SXSW: Perspectives from a Noob

This article originally appeared in Conscious Magazine, who I was representing in Austin.

From March 6-11, I had the great pleasure of attending South by Southwest, one of the world's premier tech (officially known as Interactive), Film, and Music festivals held annually in Austin, Texas. South by Southwest (SXSW) has been held since 1987 and has grown in size every year bringing top talent from around the world. What began as a music festival has morphed into a venue where new technologies, films, and musicians are showcased to those eager to learn, share, and grow.

Press pass, iPhone and charger, Canon Rebel T3, and Mac Book in hand, I arrived in Austin ready to share daily updates, moving stories about brands and people I encountered, and up-to-the-moment Twitter updates with the Conscious Community. I had a plan to write daily blog updates, live-tweet sessions, and interact with those at SXSW that were doing good in the community.

Boy, was I in for a reality check.

With an average attendance of nearly 30,000, to say the Interactive portion of SXSW is huge would be an understatement. From the second I arrived, it was easy to see the influence SXSW has on Austin. Full-service business spaces were rented out for the duration, completely redesigned, and billed as something else. Wanderlust Yoga became a hub for daily panel discussions and happy hours. A local restaurant became a Samsung-sponsored blogger lounge that featured breakfast in the morning, live TV show tapings in the afternoon, and happy hour come 5 pm.

The scale of this event is massive, which means as a journalist, there are so many things to see and do. At any given hour, there were nearly 20 different events going on, ranging in topics from web-development, wearable technology, to unbranded content as marketing, and these time slots ran non-stop from 9 am to 7 pm. And then there were the parties held by official SXSW sponsors like Samsung or Doritos. And the job fairs, And the networking events. And the trade show. And the unofficial "house" parties held by mega-brands like Mashable, Spotify, and General Assembly.

The point is, it is incredibly hard to track people down and focus one's attention on a single track. When I thought I could attend a variety of panels on any given day, I would end up going to a workshop, event, or end up in a lounge figuring out my next step. 

Basically, by 10 am on the first day, my plan was out the window.

After the first day of frantic, yet exciting, activities, I developed my new plan. My goal was to track down specific people promoting social good at SXSW. There was a specific social good track, after all, and I was determined to meet all of them. My solution to weeding through 30,000 people all looking to share their story?  Twitter. 

I sent out a few tweets to crowdsource people, brands, and companies that were in Austin to showcase the good they are doing. And, much to my excitement, I got some responses back!

True to SXSW fashion, however, everyone was all over the place during most of the festival, so it was very hard to actually meet in person. After some persistence though, I was finally able to track these do-gooders down for a chat.

I've already planned to have a better "not plan" for next year's festival. In the mean-time, I can't wait to share the stories of the brands I met this year.