Toronto at South by Southwest Interactive – Part 2

Have you ever wondered what goes on at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas?  Have you ever asked yourself if this is the type of event you should be attending?  Ask no more.  We asked 5 members of the Toronto community who attended SXSW earlier this month.  All week long we will be featuring an individual who attended the interactive festival, to get their thoughts. 

Yesterday we spoke with Erin Bury.  Today we speak with Melissa Smich who takes care of community building for ms

Why was it important for you personally to go to SXSWi?

Personally, this was a huge professional and personal growth opportunity for me: it was my first out-of-town conference through and I was speaking on a panel with the infamous Jeremy Wright.

The week before the show, the major SXSW sponsors, IFC, called me up to schedule an interview about my panel while in Austin. I was blown away to walk into a full set as they clipped two microphones to my shirt and directed four cameras onto me… no pressure. But the whole trip basically went like that – finding myself in unexpected situations and trying my best to represent with justice.

Overall, I knew I had a lot to learn and even more to prove, so there was a lot of pressure on me for my performance and overall capabilities/results.  

Why was it important for Softcom to have a presence at SXSWi?

Last year, we deployed our Software Developer and music blogger, Ricky Lam, into the SXSW battle field. After a successful return, we decided it would be beneficial to have a presence from our marketing department; you know, to divide and conquer.

The conference also had a 40 per cent growth surge this year, so it was bigger and badder than any year that preceded it and, unexpectedly, bigger than the music portion.

In addition to its great sessions, this conference also brings in the industry leaders like top bloggers, vloggers, online media, and socmed influencers. Safe to say if you miss a session, you could easily get some face time with these leaders – like Saul Colt, Chris Brogan, Calvin Lee (mayhem studios), or even Chris Pirillo… All of which I actually did meet, chat with and even got video interviews with most of them for our blog and YouTube channel.  

How did you expose Softcom to the SXSWi community while you were in Austin?

I went representing our brand and I didn’t go with sales pitches or hard-sells, and I definitely didn’t try to get everyone to join our cult. It’s really hard to cut through all the noise and really stand out at SXSW – you really need to be unique and different to compete.

A few ways I did expose SoftCom’s brand to the SXSW community while in Austin are as follows:

– Limited Resources are Valuable Resources: In getting to know me, the community got to know I did not scatter business cards around the conference or hand them out to every Tom, Dick and Harry who passed me by. That makes it more personal and valuable in my eyes.

– Any Press is Good Press: The topic of the panel I was on was considered timely and original, so we received a lot of notice from both participants and media. Any coverage on the panel contributed to company links and mentions.

– Event Specific Branding Shows You Came With A Plan: With the help of our talented in-house designers, we created special business cards for the event. With the audience, environment and culture in mind, we created a very simple card focusing on my name and twitter handle. On the reverse side, we focused on the company logo and special SXSW promo code. This not only gets our promo in people’s hands, it also helps them recall where we met.

– In Your Face: I managed to fight my way out of my comfort bubble and get face time with some influential online personalities. This not only exposed us to these people, but it also inadvertently made us look influential because we were chatting with these personalities.

– Say Cheese: We also secured some great video interviews with some of these online personalities which will now be used on our blogs and YouTube channels!

– Tell Me What You Think: I also got to chat with some serious bloggers and online marketing experts about our new initiatives, like our Corporate Culture site and our rebranding initiatives that will launch in the next two months. Not only did we get great input on our new community efforts, a few people even offered to write about it or introduce me to the right people who will.

While I tried to take the quiet approach, one person who really stands out for his guerilla marketing throughout the conference is Saul Colt, who was branded from head to toe (yes, even his shoes donned the logo). He also worked feverishly all night, every night to create branded SXSW newsletters that were then slipped under people’s doors of the top 3 hotels. 

What was something new that you learned during your time in Austin that will help you?

That people pay too much for domains.

But really, being my first real conference, I can safely say I both learned a lot and identified a lot of areas where I still need to learn and grow. For one, don’t try to make it out to everything and don’t feel bad if you miss something. It’s a hard pill to swallow for keeners, but going with the flow is the only way to ensure success.

Also, the BBQ is the best there – but don’t forget the green! It’s way too easy to fall into the trap as all the beverages are seemingly laced with alcohol and all the food is brown (meat or deep fried). I had to make conscious efforts to get some (non-deep-fried) veggies and alcohol-free fluids.

The biggest lesson is that you don’t need to go to all the sessions. With a good wing-man and a little confidence, you can meet these marketing pros and online personalities, and really pick their brains one-on-one. I found those conversations to be the most valuable part of my trip.  

Were there any new developments or companies that you were exposed to that caught your eye?

Two main things:

QR Codes: QR Codes (Quick Response Code) were used on badges to scan with your mobile phone and access the scanned registrants’ info. This would help attendees (in theory) easily connect with one another. It’s a great idea, with virtually limitless possibilities for its usage. And, let’s be honest, I’m easily excited by any technology that frees us from traditional business cards. However, it was not used as often as I’d expected. The two times I did try to use them, it was too dark to register.

Overall, I think it’s a brilliant idea with so much opportunity and creative ways to use it.  But while they didn’t catch on at the conference, I still think they will take off here in North America. Actually, I’m pretty damn positive they will.

Location Sharing Services: The big debate was Fourquare vs Gowalla: Gowalla, like wordpress, started in texas and also won a lot of awards at the conference… Foursquare, however, has five times the users and with the Twitter capabilities, it’s the clear winner in my eyes.

I was really surprised that, no matter which location-sharing tool one used, they were the overall big winners in comparison to the other social tools. The message was the same across the board: Find me on Foursquare. Where’s Jay Goldman? Check Foursquare. Where were you? Should have checked Foursquare. Where’s the next party? Refer to Foursquare. Even Scoble told me to refer to my Foursquare to catch him for an interview the following day.  


Who was the one person you met at SXSWi that really left an impression with you and why?

A lot of people left great impressions on me, like Chis Pirillo… But the one that stands out is Tucows’ Community Manager, Ben Lucier. He took me under his wing, taught me great lessons, helped me get out of my shell, introduced me to great people, and even pointed out ways to improve. His kindness was invaluable to me during the course of the conference.  

Why should a company, brand or an individual attend SXSWi next year?

As I said before, it’s a great place for networking.

But with all the noise, it’s really hard to make a statement there. And the growth rate was quite apparent, as they didn’t seem to expect nor know how to manage such large crowds of people. My biggest concern for next year is how they will accommodate said growth rate.

So if you are looking for great networking opportunities with socmed thought leaders, influencers, and online personalities and media, this is the place for you… otherwise, enjoy the music.