Earlier this month I attended my very first SXSW Interactive (SXSWi). Armed with a badge paid for by my job and an appetite for BBQ and fried foods, I headed to Austin. As a social/digital professional, it was shocking to a lot of people that I’d never been. I got a lot of advice, most of which anticipated me being totally overwhelmed and subjected to a number of pretentious interactions. Included, of course, was this Onion article from 2013, that sadly reminded me a lot of myself. What I found was different.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was a ton going on and I received at least one business card that I swear included “Taco aficionado” as one of three job titles. But I also went to an amazing talk on the importance of branding and social impact during a time where facts are losing their impact. How to work in an environment when people go to their friends and social media for medical advice before doctors, if they even go to the doctor at all, leading to the question: Is this the end of experts? I was able to see a ton of new companies and organizations at the tech fair that were of course pushing virtual reality pretty hard, but others that we also making it easier for us to customize health, news, food, content and more. We were invited to take 5 minutes to meditate or learn about apps that help support global good or promote diversity in the work place. I made it to a panel on diversity in digital storytelling, featuring prominent actors and directors from YouTube, and was able to meet people from around the world interested in the future of communications.
And then I realized that SXSWi is still exactly the kind of conference that social/digital marketers and the tech industry need and want. We are constantly moving, learning and posting. We need to be able to not just to explain social media to our clients and co-workers, but also talk to reps from major platforms and know what new ad type or trend is coming down the pipeline. We have to be calm but also ready to execute big ideas, rebuttals or responses in a crisis situation. And all of this in an industry where change and growth are consistent and facing skepticism is still a daily part of our work.
Did I eat a deep-fried avocado? Absolutely, twice. Did I get to see DJ Jazzy Jeff perform and catch at least two new films? Without question. Did I get a free drink on the roof of the IBM house? Yes, multiple. But those were all supplemental to the great people I met, the engaging conversations, the stand-out panels and innovative technology I encountered. I was re-energized for the daily rollercoaster of working in the digital space that requires creativity, thoughtfulness and a desire to push boundaries. It enforced the belief that the conversations we are having do matter and make us better at what we do.
So when I returned to my office to the question “So was SXSW worth what it cost to send you there?” followed by a laugh from the rest of the room, I could confidently say: Yes, it was, and here’s how what I learned can make us better.