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What We Learned at SXSW: Content & Networking Is King!

March 17, 2011 By Carlos Miller in Miami: Travel NewsTechnology  | 5 Comments

The South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin is touted as the “spring break for geeks” so we arrived there with the intent to party hard.

As first-timers to SXSW, we didn’t find it difficult to meet that goal, considering the amount of drinks they were giving away at various booths and tents throughout the conference.

Even after they had stopped giving away drinks in the early evening, several bars on Austin’s famed 6th St. were charging $1.50 for drafts and well drinks, prices not seen on South Beach since the sleepy 1970s.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that fellow Miami Beach 411 writer Matt Meltzer and I spent the first few days and nights of the conference in a drunken haze (although we would like to confirm to Michelle that her husband and our site’s founder, Gus Moore, was on his best behavior).

Matt summed it up this way:

“Your first year at SXSW is like being a freshman in college,” he said. “Everywhere you turn somebody is handing you alcohol, so inherently all you’re going to do is party.

“You end up missing out on a lot of the education because you’re so busy just getting shit-faced all the time.

“But once you kind of get the feel of it, you can start actually learning stuff because you realize there’s always another party tomorrow.”


Above: There was no shortage of free alcohol throughout SXSW to keep Matt and I in a Miami state of mind

So yes, we could have prepared for the conference better, but everybody else that we spoke with that week who were also at the conference for the first time said the same thing. 

But even though we barely made a dent in the hundreds of discussion panels being offered inside the four-story Austin Convention Center as well as in several hotels scattered around the city, we emerged from the conference with a fresh perspective on where to take Miami Beach 411.

And that was the ultimate goal of the trip.

“There are so many things we learned on this trip that it would be impossible to list them all here,” said Miami Beach 411 founder Gus Moore.

“But one of the main things is the realization of how mobile everything has become.  As a business owner who is primarily focused on the web, unless we adapt to mobile technology, we are going to get passed by.”

The conference not only enabled the three of us to spend quality time together to brainstorm ideas for the future of the website, it allowed to us to network with other tech-savvy people from around the country to explain what we’re all about.

And most of the people we met were so impressed with our unique business model that they wondered if we would ever expand it to other cities.

If the short history of the company is any indicator, nothing should be ruled out.

A Brief History of Miami Beach 411

Gus and Michelle Moore launched the site in 2002 while waiting tables at the defunct Tuscan Steak on South Beach after realizing there wasn’t much travel information about Miami on the internet.

It wasn’t long before Miami Beach 411 was sending more than 50 reservations daily to a variety of Miami’s best restaurants.

In 2003, Gus figured he would ask these restaurants to advertise with Miami Beach 411 considering how much business he had sent them during the previous year, but they weren’t keen on the idea of actually paying for advertising.

In 2004, Google introduced its Google Adsense program, which allows website owners to place ads and make money on a pay-per-click system.

“Google Adsense became our savior,” said Gus. “I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get local restaurants to advertise, especially after sending them so much business in the previous year.”

In 2005, they were making enough money through Google Adsense that they both quit their job to focus on Miami Beach 411 full-time.

In 2006, they began paying writers to contribute to the site, starting with Maria de los Angeles, then adding Matt in early 2007. I jumped on board a year later.

Above: Gus and Michelle Moore, founders of Miami Beach 411, stand in front of two of the four Miami Tour Company buses

By 2008, they had generated enough capital to invest in tour buses and thus the Miami Tour Company was born, which offers daily city, boat and Everglades tours.

“We went from being a middleman selling tours to selling our own tours because I no longer felt comfortable sending our readers on other company’s tour buses,” Gus said.

Today, Miami Beach 411 maintains a staff of 12 full-timers as well as more than 20 independent contractors. It also owns four Miami Tour Company buses that do daily tours.

So it’s only natural that Gus is a huge fan of Google and was sure to attend the SXSW session headed by Marissa Mayer, Vice President of products related to local markets and geolocation, as well as the session lead by Mark Cutts, Google’s Principal Engineer in charge of fighting webspam.

“Those were two of my favorites, but the Guy Kawasaki Enchantment session was probably the most informative as far as nuts and bolts to follow to get people to like your products and services,” he said.

“(Kawasaki) talks about the importance of being remarkable to stay on top. We need to continue publishing remarkable stories and we need to continue being remarkable and innovative on our tours. And we will continue doing that.”

Rakontur was in the House

We weren’t the only Miamians in Austin for SXSW. Our friends from Rakontur were there for the premiere of their new movie, Square Grouper, because the film portion of SXSW coincided with the interactive portion. Read Matt’s review here.


Above two photos: Hanging with the Rakontur crew in a local bar

SXSW veteran Alex De Carvalho, who teaches a class on social media at the University of Miami, was also there. It was his fifth year in a row to SXSW.

“Everything has gotten so much bigger with SXSW,” he said. “The conference, the panels, the parties.”

In fact, with a 30 percent increase in interactive attendees this year compared to last year, this was the first year the interactive portion surpassed the music portion of the festival, even though SXSW evolved from the music festival in 1987 and did not add the interactive and film portions until 1994.

And while it’s true the number of interactive panels was overwhelming, especially considering many were located more than a mile from the convention center, it is also true that many were not offering anything ground-breaking.

“It was very hit or miss this year,” De Carvalho said.

The few panels I attended, which appealed to the journalist in me, were very basic, offering the same information that is constantly barraging my Twitter stream day in and day out.

The panel that I thought I would find the most fascinating, titled Bloggers vs Journalists, was refreshing but only because the panelists were discussing the same things I have been saying for years on my blog, Photography is Not a Crime; that the First Amendment applies to everybody, not just corporate media journalists.

And it was also refreshing considering how some people in the audience wondered if there was even a need for such a panel anymore, considering how accepted blogs have become to the mainstream media in recent years.

The reoccurring theme in all the panels I sat in on was that content is king, something I’ve known for years but somehow seems to get lost in all ongoing chatter about SEO and “branding” and “engagement”.

Essentially, if you produce crap, you will get crappy readership.


Above two photos: Sex writer Violet Blue gives tips on how to hook up sexually at SXSW

Networking and New Technology

But SXSW is about so much more than increasing web traffic, even though that is everybody’s ultimate goal.

It’s also about networking and keeping up with emerging technologies and trends.

Michelle Catin, a digital and social media manager at rbb Public Relations in Miami, was sent to SXSW to keep up on the latest concepts that could assist her company’s clients.

What she learned is that nowadays, it’s all about creating an online gaming experience to keep customers engaged as companies like Foursquare and Groupon are doing.

“It’s about rewarding customers with discounts and continuing to build relationships with our customers that are online in a fun and engaging way that can drive real-life actions,” she said.

But Catin, who is a board member of Social Media Club South Florida, also acknowledged that many of the panels were not offering anything new; covering topics that had already been covered at SMCSF’s monthly meetings.

“I felt that most of the advantage that came from SXSW was from a networking perspective,” she said. “Just for that alone, it worth going to.”

Aubrey Swanson, social media coordinator at Kaufman, Rossin and Co. in Miami, was also sent to SXSW to keep up with emerging technologies.

She learned that the more technology advances in the business landscape, the more important it is for companies to stick to the fundamentals in order to succeed.

“Businesses need to think and act like humans,” she said. “It sounds easy and like common sense, but most companies are not implementing this well or at all.

“Those companies that are succeeding online and offline are humanizing their social media and marketing efforts. Businesses can learn a great deal from small businesses, small towns and small communities.”

Above: Michelle Catin, left, and Aubrey Swanson let loose at the Rakontur post-premiere party. Or was it the Film Florida party?

Seth Elliot, a Miami consultant who advises start-up companies, was sent to SXSW by Hashable, a startup launched last year that bills itself as the “ultimate networking app,” allowing you to keep track of people you’ve just met.

“They sent me along with 15 other people to evangelize the product and we rocked it,” he said, adding that he personally referred more than 200 people to Hashable over several days at the conference.

Elliot, who had never been to SXSW before, believes the conference has become way too popular to allow new startups to take the technology scene by storm as Twitter did in 2007 and Foursquare did in 2009.

Hashable was hoping to be this year’s big hit, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, according to this Business Insider article.

“After the success of Twitter and Foursquare, there are just way too many people trying to launch startups at SXSW,” Elliot said. “It has become very difficult to succeed. There is just way too much noise.”

In fact, it wasn’t a startup technology company that got all the attention at SXSW this year, but an old-school car company.

Chevy, which has been on a social media rampage over the last year, offered several stations throughout the conference where attendees could recharge their phones free of charge. They also provided cupcakes, free rides and opportunities for people to drive various models.

Above: Most SXSW attendees I talked to thought I was lying when I told them Chevy let me borrow a 2011 Camaro for a week, like the one they had parked in front of the convention center

As a guy who was allowed to drive a Camaro for a week last month, I have to admit, I am impressed, even though I am a longtime Honda driver.

Then there was Willie Morris of Ft. Lauderdale, who was there with his business partner, Matt Lally, promoting their company called Imaneed, a website that strives to connect consumers who need a product with businesses who have that product.

The two spent the first two days of the conference clad in superhero tights promoting their company, offering to bring people beer if they requested it, which would really be the height of laziness for those people considering promoters were handing out beer every 100 feet or so (check them out in the above video).

However, their campaign went so well that they were named as one of five examples of effective advertising by Ignite Social Media.

“Traffic on our website skyrocketed,” Morris said. “We even got a quick shout-out on CNN’s South by Southwest coverage.”

Music Portion

Although the interactive and film portion of SXSW was winding down when we left Austin on Tuesday, the music portion was just picking up.

This turned out to be an even more raucous atmosphere with people communicating over shouts instead of tweets and men wearing long hair and saber-tooth earrings instead of short hair and iPod earphones.

And the beer, of course, continued to flow.

But this time, it wasn’t just Matt and I double-fisting our drinks.

Photos and video by Carlos Miller

Above: People actually gave this guy money, who dubbed himself the Social Media Bum and camped out in front of the Apple store.

Above: This panel addressing comedy in social media was pretty funny

Above: The panel including Mark Cutts of Google, in which Gus sat in the front row, was so packed that people were forced to sit on the floor, which was not usually the case in many of the panels.

Above: Playing with the Wii in between panels.

Above: A new product that was introduced called the iBeani, which is a beanie with built in speakers to allow wearers to listen to music.

Above: And the beer continued to flow until the very end

Related Categories: Miami: Travel News, Technology,

Carlos Miller is a featured writer at Miami Beach 411. He also operates Photography is Not a Crime, a blog about photographer rights, New Media and First Amendment issues.

See more articles by Carlos Miller.

See more articles by Carlos Miller

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5 Comments on

"What We Learned at SXSW: Content & Networking Is King!"

Christy says:

Excellent hosting job Matt! Looks like you guys had fun! So are any new and exciting tends from SXSW hitting 411 soon?

Posted on 03/19/2011 at 8:34 AM

Gus says:

Hi, Christy. Thanks for asking. Here are some new changes that are in the works.

1. Get a mobile version of the entire website working.

2. Add two new languages to the tour - Portuguese (Brazilian) and Chinese.

3. Migrate the vBulletin and Expression Engine content management systems, so we are able to display logged in member information in both sections of the site and the home page.

4. I attended two sessions on managing a customer support center, which has prompted us to upgrade the phone system, for better analytics and a more fair and balanced call routing system.

5. New forum layout, to match the home page.

6. Fix the missing forum images/pictures that happened, when we moved to vB.

7. We’re doing a ton of stuff, behind the scenes to make the site faster and re-structuing the blog urls to make them shorter and more search engine-friendly.

8. We’re installing a similar mobile phone charging station that Carlos mentioned in his article, inside the buses.

9. Based on some travel lessons we learned on the trip, I’m writing a story titled “10 Super Easy Ways to Destroy Your Vacation”.

With the exception of the new Chinese language, the changes should be done in less than two weeks.

Posted on 03/20/2011 at 2:12 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

“10 Super Easy Ways to Destroy Your Vacation?”

1. Invite Matt Meltzer and Carlos Miller
2. Give said invitees large amounts of free alcohol

There, edited it down to 2 for you….

Posted on 03/21/2011 at 2:01 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

A few more observations…

1) I just watched that video WITHOU sound and it was painfully clear we were shit faced the whole time

2) Michael Ian Black is f*cking hilarious

3) That Miami promo video the CVB uses is clearly from 1996

4) You are rapidly becoming a shill for GM. Which is f*cking AWESOME!!!

5) I’m thinking abour proposing a panel called “How Social Media has been a game-changer for Nose Picking.”

6) The Spam All Stars actually played 2 gigs in midtown and one on South Beach that same night, right after DJ-ing a 5K in Lauderdale that morning. I’m starting to think they’re actually 7 different bands.

7) Can I just leave my phone on the bus all day, then?

8) Next year we should just pay Jess and Christy to walk around in tights for 2 days getting people free beer. If it worked for those guys…..

Posted on 03/21/2011 at 2:17 PM

Christy says:

Wow, very ambitious-can’t wait for the new forum layout and #9! I’ll wear tights if I get to choose the outfit. We could be pink flamingos!

Posted on 03/21/2011 at 2:43 PM

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