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The Buzz of Getting Buzzed: What Nerd Ragers at SXSW Teach Us about Content Marketing

The swarming SXSW crowd descended upon Buffalo Billiards on 6th street. The Mashable party was starting, and everyone wanted in.

At the entrance, Mashable geeks armed with iPads stood side-by-side with thick-muscled guards. The geeks accepted the VIPs, the guards ushered the RSVPs into a line that stretched around the block, through an alley and back around again. The line bounced and swayed; cameras flashed, capturing pics bound for Twitter. Just being in line for the party was an event. “The Mashable party has gone viral!” a well-groomed young British guy yelled.

The Brit’s comment may have been more apt than he realized. Because in a way, what Mashable was doing that night wasn’t that different from what it does every single day — that is, creating content designed to spread. 

When we think about content marketing, it’s usually articles and videos that come to mind. Maybe an app or a game. But at its core, content marketing is the art of engaging and entertaining people while building buzz. By this definition, the Mashable party was content marketing at its finest.

“The buckets that I use in describing [content marketing] are tools and toys,” offers Pierre Lipton, San Francisco creative lead for AKQA, AdWeek agency of the year. “Toys can be everything from games to any other form of entertainment — something that people find fun.

Of course, there’s good content marketing and bad content marketing. Throwing a party isn’t good content marketing in its own right, any more than is publishing an article. You have to know how to generate as much buzz as possible. And Mashable seems as skilled at party content as it is at written content.

As the crowd gradually poured into the 1,000-person capacity Mashable House, downing open bar drinks and raging on the dance floor, rumors flew that CNN was set to buy Mashable for $200 million. Word spread fast. Mashable founder Pete Cashmore promptly denied the rumor in a memo to employees.

Throughout the conference, dozens of other brands generated buzz via free booze.

Buyer-powered market platform Zaarly — which demoed at SXSWi last year while only three weeks old — flexed its post-puberty muscles with the must-attend rager of Interactive’s opening night, garnering more than 15,000 RSVPs and a lot of press as “the startup poised to kill Craigslist.” The attendance of a few celebrities didn’t hurt its press appeal.

GroupMe mixed raucous dancing with a cigar-and-cognac bar in an open yard courtyard, reminding everyone that the startup is doing great, despite selling out to Skype last year. The Barbarian Group and Tumblr’s Monday night party at the Mohawk featured an all-star music lineup perfectly designed to excite Tumblr’s youthful demo and, in the process, spread across the Internet.

Which brings us back to content marketing. As we leave SXSW, these parties should remind us: Whether it’s a brand-sponsored party or brand-sponsored blog post, it’s all about the same things — branding, trust, and keeping us interested — even when we’re drunk.

Image courtesy of Mashable

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