It's people! Social Media is made out of people

With apologies to Charlton Heston's "Detective Thorn" character from "Soylent Green," I thought it was necessary to slightly alter one of the more well-known quotes from the film to echo some sentiments I heard around South by Southwest's Interactive festival this past week.

With apologies to Charlton Heston's “Detective Thorn” character from “Soylent Green,” I thought it was necessary to slightly alter one of the more well-known quotes from the film to echo some sentiments I heard around South by Southwest's Interactive festival this past week.

For those of you who have been to SxSW (or Southby or #sxsw, as it's affectionately known to many), you're aware that the interactive portion has bloomed so massively in recent years to the point it has even overtaken the music and film portions of the festival in many ways, most certainly when it comes to press coverage.

And it's no wonder. With technologies such as Twitter arriving a few years ago, the launch of Foursquare and Gowalla (full disclosure: an Allison & Partners client) in 2009 starting the “location wars,” and this year's push around group chat and texting, it's certainly the place to be if you're looking to grow your brand.

Aside from a healthy mix of brand-fueled parties, crash pads, electrical outlets, and other accoutrements, SxSW does something truly significant – it brings together an amazing group of minds and talent. Handled properly, you can bring together client activities, interviews and panels, meet some prospective new business candidates, see people you may only recognize from their social profile avatar, and more. Handled poorly, you spend 18 hours a day trying to look at your tablet, iPhone, or laptop. Sometimes, overloaded cell service is a blessing in disguise, whether someone's paying for your WiFi use or not.

This year – and this isn't really that foreign or new a concept, just one that struck me differently than it had before – many of my favorite memories and experiences to date haven't really had much to do about the gadgets and toys I've been lugging around town for almost a week already (and I'll be here through the Film and Music portions, as well), it's been the random bumping into people I'd not seen in some time, ones with whom I've always enjoyed collaborating.

One night, after a dinner with Voce's Josh Hallett (@hyku), we bumped into Charity: Water's director of digital engagement, Paull Young (@paullyoung) on a street corner when returning to our respective hotels. I certainly lost track of the time we all chatted on that street corner about business, the bands we'd seen, and what was going on in social that we were – or not – into at that moment. These are a couple of guys I interact with on a fairly regular basis, but I don't often don't have the luxury of picking their brains. It was great.

That's happened a couple of times since I landed here in Austin, either in the salons of the convention center or the hotel lobby, and it's what makes this thing tick, whether you enjoy SxSW or you think it's too much. It's about the people. So while we're all here trying to figure out how to get our clients publicity and determine what time you need to get on line at Stubb's or The Mohawk for that show at night, we can't lose sight of that whole “relations” word in public relations. Be it competitors, colleagues, clients, or whatever, there's a whole lotta brainpower that people are letting get tapped – and you don't need to follow 3,000 people on Twitter to get access to it. Just talk to someone. They won't bite you – unless you try and unplug their phone charger.

Tom Biro is a Seattle-based VP at Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tombiro.

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