As SXSW takes its final bows for 2017, we’ve reviewed the highlights of the festival to pinpoint who and what received the most traction online, and to decode why.

This year, from Friday, March 10th until Sunday, March 19th, Texas once again became host to the world’s most curious, creative and pioneering people within the interactive media, film and music industries. The festival is an annual opportunity for companies to share their opinions on upcoming trends and innovation in their sectors.

The sheer scale of SXSW means it delivers a saturated online conversation, making it difficult to wade through the noise and determine exactly what attention should be paid to. Over the nine-day festival, there were almost one million mentions of the keyword ‘SXSW’ online, which provided the impetus to use H+K’s proprietary influencer mapping methodology, Sherlock+, to work out which mentions were most impactful.

Working with Brandwatch, we wrote a bespoke “query” for SXSW mentions. Queries are extended search strings written in Boolean syntax which determine what sort of information Sherlock+ pulls in from the web to analyze.

In this case, the query was based on associated language, hashtags, and names of people on featured speakers lists. This query was then used to populate a dashboard, built to identify the follow features of any conversation:

  1. Influencers
  2. Topics of conversation
  3. Media, forums and blogs.

For this particular set-up, we focused on influencers and topics.

One of the biggest influencers identified during the festival was Sandy Carter, formerly IBM’s General Manager of Ecosystem Development and Social Business. Carter conducted her own research and found out that “innovate” was the word of the festival, both on the ground and then online. She explained that the word was used 650,000 times over the first weekend of the festival alone, which breaks down to a rate of 8.2 mentions a second on average. While these mentions can’t all be linked to SXSW conversation, many of them were.

Carter herself hosted a session on artificial intelligence and bots at the festival this year. One of the most notable pieces of advice she gave for brands was that “bots are more memorable than apps”, offering a stronger, deeper way to reflect your brand and engage with consumers more efficiently.

Joe Biden, former Vice President of the Unites States, also appeared in our list of most influential voice online, as well as most mentioned people present at the festival. Speaking about how he and President Trump intend to “harness the momentum of the past year to make real progress”, Biden shared his intentions to fight cancer, with the help of a $6.3 billion budget from the US government. Albeit ambitious, the idea of calling for inter-disciplinary collaborations among researchers is something we’re consistently seeing more of, and with the never-ending growth of sharing economy, knowledge is a commodity that is increasingly shared within that.

Staying with politics, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was also a big influence during the festival, with 1,912 mentions. While his keynote was universally adored on the ground, the majority of Booker’s online mentions related to a smaller session he hosted alongside Bert from CBS television show Sesame Street. Booker and Bert’s discussion, hosted at Mashable House, explored what “freedom” means. This clearly resonated with a large online audience, and the appearance of such a beloved kids character and the promotion by one of the internet’s best loved websites didn’t do it any harm. Booker also caught attention for his lack of support for the new US President Donald Trump, and rumors of a potential run for the next presidency were rife on the ground in Austin.

Alongside these three most influential people from the festival, we also looked at the top three topics of conversation. There’s no surprise that virtual reality was one of the biggest; the word “VR” alone had over 16,000 mentions within the conversation at the festival.

Intel’s discussion on the ways Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to revolutionize the retail industry was hugely popular, using real life examples & case studies to show how these technologies will come to fruition by the end of this year.

Other key themes within the VR discussion included how to educate students to move from consuming VR towards creating it, and a focus on Sony’s “Synesthesia Suit”. The suit allows gamers to be more immersed in virtual worlds than ever before. It vibrates in sync with the game, as the player is wearing it, which gives a real sense of being immersed in the game.

As a general theme of the SXSW mentions we observed, it’s particularly exciting to see the growth of community-oriented projects where people profit first and business second. If conversation is anything to go on, 2017 should see more businesses harnessing new developments in tech to change society for the better. The divisive subject of politics has become more mainstream than ever, meaning it’s impossible for us to ignore how the political landscape will play out. For now, Joe Biden’s aim to alleviate America of Cancer may be ambitious but ultimately provides an opportunity for experts to share knowledge for a better cause than any.

2017 is already a year filled with huge potential for great change, not only for consumer experience but also for more meaningful collaborations with the help of the sharing economy.

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