Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Today I land in Austin, Texas for the Interactive and social media world’s annual Woodstock. South by Southwest is the one conference I would keep on the schedule if my travel budget was cut back to one event simply because of the sheer number of people, parties, learning and opportunity that happens there. Frankly, if I were in the market for a job, I’d just go to SXSW and network like a mad man. (And I’m sure some folks go there not looking for a job and come away with one.)

But, “South by,” as folks call it, can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared for it. There’s simply too much to do, too many great sessions to attend, too many people to meet or see again and too many fun parties. So, for those of you going, or those of you planning to next year, here are some tools I’ll be using this year to navigate the insanity.

A Smart Phone

Actually, the only real requirement is to have a phone and a data plan that enables you to access Twitter at all times. While many of the festival’s parties are planned, there are inevitable long lines and overcrowded conditions. The non-lemming folks you want to hang with will migrate and disperse to more manageable locations that are often not on the official schedule. When they do, they Tweet it. So follow those you want to network with on Twitter and know where they’re going when you’re looking for the right party.

Evernote

The more I use Evernote, the more I’m in love with it. This year, instead of sitting in the crowd taking notes in a Word document that winds up being a stream of consciousness mess, I’ll pop open Evernote, have a window up for notes on the session, a different one up for random blog post ideas that pop into my head and a third for schedule changes and notes I need to jot down quickly.

Because you can tag entries, I’ll be able to take more organized notes about 3-4 different things at once and be able to easily find and organize my thoughts into meaningful action later. I literally poured through one Word document to siphon out three or four blog posts last year. Now I can capture thoughts in a more organized fashion thanks to Evernote.

And if someone from Evernote is at SXSW, I’m going to interview you for SME-TV. I may even kiss you, so be sure to brush.

Knowing Where The Bloggers Hang

Last year it was called “Bloghaus.” It appears this year it’s the Pepsi Connection Center, which makes me happy because I’m a Diet Pepsi-a-holic. I’m expecting them to have my favorite beverage there for me, either on tap or in 20-ounce bottles, which for some reason taste a bit better than DP in the can. (Just throwing that out there in case Steve or Bonin are watching.)

Being in this general vicinity during your off times or between sessions is smart because you’ll get to meet most of the bloggers and social media personalities you read, friend or follow but have never met. In the span of about an hour last year, I met Liz Strauss, Beth Kanter, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, all for the first time. It’s just where the bloggers hang to hit the WiFi, grab a soda and catch up with folks they’ve not seen in a while. If the Pepsi Connection Center turns out to not be the place for this year’s gathering, just refer to tool No. 1 and see where folks say they are.

Business Cards

You’re literally going to meet hundreds of people. Take the whole box. Or two. And plan on spending some time updating your contacts or emailing to ask for vCards when you get back.

A Calendar With Your Must-See Sessions

Everyone does calendars their own way, so whatever works for you is fine, but prioritize the sessions you simply must attend. My assumption is you’re going there for learning and professional reasons first, so don’t get blinded by the informal networking in the halls and miss the session on web design that might change the way you approach your job. Put the must-sees in your calendar and try to your schedule, keeping in mind the last point below. You should probably use Sched.org for this. It’s a nice little tool with a SXSW customization. My schedule is seen here. The tool also allows you to export it to an iCal/Outlook/etc., file. Very handy.

A Calendar With Your Must-Attend Parties

There are a dozen parties each night or more, some of them official and some not. My calendar seen here doesn’t include an unofficial party I’m hoping my social media friends will join me for on Saturday night. The ATX Emerge event is supposed to be a blowout good time. And I hear they’re pouring a pretty tasty spirit. (Wink.)

You’re more likely to just migrate to and from various events with the gang of friends you’re hanging with. But there are some parties you’ll want to attend, either to be sure to be seen by your client or an important prospect, or because you want to meet the host and so on. Put those in your calendar as well. Know when they start and when they are supposed to end. Aim for showing up somewhere in the middle and you’ll probably be okay, but keep in mind the official parties normally have 2-3 block long lines to get in and line hijacks will happen.

My favorite story from last year’s event was the evening Shawn Morton, Eric Marcoullier, Nick Huhn, Scott Monty, Richard McInnis, me and some others told folks standing in line for some party we were starting our own. (Pictures here.) We found a little tucked away bar with no wait and a live band and Twittered our location. Within a half hour a fair crowd arrived including Jim Long, Chris Heuer, Kristie Wells, Steve Hall, Krista Neher and others. This kind of thing will happen, so be ready for it, which leads us to the final tool.

Flexibility

The worst thing you can do in Austin is try to stick to a hard schedule. Yes, you want to attend certain sessions, but if you get 15 minutes with someone cool and miss a panel discussion, don’t sweat it. I interviewed Maggie Fox and Colin Douma from Social Media Group last year because we just had some time to chat. I didn’t worry that I was missing something and carved out some new friends and contacts in the meantime.

SXSW offers an unbelievable opportunity to learn, network and have fun. But in order to ensure all of it is, in fact, fun, you have to let down your OCD for a few days and go with the flow. That’s not easy for some folks, especially those there on a mission to find funding, a job or land clients. But I’m sure you’ll find that once you’re in Austin and hanging with the crowd, your anal retentiveness can wear off pretty quickly.

In fact, if you’ll excuse me. I just saw someone I need to meet.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.DowellTaggart.com dowelltaggart

    Great post! I just checked out Evernote. How does it compare to the Google products (notebook, Docs and Picassa)? Have fun at SXSW. Also, I noticed that you have Record a Comment. Do many readers use it?

    • KatFrench

      Chiming in while the boss is out:

      Evernote is probably most like Notebook, but with added functionality.

      We've only had a couple of folks use the video commenting, but if you're feeling the urge, jump right in!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Hey Chris. Thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay in responding. Thankfully, Kat smartly jumped in.

      Evernote just plays a lot more nimbly than the Google products. Don't get me wrong, I love Google and what they do. I still use Docs for collaboration, etc., but Evernote has the desktop application, bookmarkets for clipping, etc. Just feels better.

      And Kat answered the video comment thing. How about you use it next time you comment? I'll respond accordingly! Thanks for visiting.

  • http://www.DowellTaggart.com dowelltaggart

    Great post! I just checked out Evernote. How does it compare to the Google products (notebook, Docs and Picassa)? Have fun at SXSW. Also, I noticed that you have Record a Comment. Do many readers use it?

  • http://simplifiedsolutionsllc.com Bryce Raley

    I've been using skitch and evernote on my MAC (just got a MAC this fall), but I'm pretty lame at getting results from Evernote. I'd love to see a screencast showing some of the cool functionality. I use 37 signals products and google apps but I still think there is a place for Evernote.

    Enjoying your posts!

  • http://simplifiedsolutionsllc.com Bryce Raley

    I've been using skitch and evernote on my MAC (just got a MAC this fall), but I'm pretty lame at getting results from Evernote. I'd love to see a screencast showing some of the cool functionality. I use 37 signals products and google apps but I still think there is a place for Evernote.

    Enjoying your posts!

  • http://www.smorty71.com smorty71

    I have also used that story about our impromptu meetup several times to demonstrate the “vibe” of SXSWi and the power of Twitter. Looking forward to more good times this year.

    • KatFrench

      I had a similar experience at Pubcon back in November. Several agency SEO folks, including Brian Carter, Jon Henshaw, Peter “Dr. Pete” Meyers, Brian Chappell, got together via Twitter for a great dinner and conversation. It was a fun time. :)

  • http://www.smorty71.com smorty71

    I have also used that story about our impromptu meetup several times to demonstrate the “vibe” of SXSWi and the power of Twitter. Looking forward to more good times this year.

  • KatFrench

    There are some cool videos, including a “one minute elevator pitch” on this page of the Evernote site: http://evernote.com/about/what_is_en/video/

  • KatFrench

    I had a similar experience at Pubcon back in November. Several agency SEO folks, including Brian Carter, Jon Henshaw, Peter “Dr. Pete” Meyers, Brian Chappell, got together via Twitter for a great dinner and conversation. It was a fun time. :)

  • KatFrench

    Chiming in while the boss is out:

    Evernote is probably most like Notebook, but with added functionality.

    We've only had a couple of folks use the video commenting, but if you're feeling the urge, jump right in!

  • http://www.themarketess.com Krista Neher

    Jason

    Great tips… I can't wait to see you again! SXSW rawks.

    - Krista

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Krista. We'll see you soon, I'm sure.

  • http://www.themarketess.com Krista Neher

    Jason

    Great tips… I can't wait to see you again! SXSW rawks.

    - Krista

  • http://twitter.com/therichbrooks therichbrooks

    Jason,

    As I was closing up my office getting ready to head out I spotted your article. I can't believe I was going to go to SXSW w/o business cards!

    Since this is my first trip to SXSW I need all the help I can get. Thanks for the quickie tutorial, and hope to throw back a beer (or bourbon) with you in ATX.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Glad to be of service. Hit me when you get to town!

      • http://twitter.com/therichbrooks therichbrooks

        And I did! BTW, if you ever need a Maker's Mark beta tester, please keep me in mind.

  • http://twitter.com/therichbrooks therichbrooks

    Jason,

    As I was closing up my office getting ready to head out I spotted your article. I can't believe I was going to go to SXSW w/o business cards!

    Since this is my first trip to SXSW I need all the help I can get. Thanks for the quickie tutorial, and hope to throw back a beer (or bourbon) with you in ATX.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Hey Chris. Thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay in responding. Thankfully, Kat smartly jumped in.

    Evernote just plays a lot more nimbly than the Google products. Don't get me wrong, I love Google and what they do. I still use Docs for collaboration, etc., but Evernote has the desktop application, bookmarkets for clipping, etc. Just feels better.

    And Kat answered the video comment thing. How about you use it next time you comment? I'll respond accordingly! Thanks for visiting.

  • http://www.radicaltrust.ca collin

    Have fun! I won't be there this year… workload not permitting this time.
    ;-( wish I was there.

    Maybe this year I would have interviewed you about the Tide thing the other night!

    Have a blast, forward positive vibes on to everyone at SXSW!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      We'll miss ya, buddy. But we'll toast you, I'm sure. Heh.

  • http://www.radicaltrust.ca collin

    Have fun! I won't be there this year… workload not permitting this time.
    ;-( wish I was there.

    Maybe this year I would have interviewed you about the Tide thing the other night!

    Have a blast, forward positive vibes on to everyone at SXSW!

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks Krista. We'll see you soon, I'm sure.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Glad to be of service. Hit me when you get to town!

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    We'll miss ya, buddy. But we'll toast you, I'm sure. Heh.

  • http://twitter.com/therichbrooks therichbrooks

    And I did! BTW, if you ever need a Maker's Mark beta tester, please keep me in mind.

  • http://vergenewmedia.com Jim Long

    Jason, I wish I were there with you this year! That was my first SXSW and it was a complete whirlwind. Wish I'd had reference like this back then.

  • http://vergenewmedia.com Jim Long

    Jason, I wish I were there with you this year! That was my first SXSW and it was a complete whirlwind. Wish I'd had reference like this back then.

  • http://www.startupslive.tv Dennis Lankes

    I loved all the suggestions in this post. However I have two questions. I am a verizon customer but I would to be more mobile with my twits. Do you have a suggestion for a smart phone on Verizon since I can't get the iPhone? Also with the vCards or business cards what are some suggestions for a cloud version of hosted contacts? I have heard that CloudContacts is pretty good. Thoughts? Thanks again for this post it was extremely helpful in planning for future conferences.

  • http://www.startupslive.tv Dennis Lankes

    I loved all the suggestions in this post. However I have two questions. I am a verizon customer but I would to be more mobile with my twits. Do you have a suggestion for a smart phone on Verizon since I can't get the iPhone? Also with the vCards or business cards what are some suggestions for a cloud version of hosted contacts? I have heard that CloudContacts is pretty good. Thoughts? Thanks again for this post it was extremely helpful in planning for future conferences.

  • http://www.startupslive.tv Dennis Lankes

    I loved all the suggestions in this post. However I have two questions. I am a verizon customer but I would to be more mobile with my twits. Do you have a suggestion for a smart phone on Verizon since I can't get the iPhone? Also with the vCards or business cards what are some suggestions for a cloud version of hosted contacts? I have heard that CloudContacts is pretty good. Thoughts? Thanks again for this post it was extremely helpful in planning for future conferences.

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