Five Takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2012

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on March 13, 2012

Another SXSW is in the books and most of the interactive world is suffering after five days (or more) of panels, networking events and parties. Contrary to what some of the experts argue before, during and after the show, SXSW still has plenty of value for brands and individuals alike. Has it become too big? Maybe. Can it be difficult to navigate for those attendees who are visiting for the first time? Yes. Is it an accurate reflection of what Austin is as a city? Definitely not. There are certainly some things that could be changed about SXSW, but to say it has no value is completely inaccurate. Here are five things I am taking away from this year’s show:

  1. Geo-targeting consumers is becoming very important – I am not a location-based marketing expert by any means, especially when compared to my colleague, Aaron Strout, but it was clear how important this medium has become. There was plenty of conversation at this year’s show about Highlight, but I’m talking entirely about tools. Marketers want to know how they reach people in specific locations in real-time. That’s where we’re going, and that was a significant source of conversation this year.
  2. The networking value cannot be beat – Even the most vocal critics of SXSW don’t (in most cases) doubt the networking value of the show. Most of the brightest minds in interactive are all in one location for almost a week. If you miss an opportunity to engage with someone that you’ve only met online it’s really your own fault.
  3. How big is too big – In talking to some people over the course of the last week, there seems to be a sense that the show has gotten too big. I’m not really sure how we quantify that because the organizers of SXSW are obviously in it to not only offer quality content, but make money at the same time. To be fair, there are probably more sessions than are needed, but turning away attendees? I’m not sure how that could be done. The growth of the space means we’re likely to continue seeing crowds like we saw this week. It just places a greater emphasis on planning ahead.
  4. We didn’t see the next big app/network – I could be calling this one prematurely, and surely someone will dig it up if I’m wrong, but I wasn’t exposed to an app that I thought was a game changer. Could Highlight be that app? Maybe. There appear to be several flaws (including how it identifies like-minded individuals) in the model that could be corrected, but are currently inhibiting its more widespread use.
  5. Brands can derive value from SXSW – In addition to the networking, a number of brands devote significant resources to establishing a presence at the show. Two of the biggest brands this year were Chevrolet and Samsung. Chevrolet had its Volt Lounge and Catch a Chevy program, while Samsung sponsored the blogger lounge, unveiled their Interactive Hub Media Wall and talked about its U.S. Olympic Genome Project.  Additionally, both brands were on the premises conducting interviews and capturing the event as it happened in real-time. I had a chance to catch up with Stephanie Wonderlin, who was Chevy’s host for the interactive festival to get her take on the show and, more directly, what she was doing with the company’s team. Take a look.

There’s value in almost everything if you know where to look. If you’ve never been, consider coming next year. But, before you do, make sure you lay out a proper game plan. Chances are good it’s only going to get bigger.

By: Chuck Hemann

Director, Analytics

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7 Responses

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  1. Thanks Chuck…agree with 99% of your post. As I wrote on my own blog this week, the size of SXSW has outgrown the wonderful city of Austin. I love the place and am always looking forward to spending time down there. But the city cannot deal with the crowds and basic services (hotel, meeting space, etc.) are woefully inadequate for the size now. I’d hate to see it move somewhere else, but I don’t see another option.

    Your right: nothing replaces good old planning in advance. But still, the hotel, meeting space and infrastructure problems are very real and something that has to be addressed.

    Great seeing you and thanks for the post.


  2. Thanks, Scott. Enjoyed meeting you. It’s an interesting question, and I’m sure one they are debating behind closed doors. Look forward to seeing you again soon.

  3. Chuck, it great to see you and several of the WCG crew (albeit briefly).

    I’d love to hear Aaron’s take on Highlight and other apps of that ilk sometime. To me it’s a “cute” approach in wanting to connect marketers with prospects and customers in real time, but misses the mark big time in providing the right kind of value or experience to users themselves. I, for one, deleted Highlight and its crapptastic brethren within a couple minutes. Call me a ‘hater’ – I just think it’s the opposite of where LBS could/should be headed.

    I had an awesome SXSW this year despite the rain, crowds and badglessness – looking forward to more in the future!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Nick, and it was great to meet you during the conference.

  5. As a first-timer, what struck me was #3 — it *is* too big. I don’t mean the crowds and the lines and the stuff like that. It’s that there is now so much going on that the ability to be surprised is minimal. The whole structure of the meeting seems to sort people: we’ll put the startup people here. We’ll put the design people here. We’ll put the health people somewhere else, a mile away.

    The times I wanted to step out of my track and see something different, it was too far or too difficult or — in one case — too crowded and I was (literally) locked out.

    These are personal problems, not SXSW problems (I think they probably work in favor of the conference). But even a virgin can see that the charm of the meeting has to do with the potential for serendipity, but it’s obvious that serendipity is way harder to find now than it must have been in the past …

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Regulating PR, Working Harder and Leaving Google linked to this post on March 15, 2012

    […] Five Takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2012 – my buddy Chuck Hemann takes a look at what five trends stood out to him at this year’s SXSW. […]

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