Things I liked from SXSW Interactive

Chad Norman - 3.20.2009

If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you're a social media hipster doofus internet geek just like me. If that's the case, go ahead and make your plans for next year's SXSW Interactive Festival, because it's the one event you simply cannot afford to miss.

I realize that I may have lost some geek cred by not live blogging the entire event, but that was never part of my plan. I wanted to focus on building relationships with my fellow nonprofit geeks, actually pay attention to some sessions in an effort to learn a thing or two, and keep my Twitter feed updated with nuggets I could use later. After a day in the office, here are some things I liked:

The Social Media Nonprofit ROI Poetry Slam

Nonprofit Social Media rawk star Beth Kanter moderated the Social Media Nonprofit ROI Poetry Slam, which brought together experts from around the sector. The four participants included Danielle Brigida from the National Wildlife Federation, David Neff from the American Cancer Society, Carie Lewis from the Humane Society of the US, and Wendy Harman from The American Red Cross - we couldn't have been in better hands. Each person used a poem to tell the story of how social media was used at their nonprofit, and what the results were. The format was a creative way tell stories, but the best info came of of the insightful questions from the judges and audience. Things like: Charity Water did well with the Twestival because they were willing to let go of control, the Humane Society made $650,000 from a $5,000 Facebook app, and you have to know what to do with executive sponsorship once you get it (view all my tweets from this session). We all learned a lot, but everyone recognized that the disconnect between social media and donations is still large, but getting smaller every day. Be sure to check out Beth's reflections on the session, which includes slides, pics, links, and videos.

The Beacon Lounge

People kept telling me that out of the 11,000 attendees at the event, 1,000 were from nonprofits. I was a little shocked at first, but after a few days I realized this presence was real. Michael Cervino and Beaconfire hosted The Beacon Lounge, a place where SXSW attendees could chill out, do some good, and help nonprofits. Organizations like Operation Smile,, and The Capital Foodbank of Texas got a lot of attention from this techie crowd, and we (Blackbaud) were pleased to help out Feeding America by sponsoring lunch on Monday. The lounge also became a rally point for all of us NPTech geeks who often needed a place to read email, get a drink, or just meet some new people. It was a great vibe, and really helped bring awareness to the nonprofit movement at this massive event. I'm excited that Beaconfire will be back next year for more of the same!

Gary Vaynerchuk

OK, I'm not going to beat around the bush - I love Gary Vaynerchuk. I would walk 1000 miles over lava-covered glass shards just to hear him speak. I watch his video blog at WineLibrary.TV, even though I hate wine. I send his short presentation from Web 2.0 Expo NY to friends at least once a month. None of that prepared me for the mind-bending, though-provoking talk he gave at SXSW. Already dubbed this year's unofficial keynote, his presentation blew the room away. Gary put his honesty, energy, and intelligence out there for everyone, which is what he is all about: being yourself and doing what you love. Some of my favorite quotes from the session include: 1) "If you live for the weekends and vacations, your $hlt is broken." 2) "Content is king, but marketing is queen - and the queen rules the house." 3) "I think about legacy over currency every second I breathe." 4) "Delegate everything, except what you love." There's a bunch of great quotes here (someone needs to make "v-shirts" with these quotes on them!), but do yourself a favor and watch/listen to the whole presentation. Get inspired, plan, act, repeat. Watch out for Gary at next year's SXSW, and in the mean time you can follow him on Twitter.

Delivering Happiness

Tony Hsieh's opening remarks about Zappos' success and company culture is something every HR and Customer Service leader should listen to. Zappos takes a very common sense approach towards dealing with both employees and customers: deliver happiness. Zappos is willing to take a 25% hit on revenue just to provide an amazing customer service experience (24-hour service, free shipping, special treatment, etc.)  They believe that every customer service dollar should be looked at as a marketing expense. When more and more companies are scaling back phone support in lieu of online self-help, Zappos has grown to $1 billion in revenue by taking the opposite approach. And the same goes for their employees, who are offered $2000 during training to walk away - not to get rid of the bad apples, but to make the good apples more engaged because they "turned down the money". Half of the interview is about culture fit, with questions like, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?" Tony advised that companies often hire based on talent rather than fit, which is fine once in a while...but over time it poisons the whole staff, creating a dysfunctional, poor-performing company.

Other sessions really stood out to me, like Tara Hunt's "Making Wuffie".  Be on the look out for her upcoming's going to be good. I also went to a great online community panel and learned things like, "Your community will not grow into the vision you had for have to grow and adapt with it." The rest of the time I spent stumbling into texting walkers, networking at events, searching for food on 6th street, and learning from my friends. It was great being in a bubble-world with others like me, and I'm already looking forward to 2010.

All the rest of my photos are up on Flickr. But if you don't feel like clicking though the photostream, check out the video made from them on See you at next year's SXSW!

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