SXSW 2016: First Predictions, First Thoughts


SXSW Interactive is arguably the most important digital industry conference of the year. Over 80,000 attendees from 80+ countries will crowd the streets of Austin, TX, over 5 days in search of the next big social platform, groundbreaking idea or mobile application.

Companies such as Twitter, Foursquare, and GroupMe have launched at SXSW. Sharing economy darlings Airbnb and Uber have used the city as a staging ground to prove their value. Brands are given a platform to showcase their most innovative, creative, and show-stopping activations: there is good reason why SXSW is referred to as “The Super Bowl of Brand Marketing.”

Over the next few days, our reporting crew will be sharing on-the-ground observations from the panels, keynotes and experiences to give you insight into what’s new in tech, music, advertising, and marketing.




Every year, SXSW is the place where new apps come to launch. A “win” at SXSW can hijack the buzz coming out of the weekend and turn a little known app into a household name – like Twitter in 2007 or Meerkat last year. At SXSW 2016, several social apps are vying to be the breakout hit of the week.

Down to Lunch: We’ve all struggled to figure out how to wrangle a group of friends for lunch. Down to Lunch hopes to solve that with a single click.
Roger: Capitalizing on the ephemeral messaging trend, Roger uses walkie-talkie functionality to send disappearing voice messages.
Chalk: Like an updated version of a message board, Chalk creates spontaneous group chats with strangers around current events and trending topics.
Anchor: Described as an audio version of Twitter, Anchor allows you to create and share mini podcasts.



Every year the hive mind of professionals attending SXSW crowns a “winner” of the festival. A new, bright, shiny object in the form of an app dominates the show floor conversation and becomes a “must download and try” experience.

“Winning” apps sometimes go on to become successful businesses. Others serve as proofs of concept and leading indicators of new modes and methods of communication. For example, in 2015, Meerkat was clearly the winner of the buzz war. In less than a year, however, it has been eclipsed by Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook’s Live Videos. Regardless, Meerkat will always be credited with introducing live streaming as a mainstream consumer behavior.

Who will be the star of SXSW 2016? There are no obvious frontrunners, but there’s a sense of anticipation this year as new screens (VR, AR), Gen Z, and ephemeral social media take center stage.



Tech and politics are coming together in a big way this SXSW, which is only fitting for an election year. Beyond President Obama’s epic Friday Keynote (a conversation on civic engagement in our increasingly connected world), panels will attack political topics like:

  • Voter Technology
  • How CRM Will Elect the Next President
  • How Big Data Will Elect the Next President
  • Politics in an Algorithmic World

Dan Rather will be hosting a panel on how technology influences presidential politics, from FDR (radio), Kennedy-Nixon (first-ever televised debate) and Obama (“The Facebook President”). From new visibility platforms to big data/algorithms/CRM influencing election race strategy, tech is now embedded in politics as much as it’s embedded in marketing.



Despite facing scrutiny over the past few years, on-demand apps certainly aren’t going away. Consumers love them. According to Pew Research, 11% of smartphone owners have used their phones to hail a taxi, including 17% aged 18-29. On-demand delivery apps like UberEats, Amazon Prime Now, Seamless and Postmates are rising in popularity. In fact, 25% of Amazon Prime members made a purchase via Prime Now in January 2016 (Cowen Consumer Internet Survey). Smaller apps will be looking to build loyalty at SXSW, including:

  • Favor, an Austin-based delivery app (in 19 markets) that competes with Postmates, has partnered with SXSW’s Soundbites Trailer Park to deliver food truck orders in 35 minutes or less, for $5.
  • Service, another on-demand app, is launching a SXSW program where “Service Wizards” help show-goers save time and see more by performing tasks like waiting in line or booking reservations.

The on-demand economy will also be a popular panel theme:

  • What You Want, When You Want It: Eating On-Demand features panelists from Fast Company and Favor, as well as chef Paul Qui chiming in on how these apps have changed the way people eat.
  • On-Demand Everything with panelists from McDonald’s, Luxe and Groupon discussing how big brands—not just start-up apps—can use on-demand tech to improve customer experiences.




As technology continues to advance, and more companies are turning to online forums or social media platforms to communicate with potential clients, the conversations around online harassment are increasing. This year, SXSW takes a deep dive into these conversations, hosting a full-day Online Harassment Summit. Panels include:

  • Women in the Media and Online Harassment
  • Combating Online Hate with Compassion
  • Bullying, Today’s Youth and the Internet
  • Why Does Hate Thrive Online?


Back in October, SXSW cancelled two Online Harassment Panels after receiving repeated threats of on-site violence. After intense backlash from the community, SXSW decided it was necessary to host a day-long summit to cover the topic. Topics will cover women in gaming and technology, as well as where the lines between the First Amendment and online bullying lie.



The way we communicate continues to evolve. Most consumers are moving away from email communication. Communicating through apps has overtaken all forms of the way we talk to each other. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, Kik, Facebook Messenger and more.

Until recently, there has not been a need for advertisers to tap into messaging apps. Today, there are more monthly users of messaging apps vs. social networking apps.

We are seeing that these messaging apps are aiming to control conversations that have been dominated by text messaging. Consumers are integrating with customer service, having financial transactions, and ordering transportation through these messaging apps.

As we move into SXSW, it will be interesting to see how brands and agencies will adapt their marketing channels to include messaging apps and how this evolves their social strategies.



SXSW SocialSource: NetBase


SXSW Social 2Source: NetBase


SXSW Social 3Source: NetBase


#SXSW + #POTUS + #FLOTUS     =     #CHAOS

SXSW Social 4Source: NetBase


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