Faced with challenging economic times and global inflation, businesses across all industries are working hard to get the best return on investment. 

As marketing is often the first channel to suffer when it comes to budget cuts, in today’s episode we investigate how to maximize marketing with a small social media team.  

Capturing the cultural zeitgeist is generally a difficult task for most marketing companies, and even more so on social media. Trends, cycles, consumer tastes, and that elusive cool factor are something that most of us spend a lot of time chasing. But today’s guest are world renowned for not only knowing what’s cool, but for actually defining what’s cool.

We are delighted to catch up with Carina Torres, Social Media Manager of the Austin based art and tech festival, South by South West (SXSW). 

SXSW is a brand that has managed to stay at the forefront of culture for nearly 4 decades and is now the go to place for everything future forward. What began  as a music festival in Austin,  Texas in 1987 is now the epicenter of everything from the future of tech, to music, movies, and so much more. 

But how does the small but mighty social media team of the brand that defines cool, adapt to change and continue to stay ahead of the curve today? 

Speakers: Cat Anderson & Carina Torres

[Music Playing]

Cat: Welcome to season two of Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. I’m Cat, and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media.

This is a space for anyone, and really, nearly anything goes, but what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it’s hard to know, but that’s what we’re here to find out.

Throughout the series, we’ll talk to the brands behind some of the best accounts that you know, and some that you don’t know yet to explore the way that businesses, organisations, and individuals have achieved their success in social media and crucially, how you can do it too.

With social media moving so fast, it seems that every day there are new trends to follow and new strategies to employ to capture the fleeting attention of users, and especially for brands with small teams and big ideas.

With the cultural landscape moving so quickly, how on earth can a small team capture the minds of millions. South by Southwest is a brand that has been on the cutting-edge of cool for almost four decades.

Beginning as a music and culture festival in 1987, it’s grown to be an all-encompassing event that covers the future of everything, including music, technology, business, and culture.

And it’s South by Southwest’s small social media team that has kept them on the forefront of cool in digital age, translating their history as a cultural curator onto social media.

To discuss how small but mighty teams can conquer the world of social media and stay ahead of the curve, I’m joined today by South by Southwest’s Social Media Manager, Carina Torres to tell us more.

So, Carina, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with South by Southwest?

Carina: Yeah, I started at South by Southwest as an intern back in 2016, at the time I attended college at UT, Austin. So, that’s how, basically I heard about it since I am from South Texas, a border town with Mexico.

So, I had never heard of this event at all, I was like, “This is huge, it’s so many things happening at once.” So, yeah, I was like, “I really want to be a part of this.” And at the time, I did the red-carpet press organisation and they asked me to come back for the next two years.

And I was more into the radio marketing side of it, which doesn’t exist now but still dealing with social media and blogs and helping out with any content on site. And then I left Austin after college and got into I guess tech, marketing, cybersecurity, social media.

And I quickly learned it wasn’t for me at the time, I mean after South By, having celebrities and seeing musicians and it’s just a lot of adrenaline, and that was what I was looking for again.

So, I wanted to go back to Austin, and I saw there was a position open with the brand-new marketing team at South By, and I reached out and got the job. So, I was really excited to go back in 2019, work more with the communications team. Then it’s March 6th and it’s 2020 and we get cancelled, so it’s a pretty big deal.

I was really excited to do this event as a full-time staff, and we had really great stuff, we had a really great team. So, we deal with that, and then it’s 2021 and we have our first online event ever.

And that was a big shift on the marketing side too. It was like, “How are we going to show the world what’s happening in a digital landscape?” And I mean, it was successful for sure, for it being never been done before.

And then in 2022, we had our first hybrid event, and that was also successful too, but different, everything was new. Even if you’ve been there for 10 years, for 20 years, it was all kind of new.

And we just had our 2023 event, and I just got this role of social media manager last summer. So, everything’s been pretty new, but it’s been great so far.

Cat: Wow, I mean, what a journey. To be fair, I think social media managers are probably amongst some of the best placed people to deal with change.

But that’s a lot of change that you went through from being cancelled to being digital, to being hybrid, like figuring out each one of those must have been totally crazy.

Carina: 100%, and I think you can stay with the same strategy and some things that worked, but you have to try new things, take risks and find out where your audience is while we’re all online in a different scope now.

Cat: And can I just ask … I want to ask this cheesy question right at the top. We’re referring to it as South By, and is it super lame if I say South by Southwest? Is it like we say South By?

Carina: No, we should say South by Southwest. Yeah, it’s a tongue twister for sure, but yeah, we can totally say South by Southwest.

Cat: No, no, no, I like it. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got the inside scoop here, I’m going to be in with the cool kids.” But I actually was thinking you mentioned it at the top of your answer there. It’s obviously an event that encompasses so much stuff.

And perhaps actually for someone, I actually think as well, there’s a good chance there are people who are listening who have heard of South by Southwest but haven’t been — maybe don’t know the full scope of the event. So, maybe you could, I mean, try to capture what is South by Southwest all about?

Carina: Yeah, South by Southwest is so many things, and I think to every person it’s different, because there’s just … I mean, you may go for all of it, but it’s a conference, it’s a music festival, it’s a film, and TV festival.

We have a comedy festival, we have a bunch of exhibitions, we have a creative industry’s exhibitions where companies from all over the world can come show what they’re working on, their products.

We have flat stock where artists can come and share their art and it’s open to the public. We even have free community concerts where you can come and listen to showcasing artists whether you have a badge or not.

We have a pitch competition, there’s innovation awards, community service awards, yeah there’s so much to work with. There’s so many audiences we’re reaching from mass audiences to niche audiences, so it’s a lot to take in.

Cat: From a social perspective then, you’re working with — I mean, a common problem that you might hear from movie brands is that they’re like, “Oh, what are we going to post about?” This is presumably not a problem that you ever have.

Carina: Yeah, there’s all the content, there’s so much content to work with for sure. I think it’s the struggle maybe is like, “Okay, well, who are we going to speak to? Who is where? Are we reaching the right audiences on this platform? Who are we missing? What are we missing of all the content? Is it being distributed equally?”

So, there is still challenges for sure, but yeah, I think it’s awesome that we have so much to work with.

Cat: And you do have a history of the curation of what’s cool, like if you’re at South — South by Southwest is inherently cool. And so, I wonder with all of this abundance of content and your reputation as well, how do you factor social media into that?

How important is your social media strategy for perpetrating that and for keeping a finger on the zeitgeist of what people are into? Like it must be quite a lot of pressure.

Carina: Yeah, I mean, I want to take it back to 2006, South by Southwest helped launch Twitter, which was a really big deal at the time. And just thinking about how much change has happened since then not only on Twitter but all platforms, it’s wild.

And I think it just goes to show that South By has always been willing to take risks when it comes to new social platforms or new social features. We obviously, have a prominent social media presence, and it does take up a big chunk of our content strategy as a whole.

And even on site, it’s like social is it for marketing for us? And yeah, we want to share everything that happens, we want to share the upcoming tech trends, we want to share the new films or TV series, we want to share new upcoming artists, et cetera. And we want to share that with our digital community. We want to reach all the new and niche audiences that we can communicate to.

And I think even today, talking about how we keep up with social media today, like everybody’s doing video, that’s how you are achieving discovery on social media.

Everyone’s trying to make their platform like TikTok and everyone’s prioritising video. You’re going to get a higher ranking, more people are going to see your content if you’re doing videos, so I hate to say it, but we have to please the algorithms.

And I always remind my team, it’s like, “Okay, this is cool, but let’s think about what is the algorithm going to favour?” And I think something that our team does well, and our leadership does well, is we become more adaptable.

We get more creative with whatever content we’re creating and shift our strategy to — especially since like we were saying, going from normal event to digital to hybrid, to again, normal, but still some digital, we always have to be adaptable.

Cat: I cannot ask this question, when you’re saying, thinking of the algorithm, do you have any inside tips that you could share? Like what is the content that you believe the algorithm is going to favour?

Carina: Vertical video for sure.

Cat: Yeah okay.

Carina: I don’t know, we’ve been trying to A/B test too, working with our video team, kind of like what works for us, and I think every account is different. Like truly the algorithm is the algorithm, but also like, “What is your audience engaging with?” And it’ll say what the algorithm is showing too.

So, I think just being aware, but also vertical video is key right now for sure, for anyone. And I mean, you see that across the board with any brands, like that’s what it is now.

Cat: I think it’s really interesting when you’re talking about capturing this content. To me from the outside perspective, it seems like you’re covering off the holy trinity of stuff that you want to do online.

So, you’ve got your brand awareness, you’re known for being cool, you’re known for having this amazing curation of stuff happening at this event. So, you’re sharing that for brand.

It’s lead gen as well, because you’re going to be sharing this with people who’ll be like, “Oh my goodness, I have got to go to the next one.” So, presumably, you’re also helping drive next year’s ticket sales.

And then of course, you mentioned … and I would like to dig into this a little bit as well, community, which I think is sometimes from a brand perspective, a little bit forgotten but social media was created for community. And so, I really loved to hear that that’s a big part of your focus.

Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do for and with your community online, and how do you look after it and nurture it?

Carina: I feel like that’s still something we’re trying to perfect but it’s interacting with our participants when we can. Like they’re so excited to come and we’re so excited to have them. So, showing them some love, attendees having trouble with registration or just, there’s so many places to go.

So, just making sure like when someone’s DMing us and has a question or they’re lost, making sure that we’re being attentive and saying like, “We can send you to the right place, have no fear.”

And yeah, I feel like also, Austin too, has changed so much in these past years, but still trying to say like, “This is our home, we love our locals, we love our austinites, we love our communities. Showing love and support to locals and restaurants is all we can do.”

Cat: And I think it actually kind of segues quite neatly into the next question. So, we’re talking about change, you mentioned you joined in 2019. Cool, great, what a wonderful time to be alive and what is the thing …

Carina: What does the future hold?

Cat: Who knows, we have no idea. Roll on 365 days and holy mackerel, stuff has changed; you mentioned obviously that you were cancelled, 2020 is cancelled, 2021 is online only, 2022’s hybrid.

Can you even begin to tell us how social supported that? Because I cannot imagine — well, I know that so many businesses and events in particular had to lean so heavily on their social teams in this time, and I’m wondering, was it the same for South by Southwest?

Carina: I think so. I think there will always be a lean on social regardless. I mean, it was a bit hard because we didn’t have as much content to work with leading up to 2021, kind of still using stuff we had in 2019, and then even then, 2021 happening. But you still don’t have all the cool stuff that happened in the moment in real life. So, you’re just trying to use these Zoom meetings for sharing conferences.

Artists did a really cool thing where they … kind of like in their own space performed and that was really cool to share and having films streamed too and sharing that. But it was definitely hard because we just didn’t have the content at the time.

And once 2022 came around, it was like, okay, yes, we have so much content to work with now, we’re so excited. And I mean even in that era, we weren’t on TikTok, and I feel like that’s at least where audiences were going towards. And then fast-forward, one to two years later, everyone’s like, “We need to be on TikTok, we need to reach these audiences.”

And same, I mean for 2022 especially, I was like, “It’s our first in-person event since 2019, we need to be on here. We don’t have an audience right now, I don’t know who we’re going to reach, but there are people on there going to South By or following South By, so let’s give them what they want.”

And I am grateful for my team for trusting me with that because we have had some small success on there since and kind of get a feel for what works best. Especially for on site, I feel like where we pick up the most momentum across all social and we’re still growing our audience on there.

Our content is still 100% organic on there, which is really interesting. And I think there’s so much potential for us to grow on there, and I’m excited to reach niche audiences on there and have people discover us in a way that they haven’t on other platforms.

Cat: That’s such a good point because TikTok is so great for discovery, I think maybe more than other platforms where you have to seek people out to follow them, you can kind of stumble upon stuff that’s brand new and exciting.

We talked about how South by Southwest; I really want to call it South By because I just want to pretend I’m cool.

Carina: I like the South by Southwest.

Cat: Okay, South by Southwest, we’ll call it South by Southwest. You’re known for curating what’s cool. There’s a lot of space and a lot of time at the event, you do not have that same space and time online. There’s only so much stuff you can really put out on a lot of platforms.

So, how much curation is going on with what you’re broadcasting on social media and how do you do that? How do you hold on to that philosophy and reputation with your curation of stuff online?

Carina: As far as our content, like that 100% goes to our participant, all the cool things that we’re sharing is because of what they’re bringing. We really stand by our purpose, which we replicate on social of helping creative people achieve their goals.

I like to think of myself as a hype woman for these participants year-round and the team too. They bring us the cool content to work with and we just have the privilege to share it with the world. And I think there’s so much that goes on other than just what happens on site.

It’s like even right now saying, “Okay, what worked, what didn’t work? What can we do new for 2024? What can we start to brainstorm?” Coming up and seeing if our strategy is still relevant for 2024, what we want to change, what we want to add, and then getting ready for applications.

Like how are we going to promote applications this year? How are we going to change now that vertical video is a whole thing. What vertical videos are we going to share?

And then once we start to have programming come in, like curating announcements, curating how we’re going to showcase the participants that are coming and then it’s the event and then it happens all over again. So, it goes all year and I think it’s just what the participants bring is what makes it cool, I think.

And I think even just thinking about Lizzo, she came to South By in 2014 and a couple years after that, and it’s like look at Lizzo today and last year she was a keynote for our 2022 event, and that’s like the full circle South By to us.

We can keep promoting this participant, show their progress, show their achievements, awards, and then they’re a keynote. It’s crazy, seeing her journey was crazy for us.

Cat: That’s such a nice full life cycle really, isn’t it, then to see that participant become a complete megastar. I mean, does mega star even cover Lizzo? She’s iconic.

Carinas: Yeah, iconic and even Everything Everywhere All At Once, premiering last year at South By and winning I don’t know how many Academy awards, but getting that recognition too, it’s like we’re bringing really cool things and it’s a privilege to be able to promote it.

Cat: I am so jealous of your job because it sounds so unbelievably fun. But another question I’m kind of not nervous to ask but I keep thinking, how is she capturing all of this? And you’ve mentioned your team, how many people are working on your social media team, because there’s a lot to do, right?

Carina: There’s a lot to do and we are small. We are a small team; there is me as a social person, we have two, three editors at a time right now, and obviously, we have a manager and some website people too and a designer. That is our web and social team.

We are a small team, but we have an amazing video team that’s also small but amazing to work with and some other content capturing teams and obviously, they outsource people for the onsite event because there’s just so much coverage, but we do it.

Like I want to give props to my team because we make it happen and maybe we miss stuff here and there because we don’t have the resources we would like. But I think that all in all, we do a really good job about making sure we’re hitting the big moments and making sure at least there’s some photographer or videographer out there that we can see later and say, “Oh, that was cool, we should share that now.”

Cat: I love that, I feel like there are hundreds of small but mighty social media teams getting a lot of like, “Yeah, amazing,” because I think there’s so many small social media teams that do unbelievable stuff and I think from the outside you can think that there’s much larger teams behind this effort, but it’s knowing your audience, knowing what you’re doing and executing it to an excellent level.

Carina: Yeah, shout out to the small social teams for sure, we are surviving every day.

Cat: I think it’s nice to hear you talk about coming onto TikTok and that sense of, “Oh, we have to be on this platform,” because again, was there a social team in the world that did not have somebody saying, “We should be on TikTok?”

Starting out from scratch on any platform can be kind of difficult. Could you tell us about the content that you’re sharing on TikTok? Are you sharing really polished content? Are you doing rough and ready content? Like what’s your style on TikTok?

Carina: I feel like how I sold it to the team for us to start there was doing the rough and ready. I was like, “This doesn’t need to be polished; this doesn’t need to be a big lift.” Obviously, having legal approved things is one thing, but in terms of style, I like Lo-fi is what I was really looking for when we launched it.

You know, just having that POV type of sense so we can just make people feel like they’re here and make people want to come here and enjoy it. And I think then we started to have a little bit more fun with it.

And as we worked with our video team saying, “Okay, there’s nice footage going out, can we just get that vertical? Can we use that for TikTok but still not be as polished?” Like this isn’t a sales video, it’s just right trying to relive that magic moment, and that’s kind of all I want to share.

Cat: I’m so happy to hear you say that because I think you know yourself when you use TikTok and you see something that’s overly polished or feels like an ad, I’m so instantly turned off by it. And I do think some brands experiment with both, so I think you’re buying on the money.

Carina: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff on TikTok. I mean, I’m on the For You Page and sometimes I don’t even see the sponsored and I like it and I’m like, “That’s the magic right there” of me not even knowing this was a sponsored video.

Cat: Yeah, totally, and it’s not easy to do sometimes. Some people really fail and then some people do it right. And I think as you said, when you see it done right, it’s like chef’s kiss. Good chef.

Carina: Yeah, chef’s kiss, how can I do that perhaps to them?

Cat: I wanted to ask how did you help to curate a unique voice for South by Southwest online when it is already so established in the public mind? Or did you have to do that?

Carina: I would give credit to previous communications teams and also, our leadership for our department. I think, like I said, South By is so many things and to everyone it’s different and we’re always talking to specific audiences for all the things that we have to offer and that’s a lot.

But I think the team always makes sure we’re staying true to our brand, speaking to our community, speaking to — we’re an Austin-based brand company, making sure we stay true to that. We’re informative but we can also be relatable to our audiences.

And I like to tell people that we are the cowboy emoji. Like the cowboy emoji was really built for us so we just slap it on all the time. And it’s great because cowboys are trending right now.

Cat: Cowboys are trending right now? I must have missed this memo.

Carina: I feel like everyone’s trying to be a cowboy right now. Like everybody has cowboy boots, everybody has a cowboy hat outside of Texas, so it’s interesting to see.

Cat: I’m so glad you gave me this information because I don’t know if that’s hit the UK and Ireland and Europe just yet, so I’m going to get ahead of the trend.

Carina: I wonder if it will, but you can definitely show up to the office in a cowboy hat and boots and see how it goes.

Cat: I mean, I think it would definitely be a look, I love that. I guess my final question for you is, this is an unbelievably cool role that you have in a company that is fully supportive of it, which is so great to see.

However, unfortunately, we hear all the time, you know, we’re talking about small and mighty social teams, and a lot of the time there’s brands who don’t know how to get started on social media, there’s people who don’t know how to get started in social media.

Do you have any advice for both groups really about how to really make your way in social media from a brand perspective and then also as an individual?

Carina: Yeah, I would start with don’t be afraid to take risks. I mean that’s like saying about Twitter, how we helped launch them. We just got on TikTok; you never know where it’s going to lead you.

I’m always pitching memes to the legal team, you never know what they’re going to approve. So yeah, just don’t be afraid and just go for it. Honestly, you just learn insights and everything’s a learning curve, just look at it like that.

Like I mentioned vertical video too, that being the huge focus and what every brand is leaning towards right now and what the algorithms are leaning towards, for sure it has to be included in the content assets.

And like I said, paying attention to what type of contents your audience interacts with on your social platforms. They’re not all the same, different audiences everywhere. I feel like broken record, but that was something that when I came on, I had to explain to the team too.

It’s like we have to stop broadcasting everything on all the platforms and being repetitive because there’s so many different people on each. So, let’s look more into our insights there and respond with that.

And then I would end with be genuine. Like I said, stop being a salesy type social account, Lo-fi videos too, more authentic naturally, just be genuine.

Cat: So Carina we actually have a question in for you today from one of your industry peers, that’s Maeve McQuillan at WebSummit


Maeve:               Hi Carina my name is Maeve McQuillan and I’m the Head of Content Marketing at WebSummit. So I have a question for you today as a fellow marketing professional for live events. At SXSW do you feel like you need to have a presence on every social media platform, or are you more selective with the platforms you use? And why is that if so? 

Carina:               I think that it definitely depends on your brand, the goals you want to achieve and your audience. At SXSW particularly we have a lot of different audiences because we are a lot of different things. And all of these audiences are spread out across all of these different platforms. 


Carina: So we have different approaches to each platform in our social strategies so we can connect and reach these audiences, and for us I think it’s important for us to be on a lot of different social platforms to reach these audiences.  

And even try what was an untouched platform for us like TikTok to even reach new audiences and connect with more people. 

And obviously I think resources play a big factor when managing all these different channels, but I think once your goals are clear and your audiences are defined for each platform, I think it’s easier to conduct all the content and know who you’re actually connecting with. 

And lastly I think I would add to not be afraid to take a risk on a new platform just because you’re not on there, you never know who you’re gonna reach it could be a great success 


Cat: I could not agree with you more. Oh, and you forgot to mention cowboys, like throw some cowboy emojis in.

Carina: Yeah, and throw some cowboys in there. Dress as a cowboy, really, just go full cowboy.

Cat: Oh, my goodness, Carina, thank you so much.

Carina: Thank you.

Cat: I have absolutely loved talking to you. This has been so interesting and I’m so jealous, painfully jealous of your awesome job. And yeah, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I’m sure our listeners are going to absolutely love it.

Carina: Thank you so much for having me, and again, I’ll just shout out to my team too because it’s a great role but like I said, we’re small and they really help me make everything work, so shout out.

[Music Playing]

Cat: You’ve been listening to Social Creatures with me, Cat Anderson. Many thanks to Carina for joining me today. You can find the links to all South by Southwest socials in the description of this episode. And of course, a thanks to Sprout Social for making this podcast possible.

If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to let us know on social media at Sprout Social and subscribe to hear other episodes like this wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you in two weeks.