SXSW: To Launch or Not to Launch?

Edwyn Collins, one of this year’s SXSW acts.

If you’re involved in any way with music, film or digital media, you’re likely already beginning to get invites for events and read pre-event coverage of South By Southwest, the growing annual conference which kicks off on March 11th in Austin, TX.

One of the most popular questions asked in relation to the interactive portion of the conference is, “Which company will take off this year at SXSW?” The music equivalent is of course, “Which band will take off this year at SXSW?”

Many past conference goers talk about how 2007 was the year of Twitter, 2009 of Foursquare, etc. Both of these services had launched way in advance of SXSW, but the gathering served as an incubator to help them grow to a wider audience and take hold. As Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said, “We didn’t actually launch Twitter at SXSW — SXSW just chose to blow it up.”

This bears revisiting the question that has been asked in many a startup team meeting over the years: Should we launch at SXSW?

The conventional wisdom is, no, you shouldn’t. “It’s best to launch at least a few weeks before the conference,” said Rackspace evangelist Robert Scoble. Scoble’s take is that it’s best to go into SXSW with buzz already in hand so those attending the conference aren’t hearing about you for the first time. That way, when you’re setting up meetings or events, people doing their research will see you’ve already got some momentum and may be more likely to meet with you.

The challenge for many companies at SXSW, as with any large conference, is how to cut through the noise. There is a tremendous amount of noise at SXSW. If you are on a budget, you should read Larry Chiang‘s post over at GigaOm for some scrappy ways to get the word out.

Also, this thread on question and answer site Quora contains a plethora of information about whether or not to launch at the conference, including the aforementioned Williams’ claim that the $11,000 Twitter paid to have screens installed in the conference hallways to display tweets a few years ago is the only money the company has ever spent on marketing.

Regardless of your tactics or budget, an important distinction can be made between enterprise solutions looking to meet with brands, agencies, partners and investors and consumer facing apps like Twitter and Foursquare mostly looking to pad their user base (but also potentially meet with brands, agencies, partners and investors!).

As with most things in a field that is part art, part science (we’re talking about digital marketing) there is no easy answer to the “should I launch at SXSW” question. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear from you. Share your feedback in our comments section or on Twitter, @PRNewser.