South By Southwest Interactive 2011 consisted of five days and dozens of panels, along with 10 official sponsors, countless startups, blogs, apps and random marketers eagerly ambushing for attendees attention. Not even mentioning dozen of parties, tweet-ups, and demos, it looked like twice as many people attended this year…we’re talking to near 30,000 attendees for the interactive portion. Back in 2007, 2008, & 2009, Twitter dominated SXSWi as the hot new app that everyone was using. Its rise to prominence gave notice to other startups wanting to jump on the fame bandwagon. 2010 was the breakout year of Foursquare, so what would hold for this year?
Once CF arrived in Austin, we witnessed how these young startups work the scene to dominate over the competition. Getting noticed during SXSW is a huge accomplishment already. When you have larger companies (AOL, PepsiCo, and Chevy) claiming such a limited area in a short period of time, it’s crucial for startups to market themselves and grab the attention of the audience as an innovative product.
In our social experiment, we tracked five companies (through social mentions and twitter follower growth) who competed in the SXSWi Accelerator Finals (Storify, Neighborgoods, Nimble, Tango.me, and Hipmunk) and compared them to five companies we identified as starting the festivities with a lot of pre-conference buzz (GroupMe, Hashable, Memolane, Lemonade Stand, and Chomp). We were interested to monitor the timing of your launch announcement really matters and how important it is to launch during SXSWi. Which group would stand out the most?
As we observed these startups from March 1 – 16, 2011, we noticed a total average of nine percent increase in Twitter follower growth. For blog posts and mentions, the biggest increase occurred on the 15th & 16th of March, at the end of the interactive conference. Not surprisingly, majority of the startups did not have huge jumps in social mentions, which begs the question, how can you really get noticed at SXSWi? Two of the companies did surpass the average growth increase, Lemonade Stand and GroupMe.
What we really took note of was not the big companies overexposing with way too impressive stands and billboards, but the intimate and lively small spots that get visitors really experiencing and enjoying the scene. For example, Lemonade Stand, a neighborly commerce platform, was exactly that. Get some free ice-cold lemonade and some shade, learn about their app, which simply enables people to buy and sell goods or services within a community. We’re human, we like to interact. From that experience, I will always remember the name, the nice Austin weather, and that I should sell something on the app.
By partaking in the majorly hyped Startup Bus, where teams of hackers build and launch their projects over the course of a bus ride to South by Southwest, GroupMe was able to grow brand visibility. GroupMe, one of the top group messaging apps featured in SXSWi, decided to strategically place a “GroupMe Grill” across the street from the Austin Convention Center and handed out free beer and grilled cheese with the company’s logo branded right on. Not only did they create a centralized meeting place, they kept attendees happy and fed. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
In conclusion, if the big question is, “who won?”, it was the pre-buzz contenders. The chatter from the conference will continue in the upcoming months and the CF team will be watching these brands closely. We noticed that if you want to launch a new product or brand, it definitely does not hurt to participate in SXSWi because of the media exposure, but brands should not rely entirely on it. Nor should they bank on the fact that they’re new. It takes more than appearing at the biggest conference and a couple of billboards to impress us. It also takes vital marketing to create visibility before, during, and after the conference. Stay tuned for the next couple of months while we monitor and reveal if these brand newbies have launching momentum.