How to Win Friends and Influence People [at SXSW]

This past week, I attended the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas for the first time. I had the opportunity to assist a large global company host a number of activations on the ground at SXSW which showed me a lot about how brands can break through the noise at such a large conference to leave a lasting impact on consumers. It also taught me a bit about myself and how I can attempt to stay focused on running and training even when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

Below, you’ll find a couple of insights I gained from my time in Austin (aside from the fact that Austin truly has amazing breakfast tacos and BBQ).

For Brands:

    1. Don’t Be Intrusive: This piece of advice is twofold. First, when meeting someone for the first time, try to establish a relationship before you begin selling. While assisting one of my clients who serves as the Director of Social Media and Digital Communications for a very large company, I often felt like a bodyguard who had to protect her from people spouting out pitches on why their app/product/agency/etc. should be used. Second, if you are a large brand who hopes to capitalize on the buzz surrounding SXSW, do not interrupt attendees’ conference experience with activations that A) don’t make sense or B) don’t tie back to your company or product.
    2. Solve a Problem: One of the best ways to leave potential customers at an event as large as SXSW with positive impressions of your brand is to find a way to solve their problems that reflects back on your product or company. Companies that do both of these things well – solve problems while allowing consumers to have experiences with their products – will come out as winners. At SXSW, I saw a lot of organizations trying to solve users’ problems (with free food or free charging stations), but I honestly can’t remember who was handing out free breakfast tacos on the corner or who had the jacket that could charge mobile devices because there was never a true connection between the company and the freebie
    3. Provide Value: A lot of companies head down to SXSW to build relationships with influential social media users. There are many ways to do this, and a lot of times they involve lots of free products. That’s fine, but try to think creatively about how you can fulfill a need in a thoughtful way. While in Austin, I overheard my clients chatting about how they’d like to meet other in-house social media managers. With their permission, I organized a dinner that brought together social media directors and community managers from several large organizations. This proved to be a big success – the conversation lasted for three hours as everyone discussed ideas, challenges, and successes they’ve seen in their roles. Both the clients and the other attendees were very happy to leave the dinner with several new connections.

For Staffers:

    1. Try to Maintain Parts of Your Normal Routine…: Traveling always throws off my routine. Add in traveling for a massive conference where I’d be working long hours and I knew the only way to maintain some sanity would be to keep some aspects of my regular habits in place. I decided to focus on two things: running in the mornings and getting in as many fruits and veggies as possible. Everything else went out the window: personal social media activities, reading, cross training, strength training, and yoga. Luckily, I made a running buddy who kept me motivated to wake up early and go running in the rain. Trying to keep up with everything I normally do would have been disastrous, but having two tasks to focus on allowed me to stay on track with my training plan and my health while still giving 100% to my work tasks.
    2. … But Be Flexible: Big conferences are notorious for crazy schedules, which can get even crazier if you are working the event. With my OCD tendencies, I often find myself stressing when my normal routine is disrupted. However, before heading to Austin, I prepared myself for this inevitability. Sure enough, last-minute meetings and events and deadlines popped up, causing me to rearrange my personal schedule. The day for my long run changed three times, I switched my rest day twice, and changed the time I woke up daily. And… I survived.
    3. Follow-up: SXSW, at its core, is a networking event. Even if you’re staffing an event and never step foot inside a panel or party, you will be connecting with lots of people from a variety of industries. If you meet anyone who you enjoyed speaking with, be sure to follow-up once the dust from Austin settles. Don’t rely on the business card exchange – I received many business cards that simply got misplaced as I ran from event to event assisting my clients. Now, I’m hoping many of those who I met will reach out via email or on social channels. I recommend following people on Twitter and sending a quick @reply to remind them of your conversation, adding them to specific Twitter lists (I immediately created two new ones), trying to connect on LinkedIn, or sending a quick email with your contact information. Also, in your introductory email, please don’t pitch the person. This is your chance to start a relationship and the fastest way to ruin it is to reach out with the sole purpose of pitching your product, service, or need for a job.

These are just a few takeaways I had after leaving Austin, but there are many others. What do you recommend for both brands, staffers, and attendees heading to large conferences and events such as SXSW? How can they make the most of their experience and leave the largest impact?

One thought on “How to Win Friends and Influence People [at SXSW]

  1. Meg: it was great to meet you this week at SXSW. Enjoyed reading this post. Really like that you saw a need to connect in-house social media managers and organized a dinner…fantastic stuff!

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