What We Learned at SXSW: Content & Networking Is King!
As first-timers to SXSW, we didn’t find it difficult to meet that goal, considering the amount of drinks they were giving away at various booths and tents throughout the conference.
Even after they had stopped giving away drinks in the early evening, several bars on Austin’s famed 6th St. were charging $1.50 for drafts and well drinks, prices not seen on South Beach since the sleepy 1970s.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that fellow Miami Beach 411 writer Matt Meltzer and I spent the first few days and nights of the conference in a drunken haze (although we would like to confirm to Michelle that her husband and our site’s founder, Gus Moore, was on his best behavior).
Matt summed it up this way:
But even though we barely made a dent in the hundreds of discussion panels being offered inside the four-story Austin Convention Center as well as in several hotels scattered around the city, we emerged from the conference with a fresh perspective on where to take Miami Beach 411.
And that was the ultimate goal of the trip.
“There are so many things we learned on this trip that it would be impossible to list them all here,” said Miami Beach 411 founder Gus Moore.
“But one of the main things is the realization of how mobile everything has become. As a business owner who is primarily focused on the web, unless we adapt to mobile technology, we are going to get passed by.”
The conference not only enabled the three of us to spend quality time together to brainstorm ideas for the future of the website, it allowed to us to network with other tech-savvy people from around the country to explain what we’re all about.
And most of the people we met were so impressed with our unique business model that they wondered if we would ever expand it to other cities.
If the short history of the company is any indicator, nothing should be ruled out.
A Brief History of Miami Beach 411
Gus and Michelle Moore launched the site in 2002 while waiting tables at the defunct Tuscan Steak on South Beach after realizing there wasn’t much travel information about Miami on the internet.
It wasn’t long before Miami Beach 411 was sending more than 50 reservations daily to a variety of Miami’s best restaurants.
In 2003, Gus figured he would ask these restaurants to advertise with Miami Beach 411 considering how much business he had sent them during the previous year, but they weren’t keen on the idea of actually paying for advertising.
In 2004, Google introduced its Google Adsense program, which allows website owners to place ads and make money on a pay-per-click system.
“Google Adsense became our savior,” said Gus. “I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get local restaurants to advertise, especially after sending them so much business in the previous year.”
In 2005, they were making enough money through Google Adsense that they both quit their job to focus on Miami Beach 411 full-time.
In 2006, they began paying writers to contribute to the site, starting with Maria de los Angeles, then adding Matt in early 2007. I jumped on board a year later.
“We went from being a middleman selling tours to selling our own tours because I no longer felt comfortable sending our readers on other company’s tour buses,” Gus said.
Today, Miami Beach 411 maintains a staff of 12 full-timers as well as more than 20 independent contractors. It also owns four Miami Tour Company buses that do daily tours.
So it’s only natural that Gus is a huge fan of Google and was sure to attend the SXSW session headed by Marissa Mayer, Vice President of products related to local markets and geolocation, as well as the session lead by Mark Cutts, Google’s Principal Engineer in charge of fighting webspam.
“Those were two of my favorites, but the Guy Kawasaki Enchantment session was probably the most informative as far as nuts and bolts to follow to get people to like your products and services,” he said.
“(Kawasaki) talks about the importance of being remarkable to stay on top. We need to continue publishing remarkable stories and we need to continue being remarkable and innovative on our tours. And we will continue doing that.”
Rakontur was in the House
We weren’t the only Miamians in Austin for SXSW. Our friends from Rakontur were there for the premiere of their new movie, Square Grouper, because the film portion of SXSW coincided with the interactive portion. Read Matt’s review here.
SXSW veteran Alex De Carvalho, who teaches a class on social media at the University of Miami, was also there. It was his fifth year in a row to SXSW.
“Everything has gotten so much bigger with SXSW,” he said. “The conference, the panels, the parties.”
In fact, with a 30 percent increase in interactive attendees this year compared to last year, this was the first year the interactive portion surpassed the music portion of the festival, even though SXSW evolved from the music festival in 1987 and did not add the interactive and film portions until 1994.
And while it’s true the number of interactive panels was overwhelming, especially considering many were located more than a mile from the convention center, it is also true that many were not offering anything ground-breaking.
“It was very hit or miss this year,” De Carvalho said.
The few panels I attended, which appealed to the journalist in me, were very basic, offering the same information that is constantly barraging my Twitter stream day in and day out.
The panel that I thought I would find the most fascinating, titled Bloggers vs Journalists, was refreshing but only because the panelists were discussing the same things I have been saying for years on my blog, Photography is Not a Crime; that the First Amendment applies to everybody, not just corporate media journalists.
And it was also refreshing considering how some people in the audience wondered if there was even a need for such a panel anymore, considering how accepted blogs have become to the mainstream media in recent years.
The reoccurring theme in all the panels I sat in on was that content is king, something I’ve known for years but somehow seems to get lost in all ongoing chatter about SEO and “branding” and “engagement”.
Essentially, if you produce crap, you will get crappy readership.
Networking and New Technology
But SXSW is about so much more than increasing web traffic, even though that is everybody’s ultimate goal.
It’s also about networking and keeping up with emerging technologies and trends.
Michelle Catin, a digital and social media manager at rbb Public Relations in Miami, was sent to SXSW to keep up on the latest concepts that could assist her company’s clients.
What she learned is that nowadays, it’s all about creating an online gaming experience to keep customers engaged as companies like Foursquare and Groupon are doing.
“It’s about rewarding customers with discounts and continuing to build relationships with our customers that are online in a fun and engaging way that can drive real-life actions,” she said.
But Catin, who is a board member of Social Media Club South Florida, also acknowledged that many of the panels were not offering anything new; covering topics that had already been covered at SMCSF’s monthly meetings.
“I felt that most of the advantage that came from SXSW was from a networking perspective,” she said. “Just for that alone, it worth going to.”
Aubrey Swanson, social media coordinator at Kaufman, Rossin and Co. in Miami, was also sent to SXSW to keep up with emerging technologies.
She learned that the more technology advances in the business landscape, the more important it is for companies to stick to the fundamentals in order to succeed.
“Businesses need to think and act like humans,” she said. “It sounds easy and like common sense, but most companies are not implementing this well or at all.
“Those companies that are succeeding online and offline are humanizing their social media and marketing efforts. Businesses can learn a great deal from small businesses, small towns and small communities.”
Seth Elliot, a Miami consultant who advises start-up companies, was sent to SXSW by Hashable, a startup launched last year that bills itself as the “ultimate networking app,” allowing you to keep track of people you’ve just met.
“They sent me along with 15 other people to evangelize the product and we rocked it,” he said, adding that he personally referred more than 200 people to Hashable over several days at the conference.
Elliot, who had never been to SXSW before, believes the conference has become way too popular to allow new startups to take the technology scene by storm as Twitter did in 2007 and Foursquare did in 2009.
Hashable was hoping to be this year’s big hit, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, according to this Business Insider article.
“After the success of Twitter and Foursquare, there are just way too many people trying to launch startups at SXSW,” Elliot said. “It has become very difficult to succeed. There is just way too much noise.”
In fact, it wasn’t a startup technology company that got all the attention at SXSW this year, but an old-school car company.
Chevy, which has been on a social media rampage over the last year, offered several stations throughout the conference where attendees could recharge their phones free of charge. They also provided cupcakes, free rides and opportunities for people to drive various models.
Then there was Willie Morris of Ft. Lauderdale, who was there with his business partner, Matt Lally, promoting their company called Imaneed, a website that strives to connect consumers who need a product with businesses who have that product.
The two spent the first two days of the conference clad in superhero tights promoting their company, offering to bring people beer if they requested it, which would really be the height of laziness for those people considering promoters were handing out beer every 100 feet or so (check them out in the above video).
However, their campaign went so well that they were named as one of five examples of effective advertising by Ignite Social Media.
“Traffic on our website skyrocketed,” Morris said. “We even got a quick shout-out on CNN’s South by Southwest coverage.”
Although the interactive and film portion of SXSW was winding down when we left Austin on Tuesday, the music portion was just picking up.
This turned out to be an even more raucous atmosphere with people communicating over shouts instead of tweets and men wearing long hair and saber-tooth earrings instead of short hair and iPod earphones.
And the beer, of course, continued to flow.
But this time, it wasn’t just Matt and I double-fisting our drinks.
Photos and video by Carlos Miller
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