First let me say that the SXSW Panel Picker process and concept is an ingenious marketing idea that incorporates social hooks, buzz, content distribution and most importantly taps into a basic human driving force—competition. In the first week of the SXSW Panel Picker, if you observe closely you'll notice several different promotion techniques. Each teaches us something about how we market ourselves in a digital, social and flattened ecosystem.
Rising Social Tides Lift All Boats
Several peers have taken an approach where they've curated panels from others they either respect or know have formidible networks and are proactively promoting these lists without asking for anything in return. Two great examples of this are from Sarah Evans and her 15 panels to thumbs up list as well as Liz Strauss and Terry Starbucker who created a Friends of SobCon panel list. Both approaches execute against the "sharing" principle of social media in which you freely share what you have (in this case an sudience—and it comes back to benefit you.)
The Personal Touch
I've recieved several e-mails and or DMs (direct messages on Twitter) that have given me a heads up on a topic based on my interests. In some cases the individual put forward a reciprocal offer (support me and I'll support you). In other cases the approach was a soft promotion of their panel wrapped around a personalized message.
Even with social networks firmly in place, we as human beings demonstrate that we like shortcuts. E-mail lists, Facebook status updates (and in some cases Facebook ads), Tweets, Linked In, etc. are all being used a megaphones to "announce" panels. Some broadcast efforts can be very niche (and less of a shortcut). For example, Len Kendall sent e-mails to his distribution list of 365 contributors (though he only did so 40 at a time due to Gmail constraints). While I don't have the data, I'd estimate that some of these techniques can be effective but it also comes down to the quality of the individuals networks as well as the quality of the proposed panel. For example, I've clicked on a link in an e-mail only to not vote up a panel if it was underwhelming. I've also done the opposite. I've at least read all of the e-mails on panels that have been sent my way.
Advocacy can in some ways be divided in paid and earned. I've had PR practitioners submit panels on behalf of their clients and I've also seen people advocating for others simply based on the fact that they feel a certain loyalty or affinity for the panel organizer. Since I'm not paying anyone to help me, I've been fortunate to experience some of the latter via the comments in my own proposal. Both paid and owned can be very effective and likely are not mutually exclusive.
Social functionality such as comment fields enables social behavior such as reciprocity. While it's not unheard of for someone to say a nice thing not expecting anything back, it's widespread that we do, hoping someone will return the favor. Leaving comments and showing support for others in public settings can signal a "favor" which doesn't have to be repaid, but if does will not go unnoticed.
Creating Wikis such as Damien Basile's Google Spreadsheet allows users to add, edit and update panel submissions in a collaborative manner while gibing the curator (in this case, Damien) the social currency for setting it up and adding his panel in the first slot.
I've only scratched the surface on some of the behaviors and techniques I've seen in regards to the SXSW panel picker. They are a sign that the approach works as it activates the network creating interest, as well as narrowing down the large number of submissions. The approach makes for some interesting behavior watching. So what have you noticed?