Notes from Austin (part one)

Or – why your boss needs to send you to SXSW 2012!

Today is the last day of the SXSW Interactive festival and conference in Austin, Texas.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably the biggest social media trade event in the world.

However the chances are, assuming you didn’t go, you’ve been bombarded by a stream of SXSW-related tweets and check-in updates.

But for anyone thinking of going in 2012, do it.   Speaking as the director of a small London agency that doesn’t have endless financial resources it was easily worth every penny and benefitted both us (and by extension our clients) enormously.

Here’s why and this is the bit to forward onto your boss:  Yes, of course you can find out a great deal anyway by reading mashable or RWW, attending the odd trade conference, networking on social media and so on.

But SXSW is much more than a conference and networking opportunity.  With 15-20k social media practitioners and assorted other geeks taking over a five block radius around the Austin Conference Centre it’s a chance to experience social networks in their most optimum real world setting.

That kind of 1st hand experience brings everything to life in a way that a conference can’t.

For example – at Rabbit we certainly believe location based networking has a future and it’s important for brands to get on board.  But for now, only around 4% of Americans use them if Pew stats are to be believed.

By comparison, SXSW gave us a live insight into what the world would look like if location based check ins were the norm and not the exception, with every bar, venue, restaurant and hotel encouraging you to do so helped by some fairly high profile activity from Gowalla and foursquare.

By exposing us to that, it naturally helped us think about how location based services could be used more for clients.

Similarly on the flight over from London we were debating the uses for Hurricane Party, a start up that allows you to create and geo-tag parties and events on the fly.

Hurricane Party showed us, by using their app to organise a Japan benefit event in 24 hours.

Sure, I hear the criticism that in the social media community we sometimes look at life through the wrong end of the telescope, and we need more and not less exposure to life outside the bubble.

Yet the experience of being in an immersive social networking environment for a few days every year can’t be beat.  It brings everything to life in a way that listening to a conference speaker or reading Mashable never can.

Finally if you want to put this on your bosses’ radar, be sure to tell him / her to pay for several of you to go!

Last year I went on my own, which was great, but I personally got much more out of it by having two fellow Rabbits with me to share and discuss what we’d seen and experienced.

Coming up – social networks that impressed us at SXSW.

Photos from (Rabbit) Cat Turner’s amazing SXSW Tumblr

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