News & Views

The Contagious Guide to SXSW Interactive 2016

by Contagious Team

So you’re going to Austin in a few weeks for South by Southwest Interactive. Congratulations. You’re going to have fun, and eat many tacos. 

The SXSW megalith is big and scary, and if you play by the rules you’ll probably do a lot more walking and waiting in lines than learning new things. 

We’re here to help. 

The one SXSW rule to live by /

First, forget that SXSW Interactive has anything to do with the web, technology, or, heaven forbid, work. 

What was once spring break for the internet is now a pan-cultural smorgasbord where anyone with some measure of expertise can land a presentation opportunity to the enclosed space which has been converted to a soapbox for the occasion. 

Sure, you’ll have the opportunity to be in the same room with people you’ve seen on TV, like Anthony Bourdain and Dan Rather and the amazing Broad City duo (Hi guys, wanna get tacos?). If that’s what you find stimulating, the Featured Session category is chock full of the already-famous, old media or new. 

And you’ll have literally dozens of chances to hear about building brands, marketing, the future of advertising, and stuff you probably already know a thing or two about, if you’re reading this. So go to some of that work stuff. If you absolutely have to. 

Because there’s only one rule we think you should try to live by at SXSW: avoid sessions that you already know things about.  

The beauty of such a massive agglomeration of different individuals is you have a chance to see someone you’d NEVER see on TV. And probably never otherwise encounter in your day-to-day meanderings. Where else can you can learn practical skills like negotiation from a police hostage dealmaker and later hear about weird startups from Japanese universities?

You can find meetups for practically any modern hobby, lifestyle or line of work, including badass female cyclists, outdoor enthusiasts, administrative professionals, sober folk, tiny house builders, sharing economy participants, independent pilots (TV, or aviation? find out next week.) Military medical practitioners and good ole’ bass fisherpeople. Go find out what those folks are talking about. They may be your customers, or future colleagues.

Meanwhile, go ahead and join any manner of odd subculture or lifestyle interest or story arc via the transitive 21st century career launch property of ‘fake it ’til you make it’. For instance, for a Spy SXSWi: don your tactical, RFID-blocking laptop bag and go see the CIA’s social media spooks, hear a fireside discussion of nano/biowarfare, check the moral compass of future play and learn about even broader threats and global trends on the horizon and even try to play the 'Dox the troll' game at the shakily-managed online harassment summit. (Simulated virtual hells, start building them now, or wait? That’s a question for everyone on the panels and a good party opener, take it with our regards.) 

This may seem counter-intuitive. And maybe not what your boss is sending you down there for. But serendipitous connection is what holds the whole SXSW apparatus together. So take the time to go to panels and presentations you know nothing about, that are totally unrelated to your job, yet somehow spark your interest. It’s interesting to attend sessions that marketing brains might bring a different view to, like ‘How Do We Get Billions of People to Eat Less Meat?’ or ‘Algorithmic Lunacy and What to Do About It’. 

Avoid the ones that look too sales-y, and have snappy, clickbait titles. And, if you’re in something that seems like it sucks, go somewhere else and listen to another thing. 

Meanwhile, pay close attention to what sponsors knock it out of the park and which fall flat. We’ve got heavy expectations on USA’s Mr. Robot and HBO’s Game of Thrones, both of which have had notable sponsorship experience components in past years. 

Where to find us at SXSW /

Contagii Noelle Weaver, Nick Parish and Chris Barth will be in Austin over the weekend trying to immerse themselves in all the weirdness allowable by Texas State Law. Here’s a rough idea of sessions you might find us in. Get in touch if you want to meet up at some point, or to let us know what sessions we absolutely shouldn’t miss.  

We’ll all be attending Chris’ panel, Niche to Movement to Mainstream: How Cultures Grow on Sunday from 2-3 at the Hilton Salon K. We’ll be talking about a report we worked on with Lapiz where we looked at subcultures that have burst mainstream, centering on hip hop and food trucks, and drawn parallels brands can use to deduce what might come next. And probably grabbing tacos and Shiners afterward. 

See you in Austin!