Field Guide to South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi)

Originally posted on December 7, 2010

Every year, I have a few new friends that ask me if I have any tips for them as they get ready for SXSW — an interactive, film and music extravaganza! Today, my friend Christine Perkett let me know that she was taking her maiden voyage to Austin next spring for this very event. My promise to her was an insider’s guide to “South-by” as it’s referred to by us geeks. I know I’ve missed a ton so I’m hoping that my fellow SXSW veterans and local Austinites will help fill in the blanks.

Lodging and Airfare
After buying your ticket to SXSW, this is the first thing you want to take care of. And by first thing, I mean now. Today. Not in two months. Trust me when I tell you that you will end up flying into San Antonio and staying somewhere halfway between San Antonio and Austin if you don’t take care of this soon. Here are several hotels that are close that you should consider.

Map of Downtown Austin

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=114537014142502422139.000496da39e9d71cc66b4&ll=30.267481,-97.739825&spn=0.011712,0.013046&output=embed
View Map of Downtown Austin Hotels for SXSW in a larger map

HINT: I am not kidding about staying near San Antonio (which is an hour away from Austin) if you don’t plan ahead.


Scheduling
One of the first things you will realize as you start to prepare for SXSW is that there are A LOT of things happening at the same time. This includes keynotes, breakout sessions, happy hours, etc. Per my friend, Kyle Flaherty’s advice from a post he did about SXSW 2010, get focused on the 6-8 panels/sessions you really want to see. Make sure you’re not just going to see the latest social media rock star but look carefully at the session title and description. Is the speaker a seasoned speaker or is this their first rodeo? As a result, you may want to have a “plan B” session” lined up for any selections you make just in case you need to call an audible.

HINT: Have all of your your notes/schedules printed out. Wifi and cell coverage can be spotty at times at SXSW.

Parties/Networking
There are a lot of parties at SXSW. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. More than you will ever experience anywhere else in your lifetime. This is obviously a great time to network so go light on the drinking (or at least pace yourself — more on that in the next section). Also, just like the conference sessions, you will want to choose these wisely. Take note of the fact that for the signature parties (Mashable, DIGG, TechSet) there will be lines. Long lines. So get there early and move on to your next party before that party winds down. Also keep an eye on key people like Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble’s Twitter streams. These guys create flash parties everywhere they go. Sometimes, those are the best ones. Another smart idea is to make sure you are signed up for services like Plancast and a location-based provider or two like FoursquareGowalla and Whrrl so you can monitor the action a little more methodically.

Another important point to touch on here is that you will do some of the best networking you’ve ever done at SXSW. That’s at least 67% of the value of the conference. Some of that happens at parties. Other times, this can happen via coffee, breakfast or in the Blogger’s Lounge (this is one of the hidden gems of SXSW). I’ll put up a link to more details about the BL as we get closer to SXSW. However, because there are so many events going on simultaneously, be sure to reach out via e-mail or phone with anyone you want to connect with in advance and set a time and a place to meet.

HINT: For most parties, you will need a SXSW badge. If you attend the conference rogue (sans badge), there is usually a list of parties that don’t require badges (I will link to that when it’s up). What I will tell you is that unless you are 5′ 10″, blonde and drop dead gorgeous, there is a 99% chance you will NOT get into any party that requires a badge.

Pace Yourself
As I noted in the “Party/Networking” section of this post, there are a lot of parties that go on during SXSW. Combine that with the late nights and the fact that SXSW takes place over the course of several days, it is imperative to pace yourself. Trust me, I’m not scrooge when it comes to having fun but ensuring that you eat well, get sleep whenever you can (hint: take naps in the afternoon), drink plenty of water and try and not pull an all-nighter during the first day or two that you’re here.

HINT: The weather in March is usually mid-70s to high 80s during the day and low-60s at night. Shorts and t-shirts are de rigeur but you may also make sure you bring a fleece and a few pairs of jeans for the evening activities.

Content Creation
If you’re a blogger, podcaster or videographer, SXSW is a wonderful place to create content. There is usually space in the hallways of the Austin Convention Center to set up shop although they hallways can get noisy in between sessions. Weather permitting, you can also shoot/record outdoors. Just make sure you bring extra batteries and be sure to test your equipment before you come down. If you’re podcasting, you might even arrange with someone to be editing remotely so that you can post during SXSW. This means pre-recording your bumper music, creating a tag/hashtag in advance, etc.

HINT: As I mentioned in the “Networking” section, you will also want to try and schedule as many interviews ahead of time as possible. This includes putting together a schedule and finding a meeting place in advance e.g. outside the blogger lounge or near the Chevy pavilion near the entrance.

Restaurants
I’m in the process of adding more places to the map below (suggestions are welcome). [POST SCRIPT 2/29/2011: Our friends at Where.com just added a curated list of Austin/SXSW faves from a list of about 20 people -- food bloggers, Austinites and people like @SchneiderMike and I that just like food).

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&ll=30.261254,-97.740641&spn=0.019423,0.044932&msid=114537014142502422139.000496ea5d6282ef7d743&output=embed
View Good Restaurants to Visit During SXSW in a larger map

HINT: The Salt Lick is a MUST visit while you are here for anyone that likes BBQ. Because it is in Driftwood which is a good 30 minutes south of downtown, you'll need to drive there. If you do decided to go, plan on it taking a good three hours out of your night. Also note that they are cash only and because Driftwood is in a dry county, you must bring your own beer and wine if you want to drink.
Other Useful Links
As we get closer to the event, more and more "how to do SXSW" posts will crop up. So that I don't overwhelm you, I will try and keep a running list below. I promise that I will personally curate these posts so that I only provide the posts that I see offering additional value.
As I noted above, I’m sure I’ve missed all kinds of other good tips so please let me know via the comments below. Or you can send me a link via Twitter @aaronstrout.

Why I’m Giving My Content Away to Social Media Informer for Free

You don’t need me to tell you how valuable content is. After all, how many times have you heard the saying, “content is king?” So if content is so valuable, why on earth would someone give their content away for free? I’ll tell you who… me. And Chris Brogan. And Simon Mainwaring. And Dave Fleet (along with another 40+ bloggers), that’s who. We’re all doing it on the Social Media Informer (billed as the “best social media content for business”). The reason? For me it was twofold:

  1. Distribution – On average, I get somewhere around 4,000 unique visitors/month (plus another 4,000 or so that read my blog via RSS). While that’s not a bad number, why not add several thousand new eyeballs?
  2. Influence by association – Being included in the company of lots of other smart, well-respected people doesn’t hurt my (or my company’s) reputation. Quite frankly, I learned this lesson a few years back when I started podcasting and so far, it’s worked!
What I like is that this model ends up being a win-win all the way around. The Social Media Informer gets great content. This enables them to find sponsors to help pay the bills. The bloggers get distribution and additional legitimacy. The readers get curation in the form of hand-picked content creators and business practitioners that they may not have found on their own.
Is there a lesson here for small and big business? You betcha. It’s the concept of reaching out to their partners, customers and employees to create informative videos, podcasts, blog posts and tutorials. Yes, in some cases paying these folks wouldn’t hurt. But if your company can offer legitimacy and distribution to key stakeholders in exchange for great content, what’s not to like?

Hotel Nikko Asks: What Could We Do to Get You to Stay?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Social Media Marketing 2010 Conference in San Francisco which happened to be held at the Hotel Nikko. If you haven’t visited/stayed at the Nikko before, it’s a nice hotel. Centrally located (just a few blocks off of Market), bright and clean with all the charm of a boutique hotel. The rooms are well-laid out with large flat panel televisions, wet bars and bathrooms that offer separate bathtubs and showers.

Of course I enjoyed my experience at the Hotel Nikko (in fact, this was my second time staying there) but my main criteria for choosing it had more to do with location (it’s where the conference was being held) and price (about $200/night all in) than anything else. While I was there, however, an interesting thing happened that led to the eventual writing of this blog post…

I was riding up in the elevator when a young woman who was interning at the hotel asked me if I was attending the conference. I said that I was which prompted her to ask me why I thought more of the attendees weren’t staying at the hotel. This was a fairly easy question to answer given the fact that I knew a lot of the speakers/attendees lived locally and thus didn’t need a hotel that night. It was her next question, though, that really piqued my interest. The intern asked, “what could we do to get you to stay here next time?”

At this point in the conversation, I started thinking to myself, either this is a very clever young lady who will go far some day OR Hotel Nikko may be taking an innovative approach to their customer research. Either way, I told her I had exactly the answer she was looking for… but she would need to do a little homework. I gave her three names that I told her to write down: The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC,  Brian Simpson aka @bsimi (their director of social hospitality) and Brian’s sidekick, Adam Wallace aka @adwal (new media director at the Roger Smith).

[NOTE: if you don't know the story of the Roger Smith and how unbelievably successful they've been through their customer-centric AND social media efforts, be sure to listen to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe's interview or read Chris Brogan's glowing post about their efforts]

Being as diligent as she was curious, the intern took out her notepad and wrote all this information down, obviously intrigued by what a hotel in NYC and two guys with hip hop sounding Twitter handles could have to do with getting me to stay at her hotel. At this point, she thanked me for the information and we parted ways. Upon our separating, I got thinking more about the question she had asked me and decided to write a prescriptive post about five things I liked about my experience at the Nikko along with five ways they could improve.

The good:

  1. I arrived at the hotel at 8:30 AM and asked if I could check in. While many hotels are strict about their early checkin policy, the woman behind the desk was very polite and let me check in early without even batting an eyelash.
  2. This may not be a big deal for most people but as someone that travels a fair amount AND is married to his laptop, the fact that the electrical outlets were easily accessible and that they had reliable wifi was much appreciated.
  3. Anyone that follows me on Twitter will understand how happy I was that there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
  4. There was a bottle of water on my bedside stand.
  5. I’d like to think that the Nikko was the impetus behind their inquisitive interns line of questioning, even if they didn’t explicitly tell her to chat up guests in the elevator. If that wasn’t the case, they were still smart enough to hire a smart and motivated intern.
The “could use improvement”:
  1. When I arrived to checkin, I was as little surprised that they didn’t acknowledge the fact that I had stayed there before (level of difficulty from a CRM perspective is about a 2 on a scale of 1-10). This also required NO knowledge of social media whatsoever.
  2. The “reliable” in-room wifi was $15/night. And while it was provided by AT&T; (a network that usually allows roaming via my Boingo account), I wasn’t provided with a “roaming” option in spite of the fact that the FAQs on the site said that I could.
  3. Corollary to number four in the “good” column above… while there was in fact A bottle of water on my bedside table, the aforementioned bottle was not a FREE bottle of water. I am of the strong belief that every hotel should offer at least A free bottle of water, even if it’s the cheap, no name kind.
  4. While I don’t expect that many businesses will make an attempt to use or even experiment with location-based services like FourSquare, Gowalla and Whrrl, restaurants and hotels are foolish for not tapping into this capability now. To that end, I was disappointed that the Nikko did not acknowledge of my FourSquare checkin given the fact that I cross-posted it on Twitter for all to see.
  5. They weren’t the Roger Smith
All in all, you’ll notice that my “could use improvement” column isn’t too scathing. While I travel a lot, I have simple needs. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by my stays at the Roger Smith but I am really surprised that more hotels — boutiques AND chains — haven’t done a better job at embracing social media.
How about you? Have you had a good or bad experience at a hotel that you’d like to mention? Please include it in the comments below.

Pluralitas Non est Ponenda sine Necessitate

For those non-Latin speakers out there, you are asking yourself right now, what the hell does “pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” mean? Literally, it means “plurality should not be posited without necessity.” It’s a theory made popular by 14th century friar, William of Ockham, and is better known as Ockham or Occam’s Razor.

Why am I thinking about 14th century friars and Latin phrases about plurality and necessity on the day after Thanksgiving you ask? The short version of the story is that my friend, Kyle Flaherty, recently shared a great post with me by analytics wizard, Avinash Kaushik. Avinash writes a well known blog called — get this — Occam’s Razor. After reading his lengthy, but thought-provoking, post on social analytics, it got me wondering about the inspiration for the name of his Avinash’s blog.

Now I think it’s mandatory that we all learn about Occam’s Razor at some point in high school or college but of course that, along with billions of other pieces of knowledge that don’t fit into our everyday lives, somehow fell out of my head along the way. But after reacquainting myself with this concept of seeking the “simplest answer,” I’ve been thinking a lot about streamlining my work and personal life these days. In particular, slimming down my information sources and my day to day work flow.

I wrote about taking steps in this direction several weeks ago following my brief retirement from Twitter. But the place I’ve really fallen down is on keeping up with my Google Reader. I know some people like Bob Scoble have abandoned their readers altogether but I realized the other day that there are a dozen blogs, mostly written by friends, that I haven’t been keeping tabs on as closely as I would like. And the reason was because their quality content was getting drowned out by the 50 plus other blogs that I was keeping in my Google Reader, many of which contributed to my reader consistently registering 1,000 unread posts mark.

Maybe I’m unique in this fashion (although I doubt it) but thinking about 1,000 unread posts is just too daunting. Instead of going in and chipping away, I tend to ignore my Google Reader and thus miss out on dozens of great posts by people like Kyle, Peter Kim, Rachel HappeTim Walker, Greg Verdino and others. So in a fit of “pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” (which is really more about the concept of “the simplest solution is usually the correct one), but inspired me to “simplify” or slim down my reader to about 15 blogs.

The result is a much more manageable, 137 posts, all of which I was excited to read. The downside is that I will miss out on the good posts on ReadWriteWeb, ChrisBrogan.com and the HBS blog. But the way I look at it, it’s better that I read a few blogs all the time then have lots of great blogs that I never look at.

What about you? Are you able to keep up with it all? If so, how?

Better Late than Never: Brogan Interviews Strout

When I first joined Powered Inc. last November, one of the first tactical things we did on the PR front was to announce my arrival at the company. One of the things our agency (pre-SHIFT) recommended was picking an A-list blogger to interview me. Given my pre-existing relationship with Chris Brogan, combined with his focus on inbound marketing, I thought he’d be the perfect person.

Fortunately, Chris was only at 200% capacity at that point since he had yet to publish his NY Times bestselling book, Trust Agents, with Julien Smith. The podcast itself is fairly raw (thanks to friend, Jim Storer, who did some light editing) but I was pleasantly surprised at how relevant it still is. Particularly since I had only been at Powered for a little over a month so I was on the early part of my knowledge ramp.

http://www.odeo.com/flash/audio_player_standard_gray.swf

If you’re an advocate of content marketing (hint hint Ann Handley, Simon Salt, Natanya Anderson and Joe Pulizzi), I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below.

Ubiquity Marketing UnSummit: An Event Worth Checking Out in the ATX

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine, Jason Stoddard, told me that he was pulling together a conference here in Austin. Based on the description and the group of people he was pulling together (see below for list), I couldn’t help but agree to speak. To that end, I’ve been a bad partner in letting people that follow my blog know about the Ubiguity Marketing UnSummit.

To that end, here are the deets (if you live in Austin, you MUST come)…
Focus: How Local Entrepreneurs can Save the World and Pay the Rent in any Economic Climate
Date & Time: September 3, 2009
8:00am – 6:15pm
Location: Shoreline Grill
98 San Jacinto Blvd – Austin, Texas (directions)


There’s also a tweetup after where Brogan will be doing book signings. If you haven’t heard, he’s on the NY Times bestseller list! He’s selling and signing books (drinks will be available for cash as well).

Oh yeah, the most important part of this (in addition to the opportunity to see some great national and local talent) is the fact that all proceeds are benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank, Mobile Loaves and Fishes & PlanetCancer.

Experts in the Industry: Chris Brogan (63 of 45)

WOW. What a pleasure it is to have today’s “expert” grace the Stroutmeister blog. Yes, I’m talking about Mr. Chris Brogan, one of the nicest, hardest working guys in social media. During the day, he runs a company called New Marketing Labs. In his spare time, he does a little blogging here and there, helps orchestrate the Inbound Marketing Summit events and still manages to find time to assist with one of his pet projects (co-founded with Chris Penn) called Podcamp.

I probably don’t need to tell you much more about Chris since he’s somewhat ubiquitous in the socialsphere (find him Twitter here). If you want to hear Chris’ melodious voice in addition to reading the answers to Experts in the Industry questions, feel free to head over here. Otherwise, here goes:
In one sentence, please describe what you do and why you’re good at it.
I equip companies with strategies and skills to improve their Internet marketing efforts, and I’m good at it because I know how to speak human instead of geek.

How did you get into the world of online community, social media or social marketing?
I’ve been at it before it was a world. I was into bulletin board services in the 1980s, then AOL, then Usenet, and all the other waves of online communication. I was in it because I was passionate about the ability to connect with humans from outside my proximity.

If you had $10 million to invest in one company and one company only based on their use of “social,” which company would it be and why?
I’d give my money to Federated Media, because I think they’re building some of the best content marketing projects out there, and that these projects are leading the way in how brands can build good will and community around a content channel.

Which business leader, politician or public figure do you most respect?
I respect Dr. Stephen R. Covey for his work in educating people to be principle-centered leaders. His popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was (is) a cornerstone of my own personal success.

Would you join a toothpaste community? Why?
No. What the hell would we talk about? Brushing techniques? No thanks.

Freeform – here’s where you can riff on anyone or anything – good or bad. Or just share a pearl of wisdom.
Someone will crack the nut on combining the physical world with the web, and it’s not going to be Linden Labs. With Google’s maps and their other projects, I could see a fast-moving project that would allow us to build the Internet as a spacial construct, as well as just a data construct. I’m not actively aiding to this process, but I hope I’m spurring smarter minds than mine on to thinking about the possibilities of annotating the world and storing data in geospacial patterns where relevant, as opposed to just as data.

How Important is Authenticity? Just Ask Bear Grylls.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Chris Brogan, who just happens to be a well-knownblogger and president of New Marketing Labs, wrote a paid for post for K-Mart. In spite of Chris’ up front disclosures about the relationship, a fire stormerupted in the blogosphere over the ethics of paid for content.

As you can probably imagine, this was a polarizing issue with one camp believing that it was okay for bloggers to get paid to write favorable posts as long as they were up front about their relationship with the company in question and the other insisting that mixing sponsorship and editorial bastardized the process, irrespective of disclosures. From an intellectual standpoint, I certainly can understand and respect the first camp’s position although my heart sits squarely in the second. [At at a minimum, you should read Chris' follow up post on the topic and decide for yourself.]

With that as a backdrop, I was surprised at how willing I was to overlook “authenticity” as a critical factor when it came to my television entertainment. In particular, I’m refrencing two shows on the Discovery Channel. The first titled, Man vs. Wild, where ex-British special forces macho man, Bear Grylls demonstrates survival in the most extreme locations. The second, Survivorman, featuring much more mundane and less heralded, Les Stroud, doing approximately the same. My wife and I quickly became addicted to first show last season as Bear demonstrated survival techniques in extreme environments such as the Alps, the Amazon and the Sahara Desert.

If you haven’t watched the show before, I’ve included a video clip below to show you just how captivating Bear can be. His fearless nature and “I’ll eat anything” mentality is contagious. I find myself thinking after every show, “I wonder if I could do that?” However, there turned out to be one catch. Not all of Bear’s extreme situations were truly “survival” worthy. In fact, the BBC wrote a fairly scathing piece spelling out a number of instances where Bear had either been assisted by his camera crew or even worse, stayed in a hotel vs. roughing it out in the wild.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXuFR7Cz4rk]

After reading about some of the less-than-flattering press Bear received, I thought it might be time to check out rival survival guru, Les Stroud, on aptly named, Survivorman. Unlike Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild, Les is hardcore about the authenticity of his treks out in the wild (he’s visited many of the same extreme climates as Grylls). In fact, he has chosen to eschew a camera crew and films everything himself. He also is dedicated to actually “surviving” out in the wild at nearly all costs. No hotels. No assistance. Just himself, his cameras and his knife.

That should make for entertaining television right? Unfortunately it doesn’t. Not for me anyway. The reason being that not a whole lot goes on during Survivorman other than a constant stream of self-wallowing by Les. I know this because I did a marathon four hour session over the holiday break with my family. At various points in the show, my 10 year old daughter was openly questioning the fact that Les, once again, was coming up empty handed in his attempts to actually catch something to eat. It turns out that Les is a lot better at enduring 5-6 days of no food (while incessantly complaining about light-headed and hungry he is) than he is at foraging for actual food (clip of Les below).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkx4z8W4pd4]

As you can imagine, this leaves me in an awful dilemma. I led off this post with the fact that while I was intellectually okay with the idea of paid for content, I had a hard time truly embracing this notion in my heart. So how is it that I would gravitate toward a guy that I know isn’t authentic (at least some of the time) while I do little to hide my disdain for a similar personality who is doing things by the book.

To help shed some light on my dilemma, I thought I might ask my Twitter network of nearly 4,000 to chime in. Surely they might feel the same way I did. The question I posed was, “Doing some research for a blog post I’m writing. It’s about authenticity. Any strong feelings either way RE Survivor Man VS Man vs. Wild?”

@Ninenty7: I know it is silly, but I don’t watch Bear’s show because he isn’t really out there in it.

@tallglassofmilk: Don’t watch either but overheard others saying one is for real b
y himself while the other pretends but has a crew. True?

@MikeLangford: This is the only situation ever where I’d say a guy named Les beats a guy named Bear. Survivor Man rules.

@dbcotton: Mixed feelings. Bear has better all around survivor skills, but Survivor Man is more realistic.

@LisaHoffman: Two of my 12 yo’s fave shows. He likes Bear better (me too) but says Survivorman is more authentic. M v. W more instructional

@tinycg: Survivorman is authentic and provides useful real tips.. Man v Wild is mostly staged and useful if you are ex-spec ops.

@SusanBratton: google “joe pine authenticity dishymix” for ideas for your blog post. Listen to the Podcast and/or read the transcripts. [Link to Susan's podcast with Joe is here]

@LisaHoffman: Bear is far more interesting because he engages the audience (sound familiar?) Survivorman is actually trying to survive, tho.

@peplau: @MikeLangford @tallglassofmilk Bear is also a bit of a fraud http://snipr.com/9u1dj Afraid it’s more than just having a crew.

@tallglassofmilk: Well, authenticity certainly doesn’t guarantee entertainment, especially in TV. Probably why so much “reality” is faked.

@jamessumerlin: absolutely survivorman, big fan.

@m750: Bear is entertainment, Les Stroud is the real deal.

@chareich: think survivorman seems a little less contrived. Man v wild – probably eats big macs off camera

@davidkspencer: Survivorman is where it’s at. Feels more real, less polished. This clip is what did man v. wild in for me: http://is.gd/25si

@ChrisKeef: missed the earlier tweet. I’m all about Survivorman, not Man vs. Wild. Les is far more genuine, raw and honest.

@ChrisKeef: I will agree that Bear is more ‘entertaining’, however Survivorman seems more organic. Easier to believe, I guess.

Not surprisingly, nearly everyone that responded validated what I suspected that they would i.e. authenticity was more important than entertainment value by a long shot. @m750 hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that “Bear is entertainment [but] Les Stroud is the real deal.”

As a marketer, this tells me that it doesn’t matter how slick, exciting or entertaining the content is that our company creates, at the end of the day our customers will want us to be authentic. For their sake though, I promise not to whine about how sore my fingers are after several hours of typing or how much of a caffeine headache I have as a result of my forgoing my morning coffee.

How about you? Are you being authentic in the way you communicate with your customers? Seems to me that there’s a reason why Josh Bernoff and Forrester’s customer survey shows that only 16% of people trust corporate blogs. Sounds like we all have a lot of work to do. Just ask Bear.

Originally posted on http://theengagedconsumer.powered.com