SXSWi 2013It’s been seven years since I last attended SXSW. I was working at Nielsen and gave a presentation with Yahoo and Harris Interactive on what people around the world really do on the Web. I shared data about the early surge of social media — particularly blogs and communities — and the growing opportunity for marketers to connect with customers in these new venues. It was a fun and manageable event experience.

So much has changed since then! As adoption of Twitter, Facebook, and smartphones has exploded, so have the numbers of marketers and interactive professionals who attend SXSW. I now find myself paying over $800 per night for a hotel suite, which I’m sharing with colleagues. SXSW should consider changing its business model by giving away event tickets and simply taxing Austin housing providers.

And this year, instead of reporting on early adoption of social media, I’m leading a SXSW session on the emergence of Graph Search, Facebook’s “third pillar” next to Timeline and News Feed. How are users adopting it? And what are marketers doing about it?

Indeed, SXSW is a major commitment in terms of cost, time and energy. To make the most of SXSW, I’ve asked several veterans for advice. My objectives are business development, learning and enjoyment. Here are some of the most frequently cited tips.

1. Don’t panic. SXSW is overwhelming. There is too much hype, too many expectations, too many people to see and too much great content.

2. Book your travel early. Planes and housing are scarce relative to the volume of people, which means that you will probably pay an arm and a leg and possibly resort to inconvenient or unconventional options.

3. Go for small events. Whether hosting your own, or attending others, seek out small events and dinners to allow for more engaging conversations and networking.

4. Prioritize sessions. Prioritize the sessions, events and people you’d like to see. Take advantage of Eventbrite and the official SXSW scheduling app to learn about events and share your schedule.

5. Embrace serendipity. Although you’ve created a schedule, be open and flexible to valuable surprises and connections.

6. Be social. Say hello to everyone.

7. Drink water. With long days full of walking, presentations, parties and little sleep, be sure to drink lots of water.

8. Travel light. Sport a comfortable backpack or something similar, and bring only lightweight gadgets. Leave your laptop in your hotel room.

9. Prep for power. Bring your gadget chargers and extra batteries.

10. Schedule appointments in late mornings. People tend to get busy and often change their plans from midday on. So schedule appointments over a late breakfast, after recovering from the prior night’s parties.

11. Embrace the bbq. BBQ is not the only thing to eat in Austin, but get ready to eat a lot of it.

If you’re a SXSW veteran, what advice do you have?

This article also ran in MediaPost.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

Leave a comment