Austin SXSW Interactive – Much Different Than a Realtor Convention

I’m day three of five into the SXSW Interactive “Festival” in Austin. Though I wasn’t at first certain that a convention like this would be a valuable use of time and money, I am now convinced it is, and I know exactly why I’m here.

I’m here because I want to gain insight into new and emerging technology and how we as humans, and business people, interact with that technology. Also, as a professional in an industry that has been chronically and predictably behind the curve and late to the party on almost all new and emerging internet technology, I can’t rely on real estate workshops and conventions to keep me up to speed. In a way, at this point in history, SXSW Interactive is more relevant to my real estate business than any real estate convention could be. It’s causing me to wonder if I shouldn’t attend more non-Realtor related educational opportunities.

So, below, are some initial observations and insights about my experience thus far.

SXSW Interactive Attendees Are Definitely in a Different Tech League than Realtors
The contrast is palpable. This is revealed in the level of conversation and discussion I am experiencing not only in the workshops, but also at the lunch table with people  I’ve met. I spoke for 30 minutes this morning with a guy launching a startup to better connect job seekers with jobs that match their needs. His niche concept is very interesting, and I thought it even more interesting that his business, like mine, is essentially one of matching people with a solution to their needs.

Yesterday I met and talked with an Image Consultant who helps star athletes and rising executives manage both their physical appearance and public perception. Where else would I run into this guy and get to hear about his business and the challenges he deals with? Like my business, his leads come almost entirely from internet search and personal referrals. So, even though our businesses solve entirely different problems, we are here for the same reasons.

The final, stark contrast between SXSW and a typical Real Estate Convention, is the energy level. SXSW is alive, edgy, very fast moving. The buzz can be felt. The F word is allowed, and used by more than one Panelist I’ve heard. Every day is something new. The people are energetic. The demographic is a bit older than I expected. Young, yes, but plenty of Baby Boomers too.

Also … how can I say this … the people here are smarter than your average real estate agent. A lot more intellectual and articulate. That is not to say there aren’t a lot of very smart real estate people. There are. But one doesn’t have to be intelligent, or even smart, to succeed in real estate.  You just have to do some basic stuff consistently. In fact, super brainy people usually don’t do well in real estate because they over-think and over-analyze things that don’t matter instead of focusing on the easy boring stuff.

So, summing up SXSW vs. Realtor Conventions in one word each: SXSW = Vibrant. Realtor = Placid.

Twitter isn’t Stupid – Nobody ever taught me how to really use Twitter, but I’m seeing it used in ways I did not know existed before. And I’m hearing it discussed in terms of being both a threat and an opportunity for various industries.

One example of a threat comes from the ability of people to start trash talking a business, not just through Twittter but on any Social Networking site, and having that bad news spread before the business even knows what’s going on. Southwest Airlines is an example of a company that recognizes this threat and therefore has dedicated staff monitoring Social Networking chatter so that a disgruntled customer might be identified and helped before harm is done by allowing the issue to spread like a virus. This all falls under the category of “Brand Reputation” protection, and Social Networking sites are the new playing field.

I’ve also learned more about something I have started to figure out on my own about Twitter. It started as a “what I’m doing right now” site, to which I properly wondered, “who cares what I’m doing?”, yet I nevertheless toyed with it and have in fact posted Tweets of me “eating at Rudy’s”, complete with a photo of my BBQ plate. How embarrassing is that?

Instead, over time, I learned on my own that a better business use of Twitter is as a tool to leverage traffic to our website and blog. So, if I write an article about the Austin real estate market, it’s a better use of Twitter for me to post a quick synopsis of the article with a link to the full article. That generates traffic and traffic results in leads. So, at SXSW, I’ve been able to confirm something I was already aware of but not sure about.

But the other thing I never knew about with Twitter is that it is a well used substitute for chatting with your neighbors during a workshop presentation and providing instant feedback to the panelists or moderators. Each workshop has a Twitter Hashtag specifically for that class. Attendees chatter and send messages and question to the panelists and moderator through this “back channel” communication medium. People at SXSW who are making tweets will include a SXSW Hashtag and thus their tweet will appear for someone following that. I was completely unaware of this before. Here is an example of a live feed of people tweeting at sxsw.

Cell Phone and Laptop Batteries are Inadequate for Tech Power Users
The people at SXSW are at once both impressive and pathetic. Never have I been amongst so many people so tethered/addicted to their laptops and handheld devices. It’s almost disturbing, yet still fascinating. The batteries on these devices don’t last an entire day without charging for these power users, and therefore we have an enormous number of “charging stations” (sponsered by Chevy) spread throughout the various venues.

I might not be as smart about technology as most of the attendees, but I was smart enough to buy a laptop with a 9 cell battery, which gives me a solid 6 hours of use – way more than I need here. I also turned off 3G on my iPhone and just use the SXSW WiFi for internet, so my phone lasts the entire day also. So in that way, I guess I’m ahead of the curve based on the number of people I see fretting over dead batteries and having to sit on the floor next to a charging device.

But I’m not sure what to make of the tech addicted demographic here. In a normal real estate workshop, it would be rude to be operating your iPhone during the presentation, or to have your laptop open doing stuff. At SXSW, it’s the norm. Everybody, everywhere is operating their laptop or handheld device at seemingly all times. I admit I’ve rather enjoyed exploring being able to do this in a place where it’s ok, and not considered rude. I’ve never hauled my laptop arounf with me at a conference, and I don’t really need it, but having it with me allows me to take a break and write this blog. This is simply a different, more tech device friendly education culture than I’ve even experienced.

At the Board of Realtors, if you are taking a TREC MCE class, it is strictly forbidden to operate a cell phone or even have it on your table. If you are caught, you can be kicked out of the classroom and lose your credit hours. So this is a very stark contrast to that learning culture. Very different.

That’s it for now. I’m off to the trade show for the first time to see the wares and hear the pitches.

11 thoughts on “Austin SXSW Interactive – Much Different Than a Realtor Convention”

  1. Hey Steve,

    I’m glad you’re enjoying sxsw. I’m a Realtor that has been volunteering for several years in order to get access to the convention and not break the bank. I absolutely believe that in order to survive in our industry, we have to be a lot more technologically savvy. Not only to find the technology that can help us do our job better, but also to know how our clients are interacting and communicating with each other.

    I just wanted to be sure to tell you not to miss the Interactive Panel today at 3:30pm in the Hilton, entitled, “Can web 2.0 kill the real estate industry?” I’m not sure what the content will be exactly, but since we appear to have an industry specific panel for us, I’ll definately be there to hear what they have to say.

    Enjoy the rest of SXSW!

    Kristen Meek

  2. Hi Kristin,

    Thanks, the “Can web 2.0 kill the real estate industry?” discussion is definitely on My Schedule. I’ll rather enjoy hearing about the makings of my demise as a Realtor. It will be a good topic for a blog article.

    In a nutshell, I think Web 2.0 has changed the way people become aware of homes for sale, and the manner in which they research homes, but the final decision and how it’s made are not much different than before the internet. People still need a way to know they are making a smart decision and they generally want someone trusted to explain why it’s a good decision for them and lead them through the process. Redfin tried already to cut that part of the process out, via internet-only services, and it didn’t work, which is why they drive people around now and show homes, just as Realtors always have.

    But I am attending with an open mind and will be interested to hear what others say.


  3. Steve:
    You’re making me wish I had attended… it’s a pricey convention, but at least it’s local.

    I’m far from a Twitter expert, and more recently, it was the first thing I cut from my daily routine when things picked up. But there’s a whole cult following to be reached using it. The important thing is that you have to engage people to be part of the conversation.

    I’ve learned that searching Twitter for terms like Austin, Austin Real Estate, Austin Home Staging, etc… is a great way to reach out and say hi to people you would not normally connect with. You can suggest they read an article (yours or others) on the topic. Provide insight to their comment/question. And then follow them in the hopes that they follow you back… More followers means more exposure to your blog.

    The important thing is consistency. I think it was Mashable that posted an article recently about a huge chunk of Twitter accounts are unused. Leaving the stats on users kind of slanted. And as I have let my Twitter account slip, so has my connections and people talking to me…

  4. Hi Stuart and Michael,

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, it’s a bit pricey but has more than paid for itself for me personally. At this particular point in history, things are changing so fast it’s important to stay engaged and not get left standing in the dust.

    Also, I was reminded of how Realtors are often viewed by the public at a discussion session yesterday, Entitled “Making the Move for California To Austin”. I knew ahead of time that this wouldn’t be a time or place to try to market myself directly, but I wanted to hear what people said.

    As the moderators sought to determine how many in the audience were from California, how many were from Austin, or whatever else (I grew up in California, been in Austin for 25 years), one lady raised her hand and just said “I’m just here because I’m a Realtor and can help you find a house if you decide to come here”.

    I winced as an audible groan was emitted from the crowd.

    Point being, how we market ourselves is changing. For me, it’s better to hang back and be found rather than put myself out there. The internet enables that for me and Sylvia. Social Networking, though I still haven’t figured it out completely, is valuable if used properly. I’m not sure I know how to do that yet, and I know most other Realtors don’t either.


  5. I’m so glad to see more Realtors attending conferences in search marketing and social media. I highly suggest you also look into PubCon(.com) put on by, PubCon South is happening next month in Dallas so it’s convenient, and well worth the time if you interact with people. The best networking and learning happens outside of the conference, usually in the bar, lol, so make sure you smile and introduce yourself to as many people as possible.

  6. Steve, I’m glad to hear you had such a great experience at SXSW. The conference provides some food for thought on the common-place of using PDA’s, laptops, etc. during programming. Due to Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) regulations regarding disruptions during MCE classes, ABoR and other Texas real estate associations enforce the “no use of cell phone” policy during class. This is, indeed, a stark difference compared to the behavior allowed during other learning situations, and we’re curious to see whether/how such regulations might evolve. We hope the rule won’t be a deterrent in your attendance of our classes, though – we love seeing you in the audience!

    Speaking of technology and education, ABoR is offering a couple of our meetings rooms as space for members to gather and listen to presentations conducted as part of Virtual Real Estate BarCamp (VREBC) on Tuesday, April 6. While the views expressed in the VREBC presentations are not necessarily those of ABoR, we see this event as a unique educational opportunity for members. VREBC is free, and the use of PDA’s and laptops is encouraged! 🙂 Learn more at, and additional info on ABoR’s “watch party” will be posted on soon. Stay tuned!

  7. Hi ABOR (Austin Board of Realtors),

    Though these last two comments posts border on the type of promotion that normally don’t survive moderation, I’m happy to see ABOR making the attempt. As a member, I think we all benefit from a more enlightened, “tuned in” and technologically engaged Austin Board of Realtors, so keep up the good work.

    I think ABOR would benefit further if you round up a bunch of us Austin real estate bloggers and have a focus group/work session to discuss technology and how it relates to our day to day efforts and challenges as Realtors, and how ABOR could support its members in the changing landscape.

    Step one would be to not have old ladies teaching tech classes. Get some young dudes/dudettes in there to talk about what’s really going on out there, perhaps even from outside the industry.


  8. Steve, we are definitely interested in hearing what our members have to say about the changing real estate industry and the ways technology affects your daily activities. Focus groups are currently being formed, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop on when upcoming meetings will be held. We value your feedback—keep the suggestions coming! 🙂


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