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.