Live from SXSW: Engaging Users

The energy here at SXSW is a very different vibe than what you typically see in the health care industry – less blue blazers, more blue hair.

Most people know about SXSW for its music and film fests, which are truly extraordinary (How can you beat hanging out on the Austin City Limits stage at a Wired Magazine party with the best enchiladas and margaritas?).

But the Interactive fest, basically a forum on consumer-facing interactive technology, has gotten red hot.  That tends to draw the big social media pubas, and that popularity is exponential now that corporate folks blogTwitter and carry iPhones.

The real action – truly the most interesting stuff I’ve seen – is in the nooks and crannies.

SXSW Panel Picker

The buzz is in the trenches, the user-voted, free-flowing, “hallway conversations,” to use SXSW’s words to describe their Core Conversations.  I’d never bothered to attend one until last year and was glad I did – truly fascinating.  

By that point, I’d had my fill of keynoters and panels and got revived by a walk around the room, meandering through the different topics set up.  Sort of a physical reality mirroring the online experience.  Bored?  Move on.  Short attention span like me?  Walk around and circle back.

Other folks dug the format too.  As did SXSW.  Bolstered by waves of positive user comments, they’ve expanded the format for 2009.

Another way SXSW engages its users is in the panel and conversation selection process.  Instead of the typical top-down process, users vote — bottom up.  This kind of mirrors corporate adoption of social media.  Won’t users create utter anarchy? How will we manage quality control? Simply change the mix.  User-voting + business interests + advisory (smart expert) panel = good deal.

See the pic above for SXSW’s explanation.  Having gone through the process to do our little schpeal, I can vouch it’s effective, rigorous, multi-faceted – and – dare I say fun?

Simply put: create interesting stuff that users like – give them options – and allow them to participate – cooperate and share the creation with them.

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