8 Things Event Professionals Can Learn from SXSW
South by Southwest has consistently been one of the fastest growing events since its humble beginning 30 years ago. It is one of the largest events in the world and attracts all walks of life, including: musicians, marketers, artists, filmmakers, and representatives of the insurance, health care, education, and fashion industries. SXSW is an annual set of film, interactive media, and music festivals lasting a span of 10 days with over 300,000 people in attendance throughout the event. SXSW is like no other event in regards to content offered, number of sessions and speakers, and size. SXSW is essentially an entire takeover of Austin, Texas. The major keynotes and a majority of the sessions take place in the Austin Convention Center with other SXSW sponsored events throughout the Austin area.
There’s Something for Everybody
No matter where your interests lie, SXSW will have something that excites and engages you. Whether you are interested in video games, film and movies, music, marketing, technology, robotics, education, art, or politics, there will be sessions, activities and brands for you to engage with. There are over 900 concurrent sessions going on all over Austin during SXSW so there’s no physical way to see everything. Organizers understood this issue of jam-packing massive amounts of content into a limited time frame. In order to help attendees plan their schedule, pick their favorite sessions and navigate the festival, they built SXSW GO, an app that allowed attendees to see recommendations, share their schedule with friends, discover related content, find venues and internal floorplans, build a library of favorites, and create a profile with tags.
8 Themes from SXSW Effecting the Events Industry
SXSW has grown to be an event that sets a precedent for festivals and other events around the world. There are a number of lessons to take from the model that SXSW has become and it’s important to examine, adapt and implement these themes in your events (scaling down to size, of course).
1. Find New Data Capture Methods
Leading event professionals are using creative ways to gather more data by offering incentives for sharing information. Many companies and organizations are creating opt-in engagement opportunities. An attendee must provide their email address or some other bit of information in order to gain access to Wi-Fi, activities, digital content, charging stations, photo booths, or giveaways. Once this data is collected you can communicate with the audience outside of the event and beyond via email, texting, or tweeting. Using the information obtained, vendors or organizers can share event photos or offer pre-sale tickets, VIP opportunities, and surveys in order to engage the audience and gather additional feedback about what they’d like to see in the future.
2. Analyze Data for More Actionable Insights
Professionals on panels at the festival discussed the different ways their organizations use and analyze data. They discussed how they took the data they obtained and turned the information into data-driven marketing strategies that target specific people and engage them in relevant ways. As a promoter or organizer when trying to decide the best use of the data, you need to think of the questions you’re intending to answer. Are you trying to show your organization’s growth? Are you trying to understand the trends in ticket sales? Once a promoter knows their audience, their behavior and preferences, and how they like to consume content, the have the ability to engage the audience more effectively.
3. Create Compelling Content and Utilize Attendee Generated Content
Marketing is evolving into something more personalized and intimate. Marketing initiatives are focusing more on the content experience rather than the traditional methods of surrounding the audience in information. From the time the event is announced to the close of the event, marketers should be feeding potential attendees event-related information via email and social networks. Create compelling content to get attendees engaged. Even more, source the content your attendees are creating for you. Use tools to compile the content posted by attendees on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. Archive content, videos, and tracks to be used at later times. You can recreate and reuse larger pieces of content in order to save time and money while keeping messaging consistent.
4. Reliable Wi-Fi is required for Successful Engagement
How can you possibly expect your attendees to engage in social media and interact online during sessions if you can’t guarantee a constant reliable Wi-Fi connection? Organizers need to ensure that the network infrastructure is capable of supporting the number of expected attendees and all their devices. In order to morph attendees into content producers, you must give them access to (fast!) internet in order to be able to share their experiences with a broader audience.
The cost of providing Wi-Fi for attendees at events is continually an issue for organizers. This year at SXSW, organizers were able to off-set some of the costs of providing Wi-Fi by offering opportunities to sponsor the supply of Wi-Fi. Marketers paid for sponsorships and received advertising or other promotional opportunities and were able to reach the attendees at the event. There’s value to thinking outside of the box when looking for sponsorships.
5. Utilize Location Based Services in New Ways
Location based services or LBS, like beacons, have garnered a lot of debate in the past. Is this a form of technology that is truly effective or is it just a way to “spy” on attendees? Though there’s still an argument out there on the perceived intrusiveness, beacon technology has been improved and expanded. It’s easier now to prove value and worth: attendees can find their friends easily, see what bands are playing near them, what sessions are about to start, and even find the closest restrooms, first aid station, and other facilities. Festival organizers at SXSW were able to ping attendees with relevant promotions, advertisements, and messages depending on where an attendee was during the event.
SXSW also put LBS into play in a unique and highly efficient way. SXSW used the beacons to increase efficiencies by streamlining foot traffic and increasing security at the event. For example, if lines were too long and wait times were exceeding the allotted time of 30 minutes, organizers were alerted and could help direct and manage foot traffic by making staff changes or other decisions in real time.
6. Digital Payments are the Future
At large scale events, lines build up quickly and payment methods need to be convenient and fast. Attendees want a quicker way to pay that can be easily managed. At SXSW, organizers used RFID wristbands that could be loaded with money via the SXSW GO app and used to easily purchase items. While they are convenient for fans, they are even more useful for organizers. Using digital payments through the RFID bracelets, venues can reduce fraud and get up-to-date reports of sales and revenue in real time across the entire event. Digital payment systems even increase the amount of money spent per person anywhere between 15-30%, proving that attendees will spend more money if it is convenient and quick for them.
7. Mindful Eating and Food Trends
As people are increasingly more conscious about what they eat, where it comes from, and how it’s made, food options need to reflect that mindset and reach beyond the typical hot dog and hamburger fare. People are paying more attention to how much of their food is processed, in what manner, and how it impacts the economy.
The food and restaurant industry is evolving and shifting rather quickly. Attendees are demanding a more expansive line of options to eat while attending an event. Three years ago, SXSW added SouthBites, which continues to grow every year. SouthBites is a portion of SXSW’s Interactive festival with food trucks and street vendors including speakers, chefs, and food industry professionals that host panels, networking events, and sessions. Discussions ranged from how technology will influence and evolve the food, beverage, and agricultural industries from drones being used for farming, sustainable seafood, whether or not a “no-tipping” policy will save the restaurant industry. Creating a conversation around an important staple of human interaction.
8. Virtual Reality and Wearable Technology
Internet of Things, or IoT, made a prominent appearance at SXSW this year in a far more sophisticated way than what we’ve come to expect. Wearables are well on their way to transforming the way we live. Moving from simply tracking data, wearable technology is aiming to improve the quality of life and how people experience life and events.
There’s a belief that virtual reality is going to significantly change the technology world but there’s also debate as to what other industries will be effected? Travel or events industries? Live sports and gaming? VR gives people the ability to “participate” in experiences that might not otherwise be possible. If this technology is implemented into the events industry how many people will continue to attend physical events and how will event planning change and evolve to include attendees tuning in via virtual reality?
Just the Beginning?
SXSW is an amazing example of an event that has adapted with the ever-changing world we live in today. It is a festival that understood the value of user-generated content and appreciates and strives to implement new technology in an effective and valuable way. We’ve really only skimmed the surface of all the ways that SXSW has been routinely successful and how event professionals can learn from their example. We’re curious if you’ve been to SXSW and in what ways did it stand out to you?