Why I’m Not Missing SxSW

mehDown in Austin, Texas, the South by South West (SxSW) festival has started in earnest.

A collection of music, film and interactive mediums, it’s an event that always sees a large social media presence.

And precisely why I’m glad I’m not there this year.

Scanning through some tweets about SxSW it’s clear to see that, while not everyone has fallen for the malaise, the same social media circle jerk love-in so visible last year has already set in.

Comments about there being no-one left to do social media if a tornado hit an event there (obviously the only folks that can make social media a business are all at SxSW); the name-dropping of who people are hanging out with at barbecues and dinners; the rehashed buzzword bingo that we’ve all heard before.

And this is only the first day.

Here’s the thing, folks. It’s not rocket science what you’re doing. It’s not earth-shattering revelations. In fact, it’s almost a little embarrassing how self-important it all comes across as. Not to mention a little demeaning to all the folks doing great social media work who would most definitely be able to continue if a tornado did indeed hit Austin…

Now, there are some great reasons for being at SxSW, and hearing back from some of the folks down there about the really cool stuff is where the real interest lies. At least for me. As for the social media love-in?

Well, I guess that’s what selective hearing is for.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Яick Harris

Sign up for free weekly content

Enter your first name and email below to get my free weekly newsletter with the latest posts, recommended reading, content tips and more.

(I respect your privacy and will never spam you)

Blog consulting with Danny Brown

Comment Policy: Your words are your own, so be nice and helpful if you can. Let’s treat the guests (and that includes you) nicely. Otherwise, you will be moderated and deleted where I feel it’s applicable. Please, only use your real name and limit the amount of links submitted in your comment. Apart from that - have at it!

    Share Your Thoughts

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. says

    Cap in hand, you’ve got me on my feet applauding. I echo your sentiments while at the same time admitting to being somewhat surprised by the extent of the syrup-y-ness of it all. But… no need for ‘baby going out with the bath water’ here either… so thanks for the reminder that selective hearing is a viable option.

  2. says

    I’m more interested in going for the music aspect of it! Other than that, I agree with you about social media not being rocket science and all of the name-dropping. All I’ve seen on Facebook about it is posts about which restaurants have long lines. Haven’t heard anything earth-shattering or groundbreaking about any panels or anything.

    • says

      It’s crazy, huh? $500 just to go and share how many people are in front of you in the queue… 😉

      Maybe SxSW should rein in the interactive part and just go back to being a really cool music and movie experience?

  3. says

    Great points Danny. i was teaching a couple of people yesterday a little about social media. They find it daunting still. The name dropping would not mean anything to them. I told them it was not rocket science either but a set of tools to connect with amazing people near and far…Yo don not need to be a techie but a people lover.
    Human just love to make celebrities or each other and be near them. A reality check of gratitude of what we have is always humbling. There is more than enough to go around. Greatness abounds…it is a matter of being aware.
    .-= rebeccahappy´s most recent blog post …RebeccaHappy: “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” ~Hafiz =-.

  4. says

    First of all Danny, nice looking blog. :) Then next, great post and good reminder about selective hearing.

    As @CKieff reminded me yesterday, just check the hashtag #notatsxsw to see that here are many, many of us who are not at SXSW.

    (Although I confess to a certain amount of envy. I’d enjoy hanging with the cool kids and meeting people face to face, but it wasn’t to be this year.)

    So, curled up in my armchair on rainy March Sunday, I scan the Twitterstream for new information that will help me deliver value to my clients. Some of it comes from #SXSW tweets and some of it from the many people who are #notatSXSW, and perhaps never will be. And that’s ok.
    .-= Allen Mireles´s most recent blog post …An Unexpected Use of Facebook–Or Is It? =-.

    • says

      There’s no doubt that some great info is (and will) come from SxSW, Allen. It’s just a shame you have to dig through the hoopla to get there 😉

  5. says

    Kudos. Wanna guess how many people asked me (or bulk emailed me) wondering if I was going to the event? Wanna guess how many times I said no for the simple reason I see zero value in paying money for something when I’d rather be a name and not a number?

    Besides, I’m seeing across Twitter and blog posts what you’re seeing: everyone writing the same stuff. Less about conference sessions and more about karaoke meetups, bar lounging, and social gatherings. And they’re paying money for this, wanting me to join them?
    .-= Ari Herzog´s most recent blog post …Web 2.0, Government 2.0, Anything 2.0: STOP IT! =-.

  6. says

    We’re definitely simpatico here Danny.

    I’m sure that there’s some value to some of the panels, but really, the value of the event boils down to two things IMHO:

    1) In a short amount of time, meeting a relatively large number of people you follow and respect face-to-face


    2) One big party.

    I’m not one to shake a stick at those things, but as you articulated, I wouldn’t go expecting to learn something earth-shattering.
    .-= Andrew Swenson´s most recent blog post …Back to Basics: An Open Letter to Publishers =-.

    • says

      There are definitely some great panels, Andrew, although one of the problems is that many (on paper, at least) seem to duplicate others.

      Or if the panels don’t, then the buzzwords do… 😉

  7. says


    Great post! I think a lot of us are feeling the same way. I know of people presenting great sessions, but yet most of the talk is about partying. Tons of high school behavior happening. And I wasn’t fond of high school.

    I’m having trouble with Disqus Comments on my blog and I emailed for help on Friday. I got an email from them saying they were at SxSW. Not something I wanted to read when I have an issue! So I hope nothing happens in Austin or I’ll never get my issue resolved!

    I mean don’t get me wrong, I would love to go and experience it… perhaps meeting some people in real life. And exchanging and learning new ideas.
    .-= Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR´s most recent blog post …Caffeine + Competitiveness = Badge =-.

    • says

      That’s the perfect example, Ann. I’ve heard countless horror stories about non-service because “we’re at SxSW”.


      And SxSW is paying your staff’s wages? Because I sure hope so, otherwise they’ll be just a tad screwed when I switch to a provide who’s at SxSW but can still offer great service…

  8. says

    Dude, this post rocks! I’m new to social media and so far from all the long winded, white paper, mumbo jumbo, self important hyperbolic self talk, I’m getting pretty tired of it all as well.

    After I finish reading all the latest and greatest social media strategy, it still boils down to just one thing. Like in the movie City Slickers. Just one thing. And that is, connect. And you do this by creating content. So what is the BFD. You crank out the content and communicate back and forth. Done. It’s not brain surgery.

    Do you need a Harvard MBA to get it? Dont think so. I’m going back to work and write some more.

    Wake me up if something changes.

    peace out,

    donovan moore
    Gotham, WI
    .-= Donovan Moore´s most recent blog post …The Future of God: A new Theory =-.

    • says

      Hey there Donovan,

      And that’s the sad part. People within the social media space “complain” because the mainstream still fails to take it seriously.

      But if all you’re doing is back-slapping the same people and names, and sharing the same stories and examples, then of course folks are going to be bored and look elsewhere.

      Don’t get me wrong – there are some great folk doing some great stuff in the social media realm. But some of the stuff that came out SxSW? You’d be hard pushed to believe the good stuff is out there…

  9. says

    Nice post Danny – thank you. I’m leaving tomorrow to check out SXSW for the first time. I’m just viewing is as kind of a tax-deductible Spring Break for geeks.

    I’m in midlife and have made the decision to live the rest of my life without regrets. SXSW has been on my bucketlist for a couple of years, so I figure I owe it to myself to check it out.
    .-= RickGriffin´s most recent blog post …Rock Climbing – Check! =-.

  10. says

    I considered going to Austin this year. I decided I would rather work with my clients (primarily small business owners) on a more practical basis. I have been hearing some good reports like the one that Google is working to bridge Google Apps with personal accounts. But for now, I’ll concentrate on practical solutions that work today.

    Thanks Danny for confirming for me that I am not missing much at the “love fest.”
    .-= Richard A Marti Jr´s most recent blog post …Short Quiz to See if Social Media Marketing is Right for You? =-.

    • says

      That’s the thing, Rich. There’s some truly great stuff that always comes out of SxSW, yet the love-fest and self-congratulations dilutes it. Hey ho…

  11. says

    I can see why you wouldn’t want to go to SXSW this year. I agree, the one big party thing doesn’t seem like the best use of a corporation’s money if there’s nothing returned back to the corporation.

    But I’m curious if you (and really anyone reading) attends any conferences, and if so, if any offer value for you?

    I’m leaving for an IT conference today, and though the content is going to be fantastic, and the keynotes top-notch, my biggest takeaway for these events is the people. Making time to press the flesh and get to know folks in real life makes it all worthwhile. Folks I can call up after the conference and ask for help. Folks I can talk to about problems I might be having, and because they know me, maybe, just maybe, they might be able to help me.

    Yes, sometimes you have to wade through a lot of sewage to get to the gold, but there’s gold in them thar hills!
    .-= Phil Gerbyshak´s most recent blog post …Stop Playing Corporate Dodgeball…Yeah I’m Talking To You! =-.

    • says

      Great point, Phil. Yes, one of the best parts of any conference, event, etc, are the connections.

      The problem with SxSW (and pretty much any social media event) is that it’s usually the same names talking about the same stuff. So do we really make any cool new connections? Debatable.

      There’s sewage and then there’s repetitive sewage – how much do you really want to wade through? 😉

  12. says

    I love reading posts that are counter current.

    Here in Boston some pals have put together a #NXNE #fakeSXSW event, being held tonight at the Summer Shack. A 10 minute drive to talk with good friends is preferable to a large and loud scene.

    Also, I figure from a business standpoint there is a difference between “Hey Look at ME” and “Hey, look what I can do for you”. I have met plenty of colleagues and clients on the web (mostly through Twitter) so I don’t feel compelled to travel for business reasons.

    I readily admit it would be fun to experience SXSW and meet new folks face to face and solidify and extend current friendships. Dodging Boston’s Noah like deluge this weekend would have been a plus as well.

    So, I feel the pull of the crowd to SXSW, but I know I am doing well right here. I Don’t need to feel that I am missing something unknown either.

    I can see a lot of the slidedecks online and read a few blog posts and feel satisfied. Meanwhile my clients are not experiencing a gap in service.

    It’s all about the client, not about me. At least that is what I attempt to strive for.

    Thanks for the post.

    • says

      Hey there Jim,

      I think you raise a key point. From a learning point of view, you can find the key talks and presentations online. So, apart from the face-to-face connection, is there anything that SxSW offers that you’d really miss?

      After all, there are already a ton of social media get-togethers all through the year…

    • says

      Let’s say the connections get you nowhere. They’re just there for the “party” as well. Does that justify a company’s cost or are there better ways to do business?

  13. says

    I guess I am out of touch.. I keep hearing about he SXSW and have no clue what it is? I looked it up and it talked about music… what is the education part to this or does it really matter since most of you on this comment seem to think it isn’t worth it?

    Thanks for bringing it to the surface and will feel much better once I know if I am missing something or not.

    • says

      Hi Kim,

      SxSW used to be a great resource for new movies and music. Then they added the Interactive section, hence the SxSWi tag.

      The “education” part is subjective – will you learn more there at a keynote than you would dissecting online resources? Possibly – ut then do you want to be squashed between 500 people while doing so, and paying a couple of thousand dollars for the privilege? 😉

  14. says

    Great post, and this being my first SXSW event, I definitely get the “circle jerk” kind of vibe. I have to say that I still get excited about the celebrity of some of these people (Gary V, Evan Williams, etc.), but a lot of the panels do have a feeling of self importance. That is, the panels I can get in to … most of them pack fast (i.e., if you can’t get there an hour early, don’t bother going). But it’s the parties and private events that get my goat, because they’re never private and they’re ridiculous.

    As I twittered early, SXSW = a bunch of people in a room together doing their own thing, creating a really impersonal space.

  15. says

    “Comments about there being no-one left to do social media if a tornado hit an event there (obviously the only folks that can make social media a business are all at SxSW)”

    It is so much more important that we are here doing what we do daily…so they will have figures to report at next year’s SxSW!!!

    .-= Robyn Hawk´s most recent blog post …FROM THE ARCHIVES: You all know that I am a huge fan of Christine Dhein and her Green Jewelry News…I have some GOOD NEWS!!!! Past articles are now archived for all to read! The Green Jewelry News is only available by subscription (Free) and every issue is chock full of great articles and tips for greener jewelry design…enjoy reading the articles you may have missed! =-.

  16. says

    Hi, Danny. As the face behind the “social media circle jerk” link you popped up there, I feel obligated – and quite happy – to agree with you. Social media has sucked the value, the interest, and the soul away from SXSW.

    I’ve spoken with a couple of friends of mine who have gone to SXSW every year for years. They’re not going this year (this is two different people, from two different places – not a couple). Both give the same story: “it used to be about bad-ass indie music and indie film, man. Now it’s about pasty white guys who won’t put away their fucking iPhones to listen.”

    I’ve never been, but I’ve often wanted to. At least until I read the static from last year. Just a few years ago, reporting from SXSW was about how fantastic Wolfmother or Mastodon was. Last year, it was all about how great Twitter and Facebook are.

    I’ve got no time for that. Some things should remain blessedly social-media free.

    Thanks for the link. I love this post.

    • says

      Hey there Nickolas,

      One of the biggest pet peeves of mine is ignorance. And I find that often gets amplified by social media, despite being a “connecting medium”.

      I went to PodCamp Toronto last year, and watched some of the “names” in social media meet folk that really wanted to connect. And what were they doing?

      Tapping away on their iPhone or BlackBerry about where they were going to hang out for the after-party.

      Thanks, but I’ll hang with the decent folks that are actually interested as opposed to the ones that are self-interested.

  17. Bryan Menell says

    Good to see that you’ve dusted off the tired old blog post theme of “I didn’t attend this conference, so it’s not very good this year.” I read this blog post about SXSW, Web 2.0, DEMO, the TechCrunch 50, and TED all the time.

    Sure there is plenty of social media snake oil, but it’s no different than any other gathering. I’d say you’re following the wrong people.

  18. Shannon Aronin says

    Hi Danny,

    First off the new blog is gorgeous!

    Now I’m going to do something I don’t usually do… disagree with you!

    First off, I’m live in Austin, and SXSW is good for the city. Period. And all those indie music and film types, I don’t have much use for them either. Generally I get the “you’re not cool enough to play with us” vibe.

    Last year, my first sxsw, was life changing. I was just beginning to get how many very smart people were doing social media. I didn’t know who Chris Brogan was, but I did know who Beth Kanter was, and she remains the only internet celebrity I’m still a huge fan girl of, but a lot less intimidating!

    This year was different. I got really sick. Not like contagious flu sick, more like shit what’s wrong with me bloodwork kind of sick. I had 3 drinks on Friday night before realizing that was the last any alcohol would touch my lips the whole conference as a result. I was unable to do the late night party scene… I had a late dinner with Stacey Monk Friday night, and that was the last night out. I was saddened by this as I am in search of clients and employers. Pressing that flesh can be helpful. Because I wasn’t feeling well, in addition to recently taking a huge confidence hit, I gave out a lot less business cards, but the ones I did really meant something and might lead to something. That’s valuable. Also, because it’s in Austin, it’s just a little weird to be in social media and not go (with a few notable exceptions who had intense circumstances). My badge was paid for, but I would have gone again even if it wasn’t.

    The panels… somebody always gives me some insight, some gem, some experience at this thing that is life changing. This year it was my very last panel when I was fed up by the lack of exciting new info this year. It was simple, who said you can only do one thing? Ie, if I can make money at grants, but I want to be doing social media, instead of single mindedly doing social media, why not do both? Nothing earth shattering there, but it changed my mindset. I think I will always meet someone at SXSW who says something to inspire and teach me. It’s just too many smarties in one area not to. If you don’t walk away with something like this, yep, you are missing the point.

    Parties are fun and all… but frankly I’m not 22 anymore, and you are older than me. Some 30 year olds can do it, and consider it nerd spring break… but WHY would I want to go on spring break again? My body is too old and tired for binge drinking. Really. But I get a lot out of the panels, the lounge (I only choose to stay in the nonprofit one!) and maybe the happy hours when folks are still mostly sober. But talking business with a room full of drunks, I can skip that 😉 But sxsw is as always, you get back what you put into it.

    • says

      The funny thing is, Shannon, we’re probably disagreeing less than you think :)

      The same “too good for you ” indie types that you mention are exactly the same as the ones I’ve seen folks complaining from a social media point if view.

      I won’t name names, but I heard of one big A-lister telling someone he couldn’t chat with them as he had to meet a potential blog sponsor.

      Really? Don’t forget who helped you get these sponsors interested in you in the first place – the same person you just pissed on.

      So, yes, agreed – it’s what you get out of it that makes any event. Shame SxSW seems to be going down the route of “used to be so good.”

  19. says

    I had similar thoughts about CeBIT – the world’s largest computer fair. It’s in Germany, but it’s still quite a way to travel for me. I’ve found it less useful to my business over the years, have started attending more smaller events instead.

  20. says

    DB – You know I love you and your work. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I think I was the one that sent the Tweet about the tornado wiping out the social media strategists, which was a stupid, smug thing to type. Was trying to make the observation that there was a lot of social media expertise in that particular room (courtyard, actually), and was trying to do it in a breezy way. It of course came across poorly, and I’d hope that we’re familiar enough with each other’s viewpoint that you’d recognize that of course I don’t believe being at SXSW is some sort of litmus test, because it clearly is not.

    So, to anyone who may have read that tweet, I apologize sincerely. I do not believe I am a social media a-hole, but if you ever disagree, you have my permission to come out to Arizona and give it to me good. I’ll reimburse your travel expenses.

    On to the larger point. Yes, there were a lot of people at SXSW, and yes it had some deficiencies this year, as I wrote about in my wrap-up post. But, it was still great. Tons of interesting people, potential clients, collaborators, etc.

    I don’t understand why you and Ari and others are so down on the event, just because there is a concentration of people who are in the same business as you are? Why is that a crime? When you’re at an event, and someone you know and respect walks in, and you have a conversation or whatever, why is that so much more offensive to you than if you say “thanks for the retweet” to me when we’re both at home?

    It’s a love in because there are a ton of really interesting, crazy smart people in the same location, who can all talk intelligently about issues that have a direct impact on what we do every day for a living.

    It seems like what you guys really want is a series of tweets telling everyone how much the conference sucks, or that this person or that person sucks. Or maybe I just don’t understand your core objection well?
    .-= Jay Baer´s most recent blog post …Getting Serious About Social Media =-.

    • says

      Hey there Jay,

      In all fairness, and in hindsight, I should have made it clear that your tweet was probably meant in “jest”, as I look to you as one of the less self-indulgent and always informative.

      And that’s probably the answer to your question. It’s not that there’s a lot of expertise at the event – it’s that there’s a lot of “aren’t we cool to hang with Blogger X or Book Author Y” kind of stuff going on.

      The really cool stuff – the lessons, the new viewpoints, the uniqueness, etc – was most definitely there. But too many people seemed to ignore that and go for the “check me out, I’m linkbaiting to Personality X.”

      Good for them – but my clients want reasons for social media, not reasons for visiting a certain bar. To that extent, SxSW still needs to grow. At least from this viewpoint.

  21. says

    I went to SXSWi to connect with people I’ve already met online. Little did I know those would be the worst people to spend time with.

    I also went for some of the panels. Out of all of them, two were worthwhile. The rest? A small room full of hot air.

    I did meet wonderful people outside of social media who were “social” and in “media” so thankfully the trip wasn’t a complete bust. Some good came of it for me and for them.

    During this trip the person I shared a room with, he and I talked long and hard and realized a much better way to connect and create and the much better places to do so. Eureka. So what could have become a wasted trip became possibly the most productive of any I’ve been on in a long while.
    .-= Christina Kingston´s most recent blog post …Top 5 People Who Need To Shut Up =-.

  22. says

    I missed SXSW this year do to client commitments. I I have to admit I was 10% bummed, as there were some specific people that I wanted to reconnect with, but the truth is that little has happened in social media over the past year and that was quite evident in all the tweets.

    Think about it, we’re still tweeting and blogging and Facebooking. The tools have all been upgraded a bit, but the newer applications, like Farmville and Foursquare, are social media novelties and have nothing to do with building friendships or business relationships, which is why I’m in social media in the first place.

    Will I go to SXSW next year? I plan to, but if my schedule doesn’t work out, that’s cool too, I’ve got so many friends in San Diego that I need to reconnect with!
    .-= Global Patriot´s most recent blog post …10 Ways To Be A Global Patriot On Global Patriot Day 2010! =-.

  23. says


    I’m a little late on the reply but nonetheless I was grateful to read this post.

    I understand there are valuable sessions and I love hearing about those – especially any that focus on new thinking, innovation and approaches (and not the same old topics of transparency, integration, etc. etc. that any of us doing social media already know very well).

    But the truth is, whenever a SXSW fanboy or girl talks to me about SXSW, they talk like high schoolers excited about the year-end senior kegger. They don’t talk about the valuable content, amazing speakers or educational sessions. They talk about the parties, the meetups, the beer, the leis and the web-celebs they are excited to snap a photo with so they can display it on their Facebook or Twitpic to somehow further validate their expertise.

    Oy vey.

    I know a lot of good things happen there but it’s the people who say “to be honest, it’s my company paying me to go to one week-long party” that turn me off of this event (http://bit.ly/kV6Hf). I can get all the real valuable content from the blog posts, Twitter posts, podcasts and more – from the people that are actually paying attention while they’re there.

    And as a PR exec, of course I know networking is crucial – but I’d rather spend a few thousand dollars on an event full of clients and new business prospects, not trying to prove I can hang with the “cool kids.”

    .-= Christine Perkett´s most recent blog post …Persuasive Picks for the week of 03/15/10 =-.

    • says

      Hello Christine
      I was there this year. The truth of the matter is that it’s very difficult to connect and discuss with anyone at the actual convention center. This is why the parties became important. As for tweeting out about parties many only did it to find people. My DM didn’t work on my iphone (and this happened to many) and email seemed to go unchecked unless texts weren’t going through. Often my texts were not (thanks At&T).

      After the panels we had a few split seconds to engage and obviously that isn’t enough time. We can give a business card but that’s hardly a lasting interaction. Then if possible we could make further plans but even that is rough because it all fluctuated.

      The panels were not so great and some that were took place simultaneously.
      .-= Christina Kingston´s most recent blog post …Top 5 People Who Need To Shut Up =-.

  24. says

    Interesting post Danny. SxSWi was a blast for me. Mainly because I had the chance to catch up with a lot of folks, meet new folks and participate in interesting sessions – all surrounding the nonprofit space. The nonprofit world at SXsWi is much smaller than the ‘overall’ scene.