SXSW: We Still Need to Get Together in the Real World?

How ironic that 25,000 digitally connected interactive pros have to fly to Austin each year to network with each other and find out what’s new, right?

Actually, it’s not ironic at all that SXSW Interactive should be so valuable to them, and it’s worth understanding why as we consider the continuing value of customer events and trade shows in the B2B marketing mix.

SXSW Interactive Opening Party 2012 - Credit: JoJo Marion
SXSW Interactive Opening Party 2012 – Credit: JoJo Marion

Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman point out in their excellent book, Networked, that research shows we are actually seeing more friends offline at least once a week. Moreover, heavier Internet users appear to be the ones most significantly increasing the number of friends they see in person. The Internet and social technologies do not replace in-person meetings. Rather, they reinforce relationships and create new relationships that must be strengthened by at least the occasional in-person meeting. Otherwise, those ties remain weak.

Meanwhile, virtually every study I’ve ever seen shows the most influential source of information in B2B purchases comes in the form of word-of-mouth from people the buyer knows and trusts.  The more we can strengthen and reinforce the relationships within our customer communities and from our best customer advocates to other people, the better off we’re going to be! (Assuming, of course, we have an awesome product or service that’s generating said advocates.) It’s the power of our audiences talking to each other, not just brands talking to audiences.

Bottom line:  Creating and activating a strong customer community means using periodic live events – organized for networking and engagement – to grow strong relationships, and then sustaining them with smart social media engagement strategies the rest of the year.