Insights: Why SXSW Interactive is good for business

Story by Todd Ross Nienkerk


SXSW is just about to start. In fact, it's already started: SXSWedu, a relatively new offshoot of the SXSW mega-brand — kicked off yesterday, stretching the overall event to a full two weeks. That's fourteen days of sessions, workshops, parties, and business cards. Piles of business cards. Fistfuls of business cards bursting from your pockets and spilling onto the beer-soaked floor of a temporarily rebranded bar on Sixth Street. (Never happened to me, obviously…)

Like many attendees — and even more Austin locals — I think SXSW Interactive has gotten too big and unwieldy over the last several years. With so many competing sessions and speakers, it's getting hard to find concrete meaning and value in the conference.

But, there is an immediate value for local businesses in having the international interactive community come to us. It's incredibly cheap and convenient for locals: we simply have to buy a badge and don't have to bother with any travel logistics.

We are lucky to have SXSW. It does more than any other event to enhance Austin's reputation as a hub for technology, film, and music. It's the only event with such a strong focus on technology on an international scale. Even better, SXSW helps make Austin "cool": Each year, attendees leave our city knowing that Austin is filled with smart, innovative, and laid-back people who know how to have a good time.

The "cool" factor is a huge benefit when we start conversations with potential new clients. The majority of our clients aren't local, but as soon as they hear we're from Austin, they have positive impressions from what they have read about the city or fond memories of past trips here during SXSW. The conference has certainly helped the city immensely in getting the hip reputation on a global scale.

To leverage the massive growth of SXSW, I suggest that local businesses host a specialized event to get the most out of the conference. People are attending the conference to learn about new technology, network within their industry and to hear well known thought-leaders. The more specialized an event is the better to get the ideal targeted audience. Plus the common narrowed interest gives attendees an automatic connection to each other, and lends to the notion that people gravitate towards the familiar. Every year we host a Drupal event and have a focused set of attendees that drive business for us.

If a local business hasn't planned on hosting an event this year, they are unfortunately out of luck. However, there is still plenty of time to plan individual SXSW itineraries to make sure you hit the appropriate industry events. A simple search on the SXSW website, Eventbrite, Twitter, or plain ol' Google will bring up hundreds of SXSW events. Among those there are events focused on just about every single industry. Many are open to the public, so even if you didn't splurge for a badge, you can still attend quite a few to network and learn.

For those who aren't planners, simply head downtown and take a walk around the Convention Center and Sixth Street. Pop in crowded restaurants and bars, start some conversations, and pass out your business cards. Piles of business cards. Fistfuls of business cards… You get the idea.

There's nothing to lose — and a lot to gain — when the world comes to Austin for these unconventional two weeks every March.

Todd Ross Nienkerk is a Digital Strategist and Partner at Four Kitchens. This was originally posted on the company's blog.