going to socialize? Then make a list of the people that you absolutely have to meet/connect with, and start contacting them ASAP. Also, figure out where the ‘hot-spots’ are for people hanging out (The Blogger’s Lounge is always a safe bet. Figure out where it is located and use it as your ‘home base’).
Are you going for business leads and networking? Then same thing, make a list of the people/companies you have to connect with, and find a way to make that happen. You want to do this planning because NO plan is safe at SXSW 😉 Schedules are constantly changing, I had meetings run over, I had other people cancel meetings, I had others wanting to schedule some on-site. Everything is fluid with SXSW, so the sooner you can plan ahead and lock people down, the better.
4 – Let everyone know where you are and will be. I’m not a big FourSquare user, but I was using it often at SXSW, simply to let others know where I was in case they were looking for me. I was also doing the same thing, I actually avoided one party because I saw that only a couple of people that I knew were tweeting from there, while another event had more people I knew. And also write a blog post sharing where you will be, I had several people contact me to meet after I wrote a post saying where I will be.
5 – See if you can get help covering travel costs. Going to SXSW *is* expensive. Even if you book early, you will still pay $450 for your badge, plus $300 a night for hotel, and probably close to $500 for flight. Add in food, cabs, and anything else you want to buy while in town, and you could easily hit $2,500+ for the cost of the trip. If you work for a company, see if they can pay some/all of your costs for you to go to connect with others. If you are an independent, see if you can go with a client and have them help defray your costs, in exchange for connecting them with others while there. Or if you are a blogger, maybe a company would be willing to sponsor your trip? The great thing about SXSW is that almost all of the ‘big names’ in the social media space are there. And companies want to connect with these influencers. If you are an influencer or can help your company/clients by connecting them to these people, there’s value in that for companies.
6 – If you are a content creator, take advantage of SXSW. I really didn’t do a good job of this, other than taking a few dozen pictures. As I’ve said before, you have unprecedented access to smartitude at SXSW, so take advantage of that to chat with people, interview them for posts, shoot a quick video with them, etc.
After having gone three times, from my own experiences and from the feedback I’ve gotten from others, I can tell that the time you invest in planning out your SXSW experience has a HUGE impact on it. Yes, serendipity happens often in Austin (and it’s amazing), but you can’t make serendipity your plan. If you want to connect with certain individuals, make that happen, the earlier the better.
Here’s a few more pics from SXSW, and tomorrow I will have a full review of the 1st ever LIVE #Blogchat!
Katherine Salt says
Thanks for the tips, will definitely follow those for Blogworld NY.
Really good to hear a postive report back from SXSW too. If you had to pick only one conference a year to go to would SXSW make the top spot?
Mack Collier says
Hey Katherine! It really depends on what your needs are. For example, if you are just getting started and need Social Media 101 level help, then SXSW isn’t the best bet. I think Blog World Expo would be a bit better here, but it’s not perfect either.
However if you are going for networking, both SXSW and Blogworld are excellent choices. For me, I am more interested in the networking, so SXSW works for me. I’ve never been to Blogworld, but may go to the NYC show.
Katherine Salt says
Thanks for replying.
I went to BWE10 when I just started last year, only 4 entries in the blog and jsut given up the day job. I found there was some great content for a beginner like me and more importantly I was overwhelmed with how kind an supportive everyone I met was. I was slightly panicky about starting up on my own but came away feeling really positive so I am back for NY :o)
I will be interested to find out how you get on if you do decided to go to NYC, great to hear a different perspective.
Ann Handley says
You know this was my first SXSW. For various reasons, I just couldn’t make it in the past. And to be clear, I almost didn’t come this year… because I have too much else going on right now, and the jaunt to Austin (a long, expensive flight! On a weekend! For just 2 days!) started to feel insane.
But wow I’m glad I did…. In part, because I got to see you (!) along with a few key close friends (and some new ones!) we were hanging around with (Attention! Herd of Turtles Now Crossing!). But more than that, I feltl inspired and fired up by the energy of the place.
Yeah there are parties, and boring sessions, and good sessions, and rock stars, and a book author every time you turn around, and more parties — some with cowboy hats! — and some amazing charity fundraising, and brands all trying to out-brand each other, and some doing a really good job of it, too. None of that is particularly special on its own. But collectively, that adds up to some serious inspiration.
Was it perfect? No way. Parts of it (registration comes to mind) was downright annoying. But still… I came away feeling more lit by the energy of our industry than I’ve felt in a long time. As the commercials say… that’s priceless.
Mack Collier says
Ann the ironic thing is, I think you missed some of the best parts of SXSW. Sunday was #Blogchat ;), but #AllHat really is the best ‘party’ at SXSW. Very low-key and everyone is there. Totally our speed. And Friday afternoon the Blogger Lounge is great, as it’s the first real day, and everyone is there as well. Sat was good, but I think if you had been there Friday-Sun, you would have been blown away.
Next year! I was just happy I got to see you for a day 😉
Ann Handley says
#BlogChat LIVE, AllHat…. You know you’re killing me, right….? 😉
This is awesome advice, not just for SXSW, but pretty much any convention or function that you plan to network at.
Mack Collier says
Thanks David, only took me 3 times at SXSW to start to figure this stuff out 😉
Dave Delaney says
I was really bummed that I couldn’t make it this year.
I think the trick with the sessions, what I learned last year, is to choose sessions you know nothing about. They are the best and will help to broaden your mind.
Of course going to friend’s sessions is a must too.
I love the photos and seeing so many of my friends in them. SXSW is like spring camp, it’s a big reunion and chance to get those hugs, high-fives and handshakes in.
I hope to be there next year! Thanks for the recap Mack!
Mack Collier says
Dave sorry we didn’t get to meet, maybe next year? I think that’s good advice about the sessions, unfortunately there were SEVERAL at the 11am Sunday timeslot that I wanted to see. But with AllHat3 starting at 12, it wasn’t possible. But it seems like that happens every year with SXSW.
David Meerman Scott says
This was also my third SXSW and my best yet. I arrived in Austin thinking “I won’t come next year.” But I left Austin thinking “I want to come back.”
Mack Collier says
David it was great to meet you, and seeing your reading of Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead convinced me to buy it, so there’s direct ROI on the trip for you 😉
tom martin says
You nail it when you say success at SXSW is all about pre-planning. Last year (my first) I did none and really was kind of bored. But this year, given that I was there doing a bit of content creation, I had no choice but to plan to meet folks so I could interview them. It made all the diff in the world.
And funny how, as you’re planning to meet folks it puts you in the orbit of others that you meet by sheer coincidence. FTW.
Glad we got to catch up a bit and want to keep that convo going we started at the ATX Airport…
Deb Ng says
This was my best SXSW ever too. At first I wasn’t sure because it was so big this year.I’m not a party person and parties weren’t my goal but it was my most productive conference ever (that I didn’t help organize.). I met so many wonderful people, and the meetings weren’t the time sucks I expected them to be. And, as always, the most valuable connections are made in the blogger lounge.
I enjoyed meeting and planning with you as well, and look forward to getting to know you even better.
Mack Collier says
Thank you Deb, it was great to meet you! The Blogger’s Lounge was definitely the perfect place to meet everyone, I wish there had been some small offices/meeting rooms nearby that people could duck into, that would have made it perfect for those impromptu meetings.
Congrats again on all the success of #SXSWCares!