Apr 6, 2012

In the midst of the madness that was SXSW, it was hard to tell what aspects of the experience would make the greatest impact on me and remain present in my (challenged) memory. It’s a good thing I was tweeting and taking notes during the sessions, as the specifics are a bit of a blur right now. You can read those words of wisdom here and here and here and here.

As a whole, I can say it was a wondrous experience. The people I met and the lessons I learned opened my eyes to new possibilities for tech advances, online marketing and social networking communications. It was about networking and inspiration and validation. (And eating and exploring and fun, too!) It’s impossible to relay the effect of the entire experience. Rather, it’s one of those stories that would inevitably end with, “you just had to be there.”

As for the content of the conference, hindsight makes it easier to spot recurring topics. Here are four of the most prominent themes we are sure to hear more about this year:

  • Content Strategy. This is the end all, be all. You better have a content strategy. Or a content strategist on your team (head’s up for new job function). And guess what? Content strategy is super hard. This needs to be a whole separate blog post.
  • Data visualizations. (Not as much on Infographics but they’re still big). The web is becoming more visual. Your content better be, too. The key word here is DATA. Best soundbite: “Certain types of content lend themselves to infographics. Not everything. If there is no data, you’re doing it wrong.” – Shane Snow, Co-Founder of Contently. Here’s a pretty cool infographic on SXSW itself.
  • Storytelling. It’s no surprise Facebook is leading this trend with its conversion to Timeline. Every brand has a story. It’s about how you are telling it and to whom.
  • Social media for social change. Between several social good sessions and the keynote address by Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, it became clear that we are entering a new era of citizen Internet. I can’t even begin to imagine what can be accomplished if we try.

Many of these key learnings were conveyed at a recent gathering hosted by PRSA Miami, where local PR leaders who attended SXSW shared their insights. Below are some video segments from those presentations to help tell the story.

On a lighter note, here are some of my personal SXSW highlights and lowlights.


  • Many SXSWi veterans told me to skip the panels and head to the parties. But for me it was the other way around. The sessions were great!
  • Still, after the official events, I was happy to veer off the SXSW beaten path to explore the dynamic energy and experiences that Austin has to offer. Among them: The best food truck cuisine you can imagine. I vowed never to eat another meal unless it came from a vehicle, with or without wheels. (Some of their best ones are stationary.)
  • The best moment for me was running into the members of one of my favorite bands, The Bright Light Social Hour, just walking down the street in downtown Austin. Joy!
  • Google Village – There were tech companies everywhere in Austin, and all kinds of crazy takeovers and displays. I think Google did the best job of delivering a great brand experience, taking over four houses on a trendy Austin block, featuring enthusiastic employees doing real-time product demos, with Google maps front and center. Check out some photos here.
  • Billy Corgan, lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins, made a surprise appearance at Google Village while I was unknowingly sipping a beer with new friends. He came to SXSW to deliver a message to music fans to support their favorite bands, and decried the evolution of the “singles” market during an interview with author and social media strategist Brian Solis.


  • The shuttle service was THE WORST. I found myself walking under the interstate dodging homeless people just to shorten my travel time on the shuttle.
  • The big parties. Totally overrated. Too loud for networking and long lines for everything. Best quote about this goes to Chris Brogan, whom I was delighted to finally meet in person at a South-by meet-up!  He said: “You will NOT meet amazing people at the Mashable/wherever party. YOU are the amazing person.”

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