You’ve made the decision to go to the SXSW Interactive conference March 8 to 13 in Austin, Texas. Maybe you’ve never gone to South by Southwest, or you could just be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of tweets, information and people who are also attending. As a former SXSW virgin myself, the event can be a lot to take in with almost 24,000 people in attendance. Here’s how to make the most of your SXSW time in Austin at the year’s premier technology and social media conference.
- Hashtag appropriately. SXSW, as well as Austin, is known for its social media prowess. Social media is not only accepted, but encouraged. Popular hashtags for the event include #SXSW and #SXSWi (for interactive). Interactive sessions will have their own separate secondary hashtags to make following the stream easier, so use those as well. It’s also a great way to connect with like-minded folks or for recruiters to source great candidates.
- Find your friends. Geolocation or group 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. Group texting tools such as Group.me and BelugaPod made a splash at SXSW last year. Use them for sharing information such as dinner plans and other group activities within an exclusive network of friends and connections. Tweet, text and share away.
- Love the nightlife. SXSW isn’t just about the sessions at the Interactive conference — the evening festivities are just as much fun. Pre-register for events in advance and remember that free drinks and events are available, if know where to look. Check out Cool Austin’s Tumbler Blog , or this Unofficial SXSW Schedule or a crowd-sourced Google Doc from 2012 SXSW RSVP.
- When in doubt, you’re press. Sometimes the lines to get into an event — especially the nightlife — are incredibly long or filled to capacity. Never fear, because for bloggers, podcasters and social media celebrities, there’s always a solution. 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!
- Blogger’s Lounge is the best. I think I spent more time at the 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 the likes of Brian Solis, Guy Kawasaki and Gary Vaynerchuk, as well as connecting with press and PR agencies.
- Pace yourself. SXSW is not a traditional conference — so chances are you will not be attending a full schedule of sessions each day. Schedule to attend more no more than two 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 is what I like to describe as “Nerd Prom” or “Nerdcation.” It has 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.
This post is by Jessica Miller-Merrell, a leadership blogger at Blogging4Jobs. She is a digital strategist with a passion for recruiting, human resources, training and social media and is the author of “Tweet This! Twitter for Business,” a how-to business guide for Twitter.