SXSW Interactive: A Beginner’s Guide

This post was originally published on SmartBrief’s Social Media Blog where I’m a regular contributor for them.

You’ve made the decision to go to the SXSW Interactive Media Conference March 8-13th, 2012 in Austin, Texas.  Maybe you’ve never gone to South by Southwest, or you could be just overwhelmed with the sheer volume of tweets, information, and people who are also attending.  As a former SXSW virgin myself, the event with nearly 24,000 in attendance can be a lot to take in.  Here’s how to make the most of the premier technology and social media conference and Austin, Texas during SXSW.

SXSW & Twitter: Hashtag Appropriately

SXSW Interactive as well as Austin for its social media prowess.  Social media is not only accepted but encouraged.  Popular hash tags for include #SXSW and #SXSWi (for interactive).  Interactive sessions will have their own separate secondary hash tags to make following the stream easier so use those as well.  It’s also a great way to connect with liked minded folks or to recruiters to source great candidates.

SXSW Badges & Much More: Geolocating at the Conference

Geolocation or texting are the two easiest ways to find out where your friends are.  It’s also fun to see what social media celebrity is also at the venue you are attending.  So Gowalla and Foursquare your heart out, there may even be a SXSW badge (or badges) worth grabbing.  Tools like and BelugaPod made a splash at SXSW last year.  Use them for sharing information like dinner plans and other group activities within an exclusive network of friends and connections. Tweet, text, and share away.

SXSW Parties & Nightlife

SXSW isn’t just about the sessions at the Interactive conference, but the evening festivities are just as much fun.  Pre-register for events in advance.  There are plenty of free drinks and SXSW parties to go around.  You just have to know where to look like Cool Austin’s Tumbler Blog , or this Unofficial SXSW Schedule or a crowd sourced Google Doc from 2012 SXSW RSVP.

The Perks of Being SXSW “Press”

Sometimes the lines to get into event especially the nightlife are incredibly long or filled to capacity. Never fear as bloggers, podcasters, and social media celebrities, there’s always a solution.  Whether you’re part of the SXSW team or a blogger, SXSW press gets some cool perks. Walk up to the VIP area, hold out your video or digital camera, recording device, and tell them with confidence you’re the media.  Works every time!

Schmooze in the SXSW Blogger’s Lounge

I think I spent more time at the SXSW Blogger’s Lounge than I did actual sessions.  I had a blast meeting bloggers and social media folks who are known in our circle for tearing it up.  It’s a great way to get some face time with SXSW Interactive stars like Brian Solis, Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk as well as connecting with press and PR agencies.

Pace Yourself

SXSW Interactive is not a traditional conference, so chances are you will not be attending a full schedule of sessions each day.  Schedule to attend no more than two SXSW Interactive sessions each day.  Be selective, arrive early, and sit in the front.  Being at a session is about information just as much as it is about tweeting and being seen there.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

SXSW, the venues, and the after parties are all within a 15 minute walk depending on where your hotel is located.  Bring a light jacket as it gets chilly in the evenings and wear comfortable shoes.  My feet thanked me when I opted to leave the stilettos at home.

SXSW Interactive is what I describe at Nerd Prom or Nerdcation.  Great information, resources, conversations, and a 24-hour party.  Don’t forget to grab a campus and event map including the shuttle schedule if you are attending sessions in different venues.  Ditch the phone book like event schedule and download their 2012 SXSW app to help stay organized.  Develop a rough game plan, forge ahead, but be flexible and let this amazing conference and the people take you.

*And finally, don’t forget to register for Blogging4Jobs’ VIP SXSW Party on March 10th, 2012, called Social Siesta.  

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

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