SXSW Wrap-up Report: 10 Trends for Brands

SXSW, the annual music, film and interactive conference took place in Austin, Texas last week. Ketchum had a team on the ground and here are ten things that we spotted. There are lessons on content, organizational change and workflow.


#1 Beta: Work in progress
Content can’t and shouldn’t ever be perfect. Instead, brands should view it as a work in progress, ever-evolving, and iterative. It should evolve as the audience interacts and comments. It should be human and authentic.
Christine Dobbin, digital strategist

#2 Creativity: Blanded content

If you bombard your publics with sales messages and ads, they’ll turn away. It’s an obvious point but one that is frequently forgotten. Successful campaigns connect with their audience through content that appeals to us emotionally. It’s effectively art.
Abby Guthkelch, head of digital, London

#3 Hot apps: Streaming is sizzling

Live video streaming, a relatively new genre of social media, is hot. At the moment it’s the apps such as Meerkat that are getting the attention but that will be short lived as people find creative ways to put them to use for demos, first person video and live events.
Stephen Waddington, chief engagement officer

#4 Newsroom workflow: Apps for the job

Publishers are equipping staff to be their own producers, story writers and video editors. Your iPhone is your mobile newsroom enabling content to be created and iterated quickly, responding to conversation on the social web.
Andrew Jennings, associate director

#5 Metrics: Time as a content metric

Publishers and platforms are using dwell time as measurement tool. Buzzfeed and Super.Me both cited it as an engagement metric. Facebook and YouTube’s algorithms both reward content that people watch. Brands take note.
Abby Guthkelch, head of digital, London

#6 Learning: Train talent to tackle digital

Hiring and keeping the brightest people is a challenge that trickles down from top employers. The solution lies in continuous learning, but yet only four per cent of professional people are skilling-up for digital. Training is a huge opportunity. There’s almost certainly a skills shortage ahead.
Brad Simon, online communications

#7 Human: Robots move over

As technology becomes ubiquitous original human voices and content cut through (click to tweet). Automation has application in modern marketing and public relations workflow but it is the enemy of social engagement. Brands are competing in social feeds, not with each other, but friends and family.
Brad Simon, online communications

#8 Digital archives: Open drives conservation

Much of digital is transitory. Publishers that make their content available openly help ensure its longevity. A community and third-party market helps develop and preserves the original intellectual property.
Ben Foster, digital strategist

#9 Algorithms: Change is the only constant

Brands need to stay on top of algorithm changes if they want to keep ahead of social news feeds. Overhaul your content strategy as algorithms change. Schedule reviews to evaluate your community, and content management.
Ally Mann, digital strategist

#10 Organizational change: Easy does it

Brands inflate the importance of personality over content and context. Organizational change is hard; really hard. Action needs to be straightforward. Think hard about messaging and your call to action.
Jayshri Patel, account executive


Finally, on a personal SXSW note, as the Immediate Past President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to select this year’s recipient of the President’s medal, which celebrates distinguished service to the profession. It was my honor to bestow the award upon Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. It was presented to him at SXSW by Rob Brown, my successor as CIPR President. To read the complete story about Biz’s impact on the industry, click here.

If you didn’t make it to Austin this year, check out’s SXSW social hub for a detailed look at the insights we shared during the conference.