The Insider’s Guide to SXSW Interactive: Dedicated to First-Timers

The other day while surfing around on for #sxsw content I came across and a tweet by Jay Wilkinson regarding his request for Insider Tips for first-timers at South by Southwest. I love SXSW; I love sharing my past experiences and my passion for the city of Austin, Texas. Jay – sorry I’m a day or so late, but hopefully these will help you out. Please share with other first-timers and let them know, we are so happy you are here.

In no particular order, here are my recommendations:

  • Don’t be put off if when you get here you feel like it’s your first day of school in a new town. SXSW is an occasion when many good friends re-connect. Sometimes to an newcomer it feels clique-y at first. Just remember that these are the friendliest bunch of digital marketers out there and do not be shy to strike up a conversation. Connect – that is the golden rule of SXSW.
  • Hang out in the (3rd Annual) Blogger’s Lounge. Ok, full disclosure here, I manage the Blogger’s Lounge, which is sponsored by our client, Windows Phone. I will be there for a good chunk of the day (and I’d greatly appreciate you coming by and introducing yourself).  But, besides meeting me and my TechSet business partner Brian Solis, I promise you will learn something; meet someone who can help you grow your business; and/or find out about some happening or event that ends up being very meaningful to you.We have Tweet Ups scheduled for every day from 4 – 6 pm (with beer and wine). Did I mention that we provide refreshments as well? Also featured: a Rock Band set up, a content creation corner and the Bing Photo Booth.  That’s all great fun but ultimately it’s about the people.  They will make a difference in your experience at this show and most likely make a difference in your life.  Trust me.

SXSW Lounge

  • There are a lot of parties every night.  Sometimes you’ll have to stand on line, but you can usually find one that is less crowded. Since you’re the inspiration for my post, I hereby officially put Jay on the TechSet Party VIP list). DM me and I’ll give you instructions on whom to email for details. Remember – it’s all about stamina this week, so pace yourself.
  • Spend time in the Exhibit Hall this year: I’m going to.  Yes, Porter Novelli has a booth, but I am super impressed by the growth of this area of the show. In previous years, it’s hasn’t really been a big draw but this year it’s hot.  In the last week, I’ve found out the my good pal Hugh Macleod will have a booth there. So will UK Trade and Investment (a delegation of top creative types and geeks from all over the UK with the largest contingent hailing from the West Midlands Region). FYI – I’m on a plane with Jonathan, the lead dude, who is telling me all about some super cool efforts they are launching globally. You can bet that I’ll be there scanning the scene.
  • Utilize Plancast. They’ve done a great job this year with their “non-official” Austin site. You will find a lot of info you need there about the cool events and things to do and see.
  • Utilize #sxsw all day long.  I think you know what this is, but for those that don’t the hashtag that aggregates all things at the conference. You’ll find whatever you’re looking for there.
  • Do a tequila shot at the Iron Cactus.  I’m not a big fan of shots – in fact – rarely do them. But I save up all year to imbibe at the Iron Cactus tequila bar. The selection is amazing. This town is like Napa for Tequila. Remember, I said 1 shot, not 4. Don’t come crying to me if you get sick.
  • Ladies (and gentleman of course) – If you are looking for a place to help with all your beauty needs, I highly recommend Joie de Vie. Tell them Stephanie sent you. I’ve been going there for years and they always make me look pretty for the pictures.
  • Try to get in a little exercise along the river. Every year I bring my work out gear and I really try to get some time in the gym (as I do on all business trips). The late nights make it a bit difficult, but this year I’m going to try harder.  I’m planning a wedding after all. From what I hear, the weather is going to rock – so bring sneakers and get outside! BTW – it might even be swimming weather so pick up a suit and dive in.
  • Buy a T-shirt or sweatshirt or some really cool Texan piece of clothing. I do every year.   The company that manages the “official clothing” booth in the lobby is run by some pretty cool peeps.  And every year the shirts are a work of art.  I bought some pretty amazing red Cowboy boots at Allen’s 2 years ago. It might be time to splurge again.
  • Despite all the fast-paced energy and chaos – build your community online and off. When you meet folks, take the time to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.  Get to know them a bit. It’s a busy week but it will enrich your experience 10-fold.
  • Go to the keynotes.  Ya never what will happen. Of course you should hit a session or too as well.


  • Do some good while you’re here. Building upon Porter Novelli’s efforts in the area of social media for social good, we’ve launched Starting Friday 3/12/10 at 9:00 CT, every time you Check-in on Foursquare in Austin or use #sxswHaiti on Twitter, Microsoft and PayPal will donate $0.25 toward Save the Children up to $15,000! So Check-in, tell your friends and tell your friends’ friends. As usual, the more the merrier and this time, the more the healthier.

Ok – I hope that helps.

Make sure you also read the First-Timers Guide on the official SXSW site.  It’s an excellent list, especially the part about wearing comfortable shoes.  I will of course, inevitably ignore that advice and regret it.

Have a great few days. And make sure you get some sleep each night. You’ll need it.


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