Friday, March 12, 2010

I Don't Do SXSWi

The past week, I've had a ton of people assume I'm going to SXSWi. Note that I'm using i, not SXSW - for people that haven't a clue, the conference has been around as film and music for about 20 years. And, sadly, that seems to be a ton of the SM people going.

Now, the usual joke is assume makes an ass out of you and me. Well, it's more an ass out of you, as I cannot justify going to SXSWi and you thinking that I am going because I am in public relations and social media and "have to go" is just bad logic all around.

I am a big believer in conferences. I am a big believer in exhibitions and tradeshows. There are many business cases - business cases - to go to these events and exhibit and have conversations.

There's a reason I go to BlogHer every year: I go to the panels, I've represented clients and sponsored, I see a true business reason that extends beyond meeting other social media people. I get to engage with real people that are not social media gurus, but blog on what they love. There's more value there than someone whose audience is just other marketing or PR or social media people and wanna-be's.

I just don't see that for SXSWi for the majority of the people going to the event. For the past few years, I keep hearing the same thing about SXSWi:
  • It's spring break for social media
  • It's a week long party
  • It's one night after the other of bars and alcohol
  • It's great networking
  • I go every year, and make my agency pay for it no matter what because it's a great party (this said to me by a former boss when I asked what the value is there - notice nothing about actual work, though).
I rarely hear "it's a great event for my company/agency to reach the right people for product A, B or C". It's always about the drinking.

The fact is that social media consultants and gurus are (thankfully) killing social media because of this thinking. This past CES, I ran into enough social media people at CES and asked what client they were there representing.

Too often the response was "I'm here for the parties."

Um, fuck you. CES is not a party event (yes, the companies hold parties to reach the retailers to sell product), but it's a tradeshow where people work. And work hard and a lot of hours. CES is a semi-serious event (it used to be more serious before the booth babes and the mainstreaming of the event ... which will likely kill it, like it killed COMDEX and, to a point, E3) that involves consumer electronics companies trying to show off its wares to purchasers, as well as press. Social media? Yes, it's a TOOL to reach audiences, but not a party thing. If you're at CES to party, seriously, don't come next year.

The best advice I ever got on trade shows and conferences was from a former boss: don't drink - and if you drink, don't drink excessively. You are there for work, and you are representing both your client and the agency. Um, I don't get the sense that any of the SXSWi social media attendees understand that simple mantra.

This year, I see a ton of PR students (I now follow more than 400+ students) tweeting out at SXSWi. This is a very bad precedent, as this is what they will think social media entails. No, it's just a part of public relations, and one tool, and while relationships and face-to-face communications are important, drunken idiocy is best left at spring break.

But back to SXSWi. There are a ton of friends of mine that are attending this year, as they have in the past, that I would love to see. But, I had no business reason to be there.

You see how that works: no business reason. Pretty simple.

I did look at the event, and reached out to a few people about sponsoring parties or similar events because they are consumer electronic products or accessories that make sense for SXSWi as giveaways.

But I understand - better than PR firms and PR people that think throwing parties and buying drinks is social media, and that this is how they get to be the top social media people in PR - that it is about relationships and dialogue. Throwing a party is the shit that publicists do, stunt PR that has short-term value and very little ROI if it's not done right. And throwing a party to throw a party to attract SM people is not doing it right. It's not moving the needle or engaging people if you don't move beyond the same audience. It's noise and it's wasting your client's and agency's money. That should go on the Social Media RFP - does your agency think that it's about parties? If so, run like hell because they didn't talk about engaging and conversations, just throw a party and people will talk about you! (Um, no, they likely won't - or won't long-term).

And, if I was in the music or film business as a publicist, I'd be all over the event. And Austin City Limits. But, I'm not.

But take a step back and think of this: can you justify missing Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday to your boss or client? And, well, the rest of the week is a wash also if you're hungover.

And, as a sage executive said to me about CES: there's going to be a bad day of reckoning for social media. Corporations are going to ask for ROI, and going to party is not ROI.

If social media cannot get out of that mind-set - and it won't - then it will eat itself and become subsumed into another marketing discipline. Where it belongs anyway.

I don't do SXSWi. I just can't justify it. And most businesses - once they get over the shiny social media blindness - won't be able to justify partying for partying's sake either.