Shoutlet Hearts Austin: Our 2011 SXSW Experience

While bands rage on at the music portion of SXSW, SXSW Interactive attendees are catching up on sleep and email. Shoutlet’s first official trip to the Austin-based “spring break for geeks” meant connecting with attendees, introducing our social management software to social media pros, and feeding hungry conference-goers.

We love Austin. It’s vibrant, lively, and well, weird. And it’s social – especially during SXSW. If you were there you might have seen a “Keep Austin Social” sticker here or there around the city – one that showed our support for Austin and displayed a QR code that unlocked the location of free grub from Austin’s iconic food trucks. (And it’s not too late to score more SXSW swag. You can still sign up to win an iPad 2 by March 20 here.)

Keep Austin Social: Shoutlet at SXSW 2011Shoutlet Keeping Austin SocialShoutlet at SXSW 2011

Even though Shoutlet’s in love with Austin, our hearts belong to Wisconsin, where we’re based. That’s why sponsoring the Silicon Prairie Party Sunday night was an extra-special event, with smart entrepreneurs and tech startups from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and more. (Among them: Hollrback, SmartyPig, Tripleseat, and Zaarly.) Plus, they gave away slap bracelets. Very cool. Silicon Prairie News, a social news site for tech companies in middle America, did an excellent job planning the night.

Silicon Prairie Party SXSW 2011

Silicon Prairie Party SXSW 2011, photos by Janae Weinbrenner of Imijfoto

Shoutlet at SXSW Silicon Prairie Party 2011

Photos by Janae Weinbrenner of Imijfoto

Panels are the anchors of SXSW Interactive, and there’s no way to get to them all. Among the best we attended were “Measuring Social Media – Let’s Get Serious” (#smaroi) with Jason Falls, Viralheat’s Raj Kadam, Twitter’s Kevin Weil, and moderator Christina Warren of Mashable. Socially Regulated: Social Media in Regulated Industries (#socreg), was a fantastic discussion about the hurdles that companies in verticals like finance, alcohol, and healthcare face when they embark on a social media program but still must comply with their industry’s communication restrictions. It was led by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Shannon Paul of Very Official Blog, Johnson & Johnson’s Marc Monseau, and Shwen Gwee, digital lead at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. How Brands Respond to Facebook Attacks (#FBattacks) also unleashed a frank and honest discussion led by Ekaterina Walter, social media strategist for Intel, about dealing with crisis and negativity on Facebook Pages that was undoubtedly welcome to the many brand reps in the audience.

And of course, the networking. Everywhere you go, you meet. You talk. You learn about new platforms and questions people have about social media. That is – especially this year with a record number of interactive attendees (nearly 20,000) – perhaps the best part of the festival. Panels are informative, parties are fun, but the face-to-face “#justmets” are priceless. For Shoutlet’s first year at the SXSW Trade Show, meeting new people was as valuable as it was insightful. A constant dialog of how brands and agencies are using social media meant hearing the challenges social businesses are facing now. After all, companies that are engaging with customers are doing the toughest and most admirable work right now. It takes dedication and tenacity to advocate for a well-run social program. Shoutlet and other social management software vendors are here to help them do it better, and SXSW made this really hit home for us.

Some events don’t deserve massive hype. SXSW isn’t one of them. It’s growing, it overtakes the city, and it’s being flooded with advertising dollars, but it’s still the hub of the social world for 5 days out of the year. Now it’s up to all of us to carry the social torch for the next 360 days.

Did you attend this year? What were the biggest themes you saw at this year’s show? Tell us in the comments.