Friday, March 9 marks the first day of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference. Each year, hoards of techies, musicians and filmmakers descend upon Austin, TX for over 10 days of programming, events and parties. The renowned festival has brought some of the heaviest hitters in the content creation industry (and beyond), such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk, and even former President Barack Obama. And with each passing year, the event seems to grow in both breadth and depth.
Like most festivals, social media plays a vital role at SXSW. Attendees post all hours of the day (and night) about the countless panels, presentations, screenings and showcases, for the rest of the world to see. Just search the #SXSW hashtag on Instagram or Twitter, and you’ll find many unique, behind-the-scenes shots of the conference so far.
But beyond the attendees and brands, the official SXSW social media accounts must also be updated during its own event. And as one might imagine, that is no easy task. Each post must be succinct, high quality and purposefully placed. Each social channel must be consistent to the conference’s brand, yet unique to the platform. And all social content must inform, entertain and educate both the local conference-goers, as well as wider, worldwide audiences who are all following along.
Chris Cantu, Social Media Manager for SXSW
After last year’s event, we sat down with SXSW Social Media Coordinator Chris Cantu to hear just how his team pulls off such an undertaking. Cantu, who considers himself to be an “air traffic controller” for the event, coordinates with programming, marketing, and sponsorship teams throughout the year ensure social media content can be planned and ready for action when the big week arrives.
“It really is a team effort,” Cantu said. “We get input from our film, music, and interactive liaisons to put together content, and then our marketing department helps set the tone for how we’ll be publishing before, during and after the event.”
Even though the festival lasts only 10 days of the year, Cantu’s team is busy preparing content year round.
“We like to think in ‘seasons’ here” said Cantu. “We kick off our coverage in August, and at that point, it’s all about communicating what’s going to be happening at the next event, as well as any changes in structure and speaker announcements, new programs, and communicating with our community about what they’d like to see for the next event.”
As the conference approaches, Cantu continues to build up hype for programming and events as they are announced. Unlike writing a press release or even a blog post, Cantu said, “Writing for social media is a different animal altogether. Winnowing down everything to be as concise and clear as possible, while maintaining a consistent voice, is a pretty interesting challenge.”
The Week of SXSW
During the week of SXSW, Cantu said his team posts about three to four times as much as they normally would on any given day.
Last year, his team tried to break out of the “normal” coverage across platforms, focusing on showcasing the event itself, rather than simply answering attendee questions or promoting specific events.
“In years past, social media during the event has been informative and directional. Twitter launched here, so people use it for communication, finding out information. So we used to just reiterate the schedule. This year, we wanted to showcase an ‘ideal attendee experience’ using high quality photos and speaker quotes, and it was really effective.”
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 23, 2017
For 2018, Cantu said the team’s goal is to diversify content on each platform by getting a better feel for each site’s personality. For example, you’ll see them being more casual on Twitter this year than years past as well.
Cantu also said big part of the team’s strategy is to only post “the high notes” and some of the lesser known panels on social media. For an event of this magnitude, Cantu said many media organizations and attendees will cover the major events and heavy hitters. But because there are so many different facets of SXSW that don’t normally get official coverage, Cantu wants the SXSW channels to be a little more balanced.
Another aspect of the SXSW social media strategy is to recruit a fleet of trained students to assist with coverage. In a collaboration with Texas State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Cantu’s team has grown to accomodate 15-20 students who help curate, create and develop content for the official SXSW accounts.
“Having 15-16 extra sets of eyes experiencing the event gives us a tiny bit of insight as to see what attendees might respond to,” said Cantu. “For example, we wouldn’t normally have covered Solange’s performance as much as we did last year, but the students were super excited about it. So we decided to send students out to cover it, and it was some our best performing tweets that year.”
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 16, 2017
So, what advice does Chris have for those who are wanting to cover their events like SXSW does?
- Do your Homework. “I can’t tell you how many times I’m looking at Twitter or Facebook, and people don’t use the proper tags or hashtags on their content. Or they didn’t make a Twitter Card. These things are really simple to do. Take some time to properly use the developer tools on social media before, during and after the event.
- Consistency and Quality. “Having a good, consistent voice is super important. ‘Content is king’, so be sure you’re delivering a quality piece to your audiences. I think there’s this real impulse on social media to always be feeding content to your stream. While there is some truth to that, make sure your content resonates. If it’s a blog post you’re not feeling great about it, no one is probably going to take the time to read it. Be critical, and edit your posts, so it looks as good as it possibly can.
- Stay on Mission. “It’s important that your content leading up to the event tries to communicate to your audience what they will get out of it. Explain why you exist, what they will take away, and what opportunities they will get when they come. For us, the mission statement is to help creative people achieve their goals. One of our best performing content pieces was Mark Duplass. He was the ideal keynote because he provided practical advice for filmmakers to get out there, and start making films. It was great, practical advice.
— SXSW (@sxsw) April 29, 2016
You can follow all of the SXSW team’s content on each of their social media channels – Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and be sure to follow the #SXSW hashtag for behind-the-scenes footage from attendees!