Trends to look for at SXSW 2018

Once upon a time I used to work for South by Southwest (SXSW). Now, even as I live in Seattle, I can’t escape the media and conversations swirling around it. Am I jealous I can’t go to any of the sessions? Yeah. So instead of being overcome by FOMO, I’ve analyzed all the sessions from this year to see whats trending (and what I should read up on) as well as what people are talking about right now.

This is my kickoff post and every night I’ll be posting a daily follow up as to what’s happening on the ground in Austin.  Happy SX y’all.


  • The feminism wave at SX is strong, but men are still being referenced more than women.
  • People are scared of AI, others embrace our computer overlords.
  • Experience is everything, we’re focusing on customizing our marketing efforts to the customer
  • We’re transforming existing industries using new technology and ways of thinking.

The Future is Female

There’s been some criticism of how SXSW handles gender and harassment issues (Bloomberg: #MeToo Forces South by Southwest Festival to Confront Sexism) so I wondered how the sessions reflected this wave of feminism that’s been growing since the election of Trump and the growth of the #MeToo movement.

Looking at the pure female / male split of words used in sessions, women are KILLING it. Female pronouns are used almost twice as much as male pronouns this year and its not just “she/her/herself” its “feminism” “latinas” “womanhood.”

pronounce by count

What I see from this is that overall, speakers are talking more about women and feminism, which is awesome but is likely a surge of sessions about this topic. What keeps me from getting too excited is the mention of “his” over “her.” We know that SXSW strives for gender diversity, but it seems like even through this wave of feminism, there are either 1) more male speakers that are being referenced or 2) male speakers are being represented in their sessions more than women are.

unique pronounce

The Future of….

Everything. After working through 4 events, I’m not surprised that the most frequent n-gram of session titles is “The Future of…” I mean this conference is all about what is coming next right? So what are the trends to look for this year (based on sessions)?

Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin 

Vom. Blockchain was used 113 times in session descriptions. Finance isn’t the only industry discussed this year, we’re looking at blockchain and cryptocurrencies in media and entertainment, healthcare, foreign policy and food supply.

AI, Quantum Computing Machine Learning

Ok unlike cryptocurrency, this is a buzzword I can get behind. On day zero, #quantumcomputing is trending. Even my boss slacked me about going to a Machine Learning session. What I’m really seeing is a divide between “AI is the future and lets find a way to apply it!” and “Nothing can beat a human heart and soul!”  HomeAway’s John Kim is talking about how being human is going to be a benefit in the face of AI. LAME.

On the other side, we’re seeing how AI can help in surgery, moderating nasty internet comments, advancements in the music industry and scouting players for sports.

Bottom line, no matter how you feel about AI and machine/deep learning, its a hot topic and its likely here to stay.

Digital, Creative, Marketing

Content Marketing, User Experience, Digital Marketing, Influencer Marketing. Trust me, I’m not saying these to boost my SEO. This is what we’re talking about. It seems like sessions on new trends like AI focus on its application to other industries. For an established practice like Marketing, most sessions are looking at ways to advance and modernize efforts.

We’re looking at chatbots, AI and personalization, mixed reality, the connected future. Its all about putting the customer first and creating experiences that serve them.

Social Trends

Here’s the update for day zero, like I said, every night i’ll be releasing a new report about what happened and what you can expect the next day.

Thursday, March 8 – Day 0

The day before the big event, where everyone picks up their badges and starts buzzing about what they’re excited about. Will the excitement hold or will it shift based on a new announcement?

I cringe over all the crypto currency and bitcoin conversations, but lets be real, SX has embraced the Winklevoss twins and their bitcoin chats since I was an intern so as the price of bitcoin rises, of course its an even hotter topic. Maybe the twins will have real questions from the audience this go around.


Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 9.40.52 AM


Mashable always brings a strong presence to SX, but right now, no one is TOO excited about any one activation. All the traffic is pretty static.


Trending Topics

People are really excited for Keith Urban. For all the hipsters coming in, who knew there’d be so much buzz before the week started? quantum computing, net neutrality and eSports are what we’re looking out for in the days to come.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 9.45.08 AM


Session Analysis

I wrote a python script using Selenium to scrape the SXSW schedule (shout out to Rachel Woods for the code I got to play off of) and then wrote a script to find the frequencies of the words used in the sessions.

Social Analysis

Last year I collected all the tweets and manually tracked any trending hashtags. This year, I am using Netbase, a social listening tool, to track conversations.

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