SXSW Is Dead, Long Live SXSW!

Many people who were a part of the social media boom last decade attended SXSW. It was the place to see and be seen, where apps went mainstream and reputations were forged. In recent years, social media experts have stopped going, proclaiming SXSW dead.

And after attending my seventh one, I have to agree. SXSW is dead… For social media experts.

SXSW is about the Internet, and how various media and industries are adapting to it. In that sense SXSW is a zeitgeist. And the time of social media dominating SXSW, while not completely gone, has certainly waned.

Social networking and communities are a part of the Internet’s fiber, but they are no longer a special topic. That makes social less of a premium newsmaker at an Internet conference focused on trends, and as a result social media experts aren’t getting the attention they used to at SXSW. So it is little wonder that those who used to thrive on the subject find the conference unappealing.

What SXSW Has Become

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A woman solders a chip, part of a device she was building at SXCreate.

What SXSW 2015 offered was an incredible series of mini-conferences that ranged from fashion (think wearable tech in the form of smart clothing) and start-up manufacturing to SXSports and large broadcast brands boasting their digital entertainment properties. SXSW is now a festival of many Internet industries. Social media and perhaps the now stronger digital marketing communities are just individual industry segments amongst the multitude.

My friend Dave Weinberg, CEO of loop88 said, “The fact that we’re all here and that we have these serendipitous situations is what made this SXSW special. It’s totally different than it has been.”

I have to agree. This year’s SXSW was the best one I have attended in a long time. The networking was diverse and phenomenal.

“The amount of education, of giving back knowledge to the community is absolutely unparalleled,” said Howard Greenstein, COO of DomainSkate and adjunct professor at Columbia University. “From small sessions sponsored by companies on specific topics to niche panels about everything from legal hackers to bitcoin, you can learn about anything from people who are actually doing the work.”

Signs of How SXSW Changed

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SXSW 2015 saw the break-out of Meerkat, the first app to breakout at SXSW in a couple of years. Yet, while this was a big story, it was not the story, far from it. There were many threads throughout the event, many of which revolved around celebrity appearances and cancellations.

For the first time in years I attended sessions, and thoroughly enjoyed 75% of what I saw. This is pretty good compared to most conferences I go to. Some of the better events and sessions I attended included the Jack Welch versus Gary Vaynerchuk discussion on executive leadership, the SXCreate session on building micro manufacturing companies.

There were fewer uber-influencer swordfests at SXSW, which made it more pleasant. It was also easier to avoid those situations when they arose.

At the same time while the mighty influencer is gone, the suit has arrived. And with the business audience has come a tension between the old school casual SXSW attendee and the proliferation of suits and heels at the conference. I’m glad I brought a jacket and two collared shirts because when I wore T-shirts and a jersey I received more than my fair share of looks.

And with the rise of the celebrity, there were more high powered executives, stars and brands attending the event. I met more high caliber successful people than I have at any prior SXSW.

SXSW is much bigger than it used to be, but is also much different. It has evolved, and with it so have my expectations of it. It’s funky still, but now it is transforming into a big dollar business event. But the reason I still come is the incredible relationship opportunities it continues to offer, even as a humbler small business owner. And that continues to make SXSW a must-attend event for me.

2 Replies to “SXSW Is Dead, Long Live SXSW!”

  1. Geoff it is interesting how people will use their own filters to determine the worth of an event.

    Not unexpected, but I guess since I have always been about stepping outside of myself and asking questions to illuminate “what’s really happening,” I can appreciate your post even more.

  2. It was never about social media to me, however many people found out about it as a result of social, most especially the March 2007 & 2008 Twitter breakouts. SXSW has always been about shared experience, learning and discovery for me — I started going purely for Music. Today it’s also very much about experiential brand marketing – especially for Interactive & music.

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