SXSW Interactive 2014 Recap: Social Trends by the Numbers

March 13, 2014


As we wrap up our FH black box Lounge in Austin, we’re looking back at another year down on the books at SXSW Interactive. Looking back at the social conversations we measured when we launched the FH black box Lounge in 2013, the pace of tech and social media development shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. But in the same breath, it’s also clear that a lot of the top trends have continued to grow and mature over the past year.

With our mobile data intelligence system and partnership with Geofeedia, which measures geo-locations to analyze social buzz, we took over SXSW to track all the top trends and social chatter, making big data small by analyzing brands, marketers, influencers and sessions making the biggest splash across the festival.

Check out our infographic and read on for a more detailed look at the big trends.


Unsurprisingly, social conversation volume was huge throughout the week. On day one alone, we measured 141K total SXSW social mentions, helping kick off another four days that saw 2.1 million mentions and more than 1.9 billion impressions. (over 25% of the world’s population!) Of these conversations 78.1% were generated from within the United States with Canada coming in second with 3.1% of total mentions.

Despite the overwhelming nature of SXSW noise, we also used our data and insights to extract a number of popular themes – many of which we had used FH black box prior to SXSWi beginning to analyze key words, hashtags and topics related to the festival to predict potential trends. Though attendees and those tracking the festival used a variety of different social platforms to share what they were learning and seeing around Austin, Twitter clearly dominated, while Instagram led the pack for visual sharing with 73,290 posts on Twitter alone.

Throughout the week,  wearable technology drove a steady stream of conversation as the industry continues to grow following last year’s SXSW and the 2014 International CES back in January. From former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal’s session on monitoring tools’ health benefits to Francesca Rosella of Cute Circuits’ talk on wearables’ need to be fashionable as well as functional, we’ll be interested to see how brands continue to attract attention as they figure out how to harness this technology.

Now infamous, digital currency bitcoin also generated some notable buzz throughout the week, in particular following the recent installation of three local Bitcoin ATMs around downtown Austin. While consumer sentiment still shows sustained hesitance around the expansion and use of the currency, we identified notable discussion around its value and usage by many SXSW attendees.

Above all, however, one global hot button issue in particular took over the overall social chatter throughout the week as media, influencers and attendees clamored for an opportunity to make their opinions heard. What was it? With keynote sessions from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden just two days apart, we are, of course talking about data privacy, security and transparency.

Both leading up to, during and following each of their two sessions, high levels of social buzz around both privacy and related topics made their way into our daily top five “What’s Trending” lists.  Other quick highlights surrounding Snowden’s virtual talk that was live streamed via Google+ Hangout:

  • In the hour leading up the session, all of the top 40 trending social topics related to his video talk
  • During the session just a half hour later, there were more than 500 tweets related to #Snowden, #SXSnowden and others every minute
  • In total, the talk drew 80,488 mentions (the majority of which contained opinionated and polarizing views)
  • The NSA drew 24,340 specific mentions


However, not every conversation focused on tech and social media chatter. Brand activations, which have made a big splash across SXSW at an increasing rate over the past few years, generated their own strong volumes of discussion and buzz from attendees. Those that featured celebrity guests and performers in particular drew fans across the web. From Lady Gaga’s show at the Doritos Bold Stage to Justin Bieber’s surprise performance at a bar on Rainey Street, there was clearly no shortage of celebrity influence across the city, increasing throughout the week as brands and influencers geared up for SXSW’s Film and Music portions.

Other brands also rose to the top in the social media buzz throughout the week, with Google taking the top spot with 64,675 mentions. Snowden’s Google+ Hangout was the number one driver of brand mentions, while the increased use of Google Glass by festival goers, content sharing using YouTube and the announcement of Google’s upcoming  release of an Android-based software development kit for wearable devices also helped drive their success online. Other top brands included Samsung (supported by their sponsored concert featuring Jay Z and Kanye West), Game of Thrones and Apple iTunes.

Oh, and if you’re curious, the word “love” was used 24,026 times this week.

As we look back at our time in Austin, it’s important to keep an eye on the future and how the ideas and commentary we identified will impact our industry moving forward. Both good and bad, the expansion and evolution of these conversations, specifically around these trending topics will continue to influence consumer behavior and future marketing decisions for brands and organizations.

To catch up on all of the trends from SXSW Interactive 2014, check out our SXSW 2014 playlist on YouTube, @Fleishman on Twitter, the hashtag #FHblackbox, and our blog posts below:

Special thanks to our FH black box Lounge partners for their support this year including AT&T U-verse with GigaPower, Bionym Nymi Band, Geofeedia, Outbrain and Thismoment.