When you arrive in Austin, TX at the beginning of South By Southwest Interactive, you receive your official badge and a swag bag (this year, it has an Octopus design on it). Inside the bag is one of the most valuable things to have a successful week at South By: the giant schedule book of all the panels, events, and parties that are happening at a fast and furious pace each day. It sums up what South By is all about, opportunities for discussions and networking with people who have similar interest and passions as you do.

Ultimately, South by Interactive is about technology and interactions, which sounds obvious. However, the addition of social networking sites to every aspect of the conference creates a whole other channel of constant conversation between attendees, panelists and those unable to attend the conference IRL (in real life).

Twitter has had a great impact on South By, as the conference itself has a hashtag, #SxSW, and each panel also has a specific hashtag that you can use to tweet with others participating in that session. For me, that’s been invaluable, as many different sessions occur during each time frame. At one point, two panels were happening at the same time that I was interested in, so I attend one and followed along with the other using its hashtag that was specified in the schedule book. According to What the Hashtag, #SxSW was used 11,842 times yesterday and 22,951 times today.

Attendees have also been using Foursquare to check-in to different locations and events, which makes it easy to meet up with friends and see what locations are popular and trending. It also provides a great way to explore Austin, particularly for people like me who are here for the first time. Foursquare has even offered several perks for those using its service during South By, like an upgrade to their application, 18 new South By themed badges, a chance to win tickets to a Big Boi concert, a partnership with American Express, and other events and parties.

I can’t imagine attending South By without using sites like Twitter and Foursquare, because they’ve completely altered the experience for the better. At South By, interactions both online and in person have created an increased sense of community largely due to social media.