South by Southwest Interactive 2010 has come and gone, so now it’s time to don our beer goggles and rose colored spectacles to relive the hazy memories of our time in Austin. This year, The Blog Studio decided to do something special at SxSw, to encourage everyone to make new friends and have a good time. Towards this end we created an interactive game, SxSw Yearbook. Although we’re experienced in the social media space, and we’ve run interactive games several times before, we learned some valuable lessons. We’ve created this blog post to share what we learned, so that everyone else playing in the social media space can make their next project more successful.

Tip #1: Be Fun

The concept was simple. Since SxSw is a lot like high school, we decided the conference needed a yearbook, and you can’t have a yearbook without superlatives. Throughout the conference we buttonholed people into taking photos of their frenemies, and nominating them for dubious honors like Most Likely to be Found in the Gutter, Prom King and Prom Queen.

In order to nominate someone, you had to take a photo, then share that photo via Twitter with the hashtag #sxswyearbook. Once your photo appeared on Twitter, in order to maximize the honors bestowed upon your nominee, the photo then appeared in the correct category on our fabulous SxSw Geek Yearbook website.  Each photo was subjected too a gauntlet of voting, and the four photos with the largest number of votes were crowned with laurels and declared the winners.  We kept the categories light and funny, and we weren’t afraid to laugh at ourselves, our industry and the people we work with.

Throughout the week we spent in Austin, the question we heard the most (after “Have you seen Quentin Tarantino”) was: “Why are you doing this?” We were expecting to rake in a few million bucks off this brilliant idea, so we could fly home via jet pack with Steve Jobs. Since that didn’t happen, we needed some other explanation for SxSw Yearbook in order to save face. We were doing it because it was fun.

The Blog Studio Team was comprised of SxSw vets, and we all realized that having a bit of a distraction that had absolutely no serious element to it was a valuable commodity. We envisioned creating a bit of a sideshow distraction for our fellow geeks, for when they’ve reached the point where hearing the phrase ‘key influencers’ or seeing one more ironic t-shirt that says ‘Follow Me On Twitter’ will make their heads explode.

When we’re working, we spend a lot of time creating ways to make messages standout and cut through the noise. Through years of trial and error, we’ve learned that showing people a good time is the best way to get your point across.  Depending on your age you can probably recite the rules to ‘Clue’ verbatim, hum the ‘Legend of Zelda’ theme note for note, or name every single Pokemon in alphabetical order.  People love games.

Tip #2: Be Flexible

We arrived in Austin a few days early to start getting the word out. Armed with SxSw Yearbook stickers, iPhone magnets to bribe people into playing and the bottomless supply of wit and charm. Our plan was to find willing geeks, explain the simple rules of the game, and fill the yearbook with beautiful nerds.

This is easier said than done. The 2010 edition of SxSw was more crowded than ever before. The amount of marketing types, street teams and people giving away free trinkets made Austin look more like a gypsy camp than a geek convention. In order to cut through the noise, we quickly adapted our strategy. We originally began by meeting people, explaining how the game worked, and handing them a piece of swag with the URL and encouraging them to play later. This wasn’t working.

We decided instead of explaining the game to people, we would just show them how it works by submitting entries right in front of them. Since this was SxSw, there was no shortage of photo/internet/Twitter capable devices (The most common injury at SxSw is probably a concussion caused by tripping over a power cord). Our team took advantage of this, and got people snapping photos, and uploading them right there. We were implementing another lesson we learned: out of sight, out of mind. While people might have the best intentions to play your game, read your brochure or check out your site later, they will probably forget. It’s always better to show it to them, and give them an action step while it’s fresh in their mind. The most memorable new projects we saw were ones where the creators pulled out their phone or laptop, and gave us an impromptu demo right where we stood.

Once we switched tactics, the entire game started to pick up steam quickly, and we had multiple photo entries for each category. The second phase of the game required people to vote on their favorite entries for each category. The entries with the most total votes, regardless of category, became the winners. Overall, it was much simpler to get people to vote, because it doesn’t require anything more than visiting the website and clicking.

We learned another useful lesson here, that can be applied to all types of social media projects. People are their own best promoters. After examining the analytics, we discovered that most of the votes came from the entrants sharing their link with their friends, and asking for their votes. They let people know via Twitter and Facebook, that they were playing SxSw Yearbook, and their friends could help them out by voting. Encouraging people to utilize their own online networks to promote themselves, and your game, is a smart strategy that really works. Taking advantage of the tangental networks connected to your project makes ideas spread quickly.

If you’re running a game, or project that revolves around an event like a conference or a concert, structure it so participants have a bit of a chance to interact with your project after the event is over. Although we closed submissions for SxSw Yearbook, when the interactive conference ended, we kept the voting open for another week. We ended up getting the most votes and traffic to the site after the conference ended. Giving people a chance to take their time, look at your site and play your game after the event is over lets you get people’s undivided attention. You don’t have to compete with the event, and people are back on their regular schedules, with a bit more free time.

We consider SxSw a success on many levels. People played the game, and they talked about it. The site got a lot of traffic, and the entries got quite a few votes. We were actually able to make a small marketing dent in Austin, despite the crazy level of noise. For The Blog Studio, the best part of the whole experience was what we learned about running an interactive promotion. The next time we do this, which will be soon, we’ll be that much more prepared.

We can boil down our hard earned lessons into 5 easy tips. If you keep these in mind when you’re creating something interactive, you’ll really up your chances for success.

1. Be Flexible

2. Be Fun

3. Out of sight, out of mind

4. People are there own best promoters

5. After the fact

We hope you find our writeup helpful, and use what we’ve learned to improve your own work. We’d love to hear about your interactive successes and failures, so drop us a line in the comments. If you’re a business, and you have an idea to promote, we’re happy to whip up something fun and creative to help get your point across. We’ll even incorporate what we learned at SxSw.

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