If social media -- rightly, on occasion -- gets it in the neck for being somewhat of an echo chamber, lost in a battle for hearts and minds or stuck in the contrived toil of crowning content creation versus content curation King, it is perhaps inevitable that the Higgs Boson of social media is the annual pilgrimage of flannel and black-rimmed specs to Austin, Texas for SXSWi.

I should preface this piece right now with the caveat that I have not been to SXSWi but would not say “no” to a jaunt at some point in the future to see if the impression I get looking in, from afar, comes close to the reality of being there as a participant.

SXSWi = Invitation to Innovation or BBQ?

A social media monitoring provider has done the thing that many social media monitoring providers do to illustrate basic tool capabilities coupled with a current affairs event -- they’ve created an infographic. (Disclaimer: I work for a competitor. We sometimes do infographics, too.)

The data visualization of Days 1-2 of SXSWi highlight a number of key topics, none of which really indicate the business value of attending the event unless being in a different location on Planet Earth is the intention or eating delicious BBQ grub alongside Guy Kawasaki or Dennis Crowley is one of your stated pre-event aims. #Party and #Swag have been more noticeable than #Innovative or #Launch.

There is also a fair amount of discussion on Twitter around not being there or muting SXSW tweets, even amongst the very community the event represents. This further highlights the masses of status based tweets that come out of Austin, (whereby "status" is superficially gained by merely using the #SXSW hashtag and name-checking someone whose panel you may or may not be attending in your Foursquare check-in).

Has it really come to be that an event which should celebrate the best of the industry, maintain its reputation for being a vital launch-pad of new and innovative social technologies has become so bloated and not about doing business better? Is that what we should come to expect?

Does the Value Match the Expense?

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Globally, social media events are big business in and of themselves; some rudimentary panel only events or day long conferences where representatives from big name companies talk at you for a day can command such absurd ticket prices of upwards of £500. Justifying the worth of attending such an event is getting harder and harder as budgets get leaner and leaner. How do you make the business case to attend an event?

Maybe the proof of this year’s SXSW event is in the pudding that comes after the hangovers, jet-lag and mobile data bills have subsided. The true content and lessons learned from the panels and parties will hopefully be more apparent. But for now, from an observer looking in, it is the social media industry event to drown out all other social media industry events where business value is secondary to business expense.

Image from rangizzz (Shutterstock).

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