SXSW Is More Than Parties

by francine Hardaway on March 12, 2011

Perhaps fortuitously, Japan’s earthquake took place on the opening day of the biggest conference of content creators in the world, Austin’s South by Southwest Media Festival (SXSW).

Known more casually as “geek Spring Break,” SXSW is the place social media experts, musicians, and filmmakers convene to share best practices, catch up with each other, and party hard. In previous years, SXSW has been a week or two of finding new friends and waking with a hangover after listening too late to an undiscovered band.

But yesterday in the Samsung Bloggers Lounge, the true power of social media emerged. A group of bloggers at one table created “SXSW Cares,” a way to donate to the Red Cross’s efforts in Japan . That group quickly joined with another nascent effort, SXSW4Japan, to create a single campaign. By the end of the day the group was formed, the website, was live, and $5395 had been donated. The campaign will last until the end of the conference.

We complain about many aspects of social media: the loss of privacy, the constant marketing, the need to be connected 24/7, the rudeness of people checking Blackberries in church. But when the chips are down, as they are in Japan after the earthquakes and the tsunami, nothing beats the power of social media to spread the word and organize action.

The “geeks” who are involved in creating social media content recognize their power to influence, and are always willing to line up behind a good cause. We don’t create content because it’s casual and we’re kids; we create it because it has the power to move mountains, overthrow tyrants, and be a force for good. Once in a while, we make factual errors in haste, or embarrass people with our transparency.

But social media has enormous power to be an influence for good, and the attendees of SXSW this year hope they can make a positive contribution to help their neighbors in Japan.

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