What is SXSW?
If you haven’t ever been to South by Southwest interactive (SXSWi), it’s somewhat of a surreal experience. For anyone in the digital/social media space, it has become “the” conference to attend due to the sheer number of startups, brands, thought leaders and level of networking that goes on during the course of the event. This year, nearly 25,000 paid attendees descended on Austin, TX — many more attend without a badge — to network, attend sessions, drink and eat good BBQ (and not necessarily in that order).
Given that this was my fifth SXSWi and it’s been interesting to see the changes that have taken place with the event since 2008. The biggest shift in the event over the years has been the involvement of big brands and a transition of mostly blogger and social media types to folks that do PR and marketing as their full time jobs. It’s also meant more corporate sponsorships, more hype and more traditional media coverage. None of these things are good or bad, they just change the vibe of the event significantly. And while some people who have been attending SXSWi for a while feel like the conference has lost its mojo, I see it as part of the maturation process of social and digital media in the corporate world.
This year, our agency, WCG, pulled together a dashboard* to track some of the conversations and activity happening at SXSWi (pictured above). One of the things we wanted to measure was the overall share of conversation of some of the SXSWi sponsors based on Twitter conversations… and more importantly, how some of those sponsors stood up to popular Austin phrases like breakfast tacos, cowboy hats and boots. Our search query looked for the presence of a #SXSW hashtag with one of the keywords on Twitter. Not surprisingly, we saw breakfast tacos overtake the likes of Apple and Samsung a day into the event. We also tracked things like:
- Twitter velocity – how many tweets mentioning #sxsw #sxswi or #precommerce, the tag for our own pre-SXSW client event
- Check-in activity around downtown Austin
- Top words mentioned in conjunction with #sxsw (in a word cloud)
- Top mentions of @wcgworld (one of our Agency’s Twitter handles)
- Most active Twitterers mentioning #sxsw
While part of building the dashboard was for fun, we also wanted to get a better sense of what the macro activity around SXSW would look like this year. The two big take aways for us were 1) spending large sums of money at SXSW doesn’t necessarily get your brand talked about (unless the name of your company happens to include the words “breakfast tacos”) and the volume of conversation on Twitter grew over the conference demonstrating that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint did their part this year to keep the data connectivity up and running this year (years past, not so much). Understanding how your brand can participate meaningfully in these conversations is a huge opportunity that many companies ignore.
Other Key Take Aways from SXSW
- Location-based services are here to stay (read: foursquare) but they are starting to evolve into a new flavor that includes something called proximity services. The big players in this space are companies like Highlight, Sonar and Ban.jo. In a nutshell, these services connect you to those people nearby that are either in your social graph or should be by looking at your similarities. While these services do provide a value to some, their ultimate utility to the mainstream user is still questionable.
- Customer engagement is top of mind for many brands that have moved from the ad hoc to strategic use of social media. This means putting more thought and energy into mainstream channels like Twitter and Facebook is critical. It also means paying attention to emerging channels like Google + and Pinterest to evaluate the utility for customers and enthusiasts.
- Big data is big and getting bigger. For anyone that doesn’t know what “big data” is, it’s essentially the ability to collect, store, process and analyze Terabytes or even Pedabytes of data (think customer conversations, search, location-based activity, census, etc.) Historically, this has been difficult due to lack of affordable storage and processing power. This is quickly changing and spells a whole new way for companies to look at trends and insights.
*Normally when we build these types of dashboards, we use a broader set of channel data (blogs, forums, Facebook, news) but in this case, we knew a lot of the real-time activity flows across Twitter (we also wanted to keep development cost/time down to a minimum).