This year, I finally made it to SXSW.
I live 25 minutes away from the event, and it’s always been a wish of mine to make it there. The interactive ticket isn’t cheap at over $1,000, so that held me back for a while. This year, I decided to go all in and do it.
I’ve been warned by many locals that the event is a total madhouse, and I was worried.
Luckily, my experience was mostly pleasant. I attended brand marketing sessions only, none of the music festivals, so I can’t speak for those crowds: but the marketing, startup and brand sessions were extremely smooth and easy to attend.
If you’re looking to attend the event, it might help you if I list a few important things I learned about attending SXSW:
- Registration and session lines at SXSW are run well. Yes, crowds and crowds of people start gathering in-between events, but the lines move fast. I was pleasantly surprised by this. When I was at a session in the Austin Convention Center, SXSW volunteers held up big signs with the session name that showed you where the line started. The line ended up going down three hallways with hundreds of people single-file, which looked daunting. But the minute the doors opened, there was more than enough room to hold everyone, and we all got seated easily.
- Absolutely, definitely, use the SXSW map they give you at registration. Really – study the map and let it guide you. Once you know where the buildings are, and most of them are blocks away from each other, things get really easy. I walked to the Dell Experience, tiny house of smart, and a session inside the Convention Center all within two hours after studying the map and knowing which direction to walk in once I left each building. It was super easy and simple to get in to each of the separate events.
- SXSW traffic really IS terrible. Use Lyft. I took Lyft both ways, from home to the event, and got around easily that way. With the app, I could literally request a driver sitting at the curb I was walking down. Downtown, you’ll end up crawling from block to block if you drive. Not just because of the surge of 90,000 extra people in Austin, but also because many roads get blocked off. If you’re just going from session to session, it’s far easier to walk than drive.
Okay, now that we’re past how I learned to actually navigate and get around at SXSW, let’s move on to the good stuff: three sessions I attended and some major takeaways. Ready?
SXSW 2018: 3 Session Takeaways (Lessons From Kristina Halvorson, Tech Content Panel, & Shark Tank Guest Judge Star Alex Rodriguez)
Let’s dive in to the sessions I attended and what I learned from them.
The Truth About Content: Broken Dreams & the Big Fix with Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson is a world-leading expert on content strategy, founder at Brain Traffic, and author of Content Strategy for the Web. (I have a dog-eared copy of her book.) She was ridiculously funny and down-to-earth in the presentation she gave at SXSW. I seriously loved attending her session. And I got to meet her afterwards!
Here were some of my favorite takeaways from her presentation, The Truth About Content: Broken Dreams and the Big Fix.
“Content strategy is not 1,400 articles dumped on the floor of your site.” She literally showed hundreds of toys dumped on the floor in a pile for the slide representing this tatement (My Little Pony toys, specifically – Kristina’s a huge fun of MLP). I loved this reference, because just sometimes, I’ve come across a client or two that thought this was the right strategy. FYI. It’s not.
“Nobody cares about your content because you didn’t ask them what they cared about in the first place.” ????
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“Content strategy must:
“Blend the editorial side and experience. You can’t have one without the other.” Great content is nothing without great usability. These two really do go hand-in-hand.
How do we get better at content? Kristina shared five keys:
1. Reset. Example: Coca Cola went from a lifestyle publication and got clear on being a publication for a drink. Their website now makes SENSE! They actually dis-invested in content marketing and simplified. What can you simplify for your end user?
2. Get aligned. Many businesses only know TACTICS. Know your vision, mission, goal, objectives, etc. The RACI chart can help.
3. Actually know your audience. Pay attention to them. Exceed their expectations. Many times they don’t want to be challenged. They want to find the coupon on the site. (GREAT point.) It’s not just in SEO Research. You should be talking to your audience. Do website polls. Phone interviews. Get your support team involved in knowing your audience. Don’t just know their name and age, know their needs.
4. Establish common systems and standards. Content structure must have a taxonomy. A governance plan.
5. Beware the silver bullet. Silver bullet = AI. But guess what? Your tech did not fix the content mess and lack of strategy. The AI prediction does not cover this. “AI can mine and repurpose the best stuff.” An actual human will fix it, not AI. AI is coming, and it requires three things: 1) a reliable source of data and content. 2) accurate info suited to the application: know what you’re using it for and your end goals. 3) a framework for organizing. We’re not even there yet as website owners running a clean website.
Content first? No, humans first.
In Q/A time, I asked Kristina this question: “What’s the biggest no-no that brands just starting out with content strategy do?”
Her answer was right on: “Businesses start with tactics instead of very clear business goals and objectives that are clear. 9 out of 10 businesses don’t really know what their customer needs. And remember: storytelling isn’t a technique or replacement for a strategy.”
Innovation Fatigue: Tech Content In a Noisy World
Another session of note that I attended was a panel with ladies from Slack, IBM, and Visa.
My #1 favorite takeaway from this panel was this statement: “It’s no longer B2B / B2C content: it’s B2I content, because in the end, everyone we’re trying to reach is an individual.”
Visa on creating content that stands out: Visa used the characters and storyline from Stranger Things to incorporate a story that stuck. Give people a path for more information. Get deeper, provide better content.
Slack on creating content that stands out: Clearer, concise and human is Slack’s current motto for developing content. They want their content to read like a colleague showing you how to do something.
Internal vs. external content: Slack has a few channels where they introduce new people – a “yay!” channel, which is a channel to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. They also keep a “kudos” channel, where teammates thank other employee for being helpful. This becomes external content easily.
Internal vs external content isn’t something that’s been truly defined at IBM. Purposefully internal becomes external. They’re very careful about rights in photography, messaging and video. IBM has a Chief Privacy Officer now. They are very sensitive about using others’ data.
The panel was asked, Is practical content a high priority? For Slack, creating content that teaches users their app is critical. At the same time, they balance reader-friendly content. Their Work in Progress Podcast has little to do with Slack. It’s about empowering people in the workforce. Slack has to be curious about how people do their work daily. They do a series on friendship at work. “Learning how human relationships work is just as important to us as creating practical user guides.” Love that point.
Alex Rodriguez: Baseball, Business & Redemption with CNBC
Ever since I saw Alex Rodriguez appear on Shark Tank as a guest judge, I knew I liked him. His uncanny sense of clarity in business is something I don’t see in a lot of so-called “business experts.”
In the Monday session I attended, Alex said several statements about business that I had to write down. I’m going to apply these to my HR department. I didn’t take a ton of notes from this session, but the quotes I did write down are worth their weight in gold. Sometimes, one sentence can be worth a thousand words.
Alex Rodriguez On Hiring
When asked, “How do you hire good people?”, here’s what Alex said.
Hire people that are:
It’s not about a big resume. It’s how driven they are.
Alex Rodriguez On Working with the Right Clients
How to choose clients to work with: A quick yes or no is far better than a slow maybe.
Alex Rodriguez Answers “How is Business Like Sports?”
“Less than 5% of major league baseball players have college degrees. It’s not just about education. It’s about hard work. There is no shortcut in business. I had to work just as hard in business as in my baseball career.
That includes taking full responsibility for my mistakes. You have to get to the bottom, and acknowledge the bottom.”
[clickToTweet tweet=”There is no shortcut in business. I had to work just as hard in business as in my baseball career. @AROD” quote=”There is no shortcut in business. I had to work just as hard in business as in my baseball career. @AROD”]
The Real Reason Alex Rodriguez Hires Women in Leadership Roles
I seriously love this answer. As a woman, I especially appreciate getting noticed for my talent and my creative skills, not just given preference because of my gender. I think Alex put it so well:
“Women have a big leadership position in my company. They got those jobs not because they were women, but because they were the best people for the job. Talent is talent, and so is character.”
Alex Rodriguez on Leadership
“As a leader, you shouldn’t ask your people to do anything you wouldn’t do. Even if it was to clean a toilet in the basement. Those are the most respected leaders. At the end of the day, we’re in it together. That’s how it is in sports, and business.”
SXSW 2018: Event Recap
I enjoyed my time at SXSW 2018!
Another highlight was that along with the sessions I attended, I met up with Mark Schaefer, who is an amazing marketer (one of the top five in the world) and author of my foreword to Practical Content Strategy & Marketing. Mark invited me to breakfast along with the Director of Marketing at UPMC, and the conversation I listened in to was amazing! Mark is strategizing his next book, which will make some waves in the industry. I can’t wait for that book.
Between the people I met up with, conversations I was a part of, cool tech I saw, and sessions I attended, I definitely recommend SXSW. It’s a forward-thinking event where you get a glimpse at the future of innovation.
I would recommend considering it if you want to meet up with a lot of marketers, brands, see some cool innovative tech (check out all the interactive houses and displays – seriously amazing stuff), and if you want to be an ear and listen in to some amazing speakers and sessions.