Four days of SXSW by a newbie.

By Dustin Zick

As things got closer to my first ever SXSW, I made a commitment to myself: I’d make a strong effort to experience as much of the event as my badge could get me into. Years ago, I learned that the best value that comes out of attending a conference is a personal re-energizing – the notion of being re-inspired to pursue success in both professional and personal projects. Working in digital media, specifically social media, means that so many of the best panels and sessions on the topic serve best as a mode of inspiration as opposed to actual utility.

I still maintain that the best way to explore new possibilities with social media is to play with it and get your hands dirty. There’s not a book, a seminar, or a workshop that can give you a better feel for what’s possible on social than using it yourself.

With that said, the combination of sessions and activations at SXSW have injected a solid amount of inspiration into my veins. Here are some of the highlights.

Session – Innovating The Future With Culture Track — This was, hands down, my favorite session because I walked out of it wanting to know more and knowing that I’ll be able to use some of this data in my work pretty quickly. Culture Track ’17 was a follow-up to Culture Track ’14, a study with data collected from 4,035 cultural consumers mirroring U.S. demographics. For this blog, I’m not going to dive into the data because you can find the study here; suffice it to say, there’s a lot to learn here.

Session – The Last Survivors: Memories of the Holocaust

Spoiler alert: There’s A LOT going on at SXSW, and only a percentage of it relates to digital marketing and social media. If you’re lucky enough to attend, make sure you make time for sessions you’re personally passionate about (this is where that personal re-energizing comes into play).

This is what led me to a panel featuring Pinchas Gutter, survivor of six Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. The focus of the panel was the different ways that organizations (The Azrieli Foundation and USC Shoah Foundation) have been documenting the stories of Holocaust survivors in recent years in an effort to preserve the memories and stories of this important, painful time of human history so we can learn from it.

You can learn more about these inspiring projects at the following links: New Dimensions in Testimony (USC Shoah Foundation) and Re:Collection (The Azrieli Foundation).

The Last Survivors: Memories of the Holocaust. Left to Right — Stephen Smith – USC Shoah Foundation, Jody Spiegel – The Azrieli Foundation, Pinchas Gutter – Holocaust Survivor, Jason Charters – Riddle Films.

Activation – Roseanne

Did you guys know that “Roseanne” is coming back? As in the 90s TV show? Well it is, and they were in Austin for the first weekend of SXSW in full force. They had a house take-over, which I lamentably missed. It featured trivia with the cast and crew (I totally walked by Michael Fishman/D.J. Conner Thursday night), fresh pie (yum) and more.

But the reason I’m writing about this here is because of the old “keep it simple, stupid” mantra that we’ve all (probably) heard of. I think the team behind “Roseanne” did this brilliantly with the pedicabs they sponsored and decked out a two-seat replica of the Connor family couch.

Simple. Charming. Effective.

Activation – YouTube Story HQ

YouTube spared no expense renting out a full location for their Story HQ. The theme of classic fairytales retold in 6-second, 15-second and 1-minute story bites (YouTube ad unit lengths). The visual polish and effects were heavy on this, but the concept missed the mark for me. It just didn’t do enough to get me really interested.

Activation – DC Comics Pop Culture Experience

The creator of Batman, Superman and so much more had a daily experiential pop-up for SXSW. Featuring three full-size Batmobiles from the movies and a giant Superman statue from the latest Justice League film. The real highlight for me was getting my photo taken with the original puppets from the seminal 1980s Gremlins knock-off, Critters. I can now die a happy man.

Critters!