This was my first year attending Social Media Week Austin a.k.a. #SMWATX as you might have seen on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. As a newbie, I’d like to share my experience so that you can decide whether or not it’s worthwhile for you to attend.
2019 was the third year of the Austin chapter, which is hosted by local digital marketing agency Best Practice Media, and brings together thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and industry experts for three days of learning and networking in Austin, TX. This year, the conference was held at the Robert B. Rowling Hall at the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin. The event is a carefully curated collection of sessions, workshops, and panels featuring some of the industry’s most prominent figures. If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn the latest and greatest in social media and digital marketing trends and best practices in an intimate setting, add this event to your list of conferences to attend.
Leading Up to SMWATX
Full disclosure – I signed up for the event without having done much research because I decided not to go last year and was determined to make the best of it now. It had been about four years since I last attended a social media conference, which was Social Media Marketing World 2015. After having lived in Austin for a year, I made my 2019 goal to attend as many professional development events that I could fit in since it’s such a popular destination for conferences.
I purchased my ticket, ordered new business cards, and began reviewing the agenda to plan out which sessions I wanted to attend. This year the event utilized the Whova app which allowed attendees to build a profile, browse and bookmark sessions, learn about speakers, and network with each other. It was a useful tool for navigating the three-day event and optimizing the experience based on individual preferences.
The agenda covered a variety of topics including – entrepreneurship, social media management, influencer marketing, digital marketing, content creation, analytics, and more. For my purposes, I chose to focus on social media, content creation, influencer marketing, and analytics.
Here’s a look at the sessions I attended:
Wednesday, February 20
- Opening Keynote – The State of Social Media 2019 | Speaker – Claire Winslow, Founder & President – Best Practice Media
- The opening keynote by Claire was thought-provoking and informative. She discussed the importance of transparency in social media and the consequences of not prioritizing it.
- Fearless Living: Mastering Your Brain for Effective Leadership | Speaker – Rhonda Britten, Founder, CEO, Master Coach – Fearless Living Institute
- This was not the session I planned on attending, but it turned out to be the session I didn’t know I needed. Rhonda’s story and message is so powerful. Look her up if you’re interested in learning about fearless living and leadership.
- How to Elevate Your Brand and Amplify Your Marketing Efforts | Speaker – Re Perez, CEO & Founder of BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE
- This was one of my favorite sessions. Re Perez is incredibly knowledgeable about branding and was such a great speaker! Check out his work at brandingforthepeople.com.
- Panel – The Renaissance of Organic Social | Moderator – Caitlin Williamson, Associate Director, Connections – T3 | Panelists – Belle Hunter, Product Marketing Manager, Stories – Facebook; Jane Ko, Blogger – A Taste of Koko; Mairin Heard Annen, Social Media Manager & Influencer Partnerships – HomeAway; Rafiq el Arculli, Team Leader, Social & Influencer Marketing – Whole Foods Market
- All of the panelists were local industry professionals and shared tons of great insights on organic social in today’s social media landscape. Biggest takeaway – be authentic, establish trust, and truly connect with people.
- Marketing 3.0: How to Win in the Experience Era | Speaker – Dave Rogenmoser, CEO – Proof
- “Make the Internet delightfully human.” – Dave R. This seems simple, but it’s so necessary and it’s exactly what influencers and brands need to be doing on social to establish long-term trust.
- 3 Steps to Build a Hyper-Engaged “K” Sized Following on Instagram (Organically & Bot Free in 2019) | Speaker – Travis White, Founder – Unkept Gentleman
- Another favorite session! Travis White is an Austin local Instagram influencer/expert (follow him @trav_white_) who has figured out how to utilize IG to build a brand and loyal following. He shared his best tips and tricks, and went into detail about how to effectively use them. He went beyond the surface level and provided valuable action items that anyone could use.
“Give people a reason and a purpose to follow you.”Mairin Heard Annen, HomeAway
Thursday, February 21
- Reputation Matters: How a Clear Brand Message Can Help Influencers Monetize | Speakers – Corrin Foster, Director of Marketing & Branding – Greenleaf Book Group; Kristin Sheppard, Founder & Creative Director – Giant Squid Media
- This was a workshop lead by two local marketing pros. We walked away with a worksheet to help identify your value proposition.
- Panel – For Creators (Podcasters, Authors, Bloggers, Influencers): How to Grow Your Platform and Monetize Your Brand | Moderator – Martin Martinez, Managing Director – Texas Founder Institute | Panelists – Phoebe Mroczek, Marketing Strategist – Phoebe Mroczek; Raj Jana, Founder – JavaPresse Coffee Company; Sachit Gupta, Founder – SG Media Labs
- Another great panel discussion. This one was focused on content creation and provided a lot of great insights from an entrepreneur’s perspective.
- Learn How Facebook Will Market Your Business For as Little as $1 Per Day | Speaker – Curt Maly, Co-Founder & Facebook Advertising Expert – Black Box Social Media
- Social Media Pro Strategy: The Essential Elements | Speaker – Kate Buck – SocialMediaPro.com
- Panel – Building Community: Online and Offline | Moderator – Courtney Bianchi, Founder – Whiskey & Pearls | Panelists – Hayley Wakefield, Founder & CEO – The Refinery; Leslie Lozano, Brand Partnership Assistant – Planoly, Co-Founder – BossBabesATX; Tareen Alam, Creative Content Manager – Bumble
“Why is what you do valuable? Create content that you’re interested in and make it engaging, valuable, and connected.”Raj Jana, JavaPresse Coffee Company
Friday, February 22
- Breaking through the Noise: The TRUTH about Influencer Marketing | Speaker – Amanda Russell, Professor of Marketing – UCLA
- Uplevel Your Marketing with Google Analytics | Speaker – Andres Marquez, Director, Data Analytics and Optimization – Vers Creative
- The New Social Media Landscape: Diversity, Complexity, and Opportunity | Speaker – Craig Watkins, Professor & Founding Director of the Institute for Media Innovation (IMI) – University of Texas at Austin
“Buzz doesn’t matter if it doesn’t align with your brand and behavior.”Amanda Russell, UCLA
As you can see from my schedule, I went full blast the first two days and then made it to the second half of the last day. Yay for getting a new mattress delivered! Boo for missing part of the last day. But, that’s how life goes sometimes and you just have to make the best of it.
The three days worth of sessions turned out to be a good amount of time for the conference, and I thought the overall scheduling went fairly well. The event organizers tried to anticipate which speakers would be the most popular and scheduled them in the Crum Auditorium (the largest room at the Robert B. Rowling Hall). Unfortunately, there were a few sessions in smaller rooms that ended up at capacity and attendees were turned away. This happened to me on the first day, and although I was bummed to miss one of my preferred sessions, I ended up in another that was surprisingly useful and very inspiring (Rhonda Britten’s, Fearless Living).
One of my favorite takeaways from the conference was getting to meet and learn from local professionals, as well as seeing some of my Instagram connections IRL (in real life) – shout out to Andrew Segars @talkingwymf! It was a lot of fun to run into people and finally get to put a face to a name/IG handle, especially when I wasn’t expecting or searching for it. My favorite session format was the panel discussion where you could hear from a few different people at once who shared their personal experiences and perspectives. I found it most interesting because it felt more casual and relatable than a prepared speech, and the question portions were always conversational and informative.
In the end, I took some great notes and gained valuable insights that I can immediately apply to my work. My goal was to go and learn what’s new in the ever-changing world of social media while networking with other professionals, and I have to say I achieved that and more. I liked how there was something for everyone in terms of the session topics and formats, and the location was spacious and modern. I even got a little workout in climbing the huge flight of stairs all the way up to the 5th floor multiple times a day! Everything, from the opening keynote by Claire Winslow to the very last session with Craig Watkins, was excellent. If you’ve never been and are considering going to further your social media and digital marketing knowledge and meet other professionals in your industry, I would say go for it and plan on attending SMWATX 2020!
Tickets: $275 each