The South By Southwest Conference: Should Attendance Be Mandatory?

Well, no.  BUT, will attending be of benefit to you, your staff, your business?  Yes.

On a personal note, I consider South By Southwest (aka SxSW) my version of getting to be a kid in a candy store.  With such a selection to choose from I get all giddy inside just thinking about it.  From independent film to music to interactive, those are ALL of my passions.  How can I NOT find any of that exciting?!  But, I’m not here to talk about my personal feelings on the subject.  Rather, let me provide a practical perspective to all things SxSW from a professional stand point.

As with anything you do in business, there must be a plan in place to ensure that there are goals, policies, and ways to measure the success (or failure) of whatever the task, project, assignment may be.

I’m sure you’ve seen the many blogs, articles written, You Tube videos, Flickr images etc of the party that is SxSW.  Please oh please do not let those sway you from considering attendance at next year’s conference.  As with anything you do in business, there must be a plan in place to ensure that there are goals, policies, and ways to measure the success (or failure) of whatever the task, project, assignment may be.  SxSW should be considered as an assignment and whomever you send to attend, be sure that individual knows what is expected of them.  Then and only then will there by a guarantee of success (or of failure, but I personally would rather look at the positive than the negative).

First and foremost, decide what you want to get out of it.  If you’re an independent film maker, is gaining some perspective on indy film packaging in this economy or mixing and mingling with some of the directors of such films at an official event mixer, goals of yours?  Let’s say you are a music blogger for your local media conglomerate.  Perhaps your goal is to catch the latest bands and write a review of the best you’ve heard while hearing from the experts on the “how tos” for an effective tour (because you happen to be a closet drummer).  And if you’re a member of the hottest community to take hold of this conference – the Interactive group, the options are even more endless.  You’ll hear from industry leaders, see the debuts of the latest gaming technologies or mobile apps, and of course, hob-nob amongst attendees from (most likely) all three conferences. 

Again, there is so much to offer at SxSW.  Make a decision on what you hope your staff and your company get out of it.  That’s the first thing you should do.

In today’s society, it’s not about the “report” as it is about documenting your experience through the use of social media tools and then evaluating the return on your investment.

Next, decide how you’re going to manage all the information coming in.  Back in the day, that might be having required a written report or a PowerPoint presentation describing the highlights of the goals you had reached.  But, that’s “back in the day”.  Whatever you do, don’t do that.  Seriously.  In today’s society, it’s not about the “report” as it is about documenting your experience through the use of social media tools and then evaluating the return on your investment.

Set up a special category in your blog, create a specific set in your Flickr account, make sure the person attending has a Flip cam on hand and the ability to upload to Posterous and You Tube a highlight video each day, and you might even set up a separate Twitter account, etc. all detailing all things SxSW.  Above all, be sure every member of your staff that wasn’t able to attend Tweets, blogs, Facebooks (yeah, I know that’s not a word.  But it should be!), etc. links to all the information coming in from your staff member(s).  If one of your goals was to increase the numbers (number of Twitter followers, Facebook Fans, etc.), well then, if this wasn’t a GREAT way to do that while the conference is still going on, then I don’t know what else is?

I might also recommend not to limit yourself to just one aspect of the conference.

As your planning your strategy, I might also recommend not to limit yourself to just one aspect of the conference.  If you can swing it, search out as many diverse opportunities to take part in from each of the three conference tracks.  I would venture to guess there is something to be learned from all of them no matter what you or your company focuses on.

And here’s a novel idea – the entire conference takes place for most of the month of March.  To make it cost effective, rent a house in or around Austin for the month rather than an expensive hotel room (or rooms).  Let your staff work on their daily activities remotely (I’d like to believe you can trust them to do that) while preparing for their attendance at the conference itself.  Perhaps even use that time to hold mini-seminars or even Tweetups that will also allow you to showcase your services or product prior to and after the conference.  Think outside of the box.  There are all kinds of ways to make your company’s attendance at South By Southwest beneficial. 

So there you have it – my take on why you should consider attending next year’s South By Southwest (and why I wish I was going.  I’d soooo be doing so much of this!). 

Remember, it’s all in your goal-setting, planning, and execution.  Do that and that whole “party” atmosphere aspect of SxSW will take a distant second for any professional in attendance and you’ll get the ROI you are looking for.

And if all else fails, you can follow Chris Brogan’s advice.  He’s got the idea!

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