SXSW Trends: Perspective from Jon Swartz of USA Today

Posted by: in Facebook, Innovation, Media & Engagement, Social Media Insights & Trends, Technology, Thought Leadership, w20 group on March 20, 2014

One of the good things about hosting several events at SXSW — one of the biggest digital/social conferences in the world — is that we get to spend a lot of quality time with our clients/prospects, partners and colleagues. The downside of course is that we don’t get to spend as much time tracking the broader macro trends of SXSW. Fortunately, one of the ways were were able to keep tabs on top trends at SXSW was through a dashboard we built for the Austin Chamber of Commerce (a W2O partner). They put out a recap today of top trends.jonswartz

While quantitative data is always helpful (we here at W2O Group are big advocates), it never hurts to complement with qualitative data as well. And to that end, what better way to capture that then via an interview with San Francisco Bureau Chief and the lead Technology reporter at USA Today, Jon Swartz. Below are the questions that I asked Jon and my best attempt from our phone interview to capture his responses.

Aaron Strout (AS): Jon, where did you focus your efforts at SXSW this year?
Jon Swartz (JS): This year, USA Today wanted to create more video content so we tried something new. For starters, we did a 30 minute live streaming show from SXSW Interactive every day starting at 11:00 AM CT. The goal was to target high profile names to maximize visibility. We also focused on issuing more video reports versus just traditional print updates. The news becomes much more social media-friendly that way. In addition to creating more video this year, we also focused on increasing the amount of live coverage of panels. To make this happen, we had two additional USA Today employees at SXSW. They focused on live tweeting the sessions. In the future we want to do more of this so we will be adding more staff to accomplish this.

AS: What were the top 3-4 trends from SXSW Interactive this year?
JS: This year there were several specific themes we heard about over and over again. The ones that stood out were:

  • The debate over big data versus privacy. This theme was underscored by a few of the more prominent presentations by speakers like Edward Snowden [video report] and Julian Assange [video report]. The fact that Snowden is still at large and had to present via video increased the intrigue and buzz around this topic.
  • The Bitcoin debate was big [video report]. This is a hot topic especially given the recent shutdown of one of the larger Bitcoin exchanges, MtGox. The outcome of this topic will have a major influence on the way commerce will work in the future.
  • Wearables – they were hot at the Consumer Electronic Show and continued to be a key topic at SXSW. This will likely be a top trend for a while since we are only at the tip of the iceberg [video report].
  • The emergence of celebrities over technologists. Ironically, SXSW is evolving to become more like the famous TED conference where actors, politicians and Fortune 500 CEOs rule the day. Gone are the days of startups like Twitter and foursquare who had major coming out parties at SXSW back in 2006 and 2009 respectively.

AS: Were there any companies — large or small — that popped to you this year?
JS: As I mentioned in my last answer, it appears that SXSW is moving away from big splashes by startups and more toward large established companies.  To that end, 80% of our SXSW coverage this year focused on six large companies e.g. Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter…

AS: Jon, you mentioned in your first answer that you did a number of high profile interviews this year. Any favorites?
JS: Our team was fortunate enough to be able to interview a lot of great folks including:

  • Robert Duvall
  • Jimmy Kimmel
  • Shaquille O’Neill aka “Shaq”
  • Neil Young
  • Zac Efron
  • Chelsea Clinton

AS: While there is a lot of great content and educational events at SXSW, there are also a lot of social events. Which were your favorites?
JS: The Re/Code was hands down the most valuable party I went to while I was at SXSW. Kara (Swisher) and Walt (Mossberg) have so much influence that their party attracted a lot of the best startup and media talent at the conference. In terms of splashy events – Lady Gaga showed up at AT&T’s party. I heard Bill Cosby did stand up for Funny or Die at Luster Pearl. I wasn’t at that show but I would have liked to have seen that one.

AS: Okay, last but not least, what will you do differently at SXSW next year?
JS: The biggest focus — which is an overall focus of USA Today — will be to cover more of the panels at the event. There were so many good panels that we could have covered that we didn’t. We would also like to spend less time on the bigger events/celebrities. Celebrities and big events certainly help spike broad readership but don’t necessarily differentiate us as a news outlet.

Thanks for the insights Jon. Look forward to seeing you at SXSW in 2015!

By: Aaron Strout

Aaron is the President of WCG, one of the three agencies under the W2O Group umbrella. He is a regular contributor to Marketing Land and a co-host of video podcast, Live from Stubbs.

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2 Responses

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  1. florenciap said

    Choosing panels is at art at South by. Would be great to have more in-depth coverage from USA today. Or even have a list of suggested panels to attend!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. SXSW 2014: And That’s a Wrap | Big Data Analytics linked to this post on March 23, 2014

    […] If you didn’t get a chance to read our kickoff post about the great events we hosted during SXSW, our three main events were our Fourth Annual PreCommerce Summit on Thursday, our Digital Brunch on Friday and our Fifth Annual Geek-a-cue at Franklin’s on Saturday. All three were chock full of brand marketers, digital leaders, partners and other friends of W2O Group. We also tracked the important conversations at SXSW via a dashboard we created for our partners at the Austin Chamber of Commerce (screenshot below). Last but not least, read our interview with Jon Swartz of USA Today covering high level trends from SXSW 2014. […]

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