SXSW 2021

In March 2020, SXSW was cancelling its week-long festival for the first time since 1986 – an unprecedented move due to unprecedented circumstances. However, they immediately vowed that they would work to “provide a virtual SXSW online experience”, and they didn’t disappoint. Like us and many others, they adapted to this new digital landscape by homing in on three key areas that every virtual event should highlight – content, user experience, and platform design.

As the old adage goes, Content is King, so let’s start there. From live broadcasts and on-demand sessions, to an online XR experience – SXSW Online offered a little bit of everything for everyone. Launching Products in Uncertain Times by Frog Design expressed the importance of solving human needs and delivering value over features when rolling out a new product. Ramses Alcaide, on the other hand, touched on the correlation between working from home and the negative effects that it’s having on our mental health and ability to function effectively. Not only was the content produced with thoughtfulness and quality in mind, but the sheer quantity delivered was incredible. We can safely say, the South By team left no stone unturned when it came to the amount of production hours, budgeting, and content management that was needed to execute this festival.

Although a single visual experience where all speakers have the same audio + video levels would have been ideal, this would require a more holistic, all-in-one recording process (like our own EventDotSpace). SXSW went a different route and opened up their doors to 250+ brands and creatives of all backgrounds. The result was an intimate and personalized experience which gave attendees the opportunity to see speakers in their most natural element. Sessions like Fan & Band interaction in Livestream & AR was an in-depth conversation about increasing engagement and the viewer experience during this virtual era. While the A/V quality between both speakers differed, the context of their session was solid and informative; ending with a brief example of how virtual producers can incorporate new tactics into their upcoming projects. SXSW Online was full of content just like this – leveling the playing field by making digital real estate accessible to those who may not have been able to acquire a physical venue during South By’s traditional in-person event.

The platform’s user journey is the next key element where the festival excelled. The registration process began on the main SXSW site, but was redirected to a dedicated online platform. Here, users had the ability to set up their personal profile with details about their company, work experience, and contact information. Connections were easy to make with a real-time, in-session chat feature – in addition to following up and solidifying these new relationships, via their private messenger. The ability to view each session’s attendee list prior to it going live was another great feature that added to guests’ ability to forge new associations. Lastly, combing through the massive list of content was made easy with their multiple filtering options.

This brings me to the last key area, the platform’s design. All of the content and information was formatted to be both searchable and digestible. SXSW seemed to skip the bells and whistles to prioritize accessibility to everything the festival had to offer. If there is anything that we have learned during this big shift to digital, it’s that consumers love the path of least resistance. Additionally, South By made most of the content available On-Demand immediately after the live release, giving attendees a chance to go back and relive moments they may have missed. In fact, On-Demand content is still available through April 10th, 2021, so definitely check out everything that SXSW Online has to offer. 

Overall, great job by the SXSW team. They have already announced that they will be back in Austin, TX for SXSW 2022 from March 11-20. After everything they were able to do this year, we are definitely looking forward to seeing what kind of hybrid solutions they come up with.

Key Takeaways

– Diversifying content can appeal to a wider audience.
– Virtual events should make use of all of the digital real estate that they have to offer to increase viewership and engagement.

User Experience:
– Networking opportunities are crucial. Real-time messaging, private messaging, and the ability to connect with others is important, now more than ever.
– Make information, sessions, etc. easy to sift through and locate.

Platform Design:
– Reducing the bells and whistle can minimize the friction of your event, making it more accessible and digestible.
– Always provide your attendees with on-demand content. This gives them a chance to view your content at their leisure and is a great reason for people to revisit your event.

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