Twitter and SXSW: Barometer of Trends

Last week we talked about tracking SXSW from 2007 to 2012 using Gnip’s Historical PowerTrack for Twitter. This gave us insight into year-over-year trends in SXSW Tweets and now we’re going to look at how SXSW trends have changed over time.

With every square inch of Austin packed with the social media influential, SXSW provides an interesting avenue to examine trends, big and small, to see what people are talking about on Twitter. Now that companies can use Gnip’s Historical PowerTrack for Twitter to baseline events, it provides a whole another avenue to determine trends.

Party vs. Panel
People have such a love/hate relationship with SXSW. Some people love it for its networking opportunities and great sessions, while other people decry it as one giant party. Letting the data speak for the truth, it seems that in earlier years of the conference, people came for the panels and hopefully to learn something from their peers. But by 2011, the word “party” overtook those interested in “panel” by more than 10,000 Tweets. People were talking about the best places to meet people rather than the best places to learn. That same year, there were 13,072 mentions of the word RSVP in SXSW Tweets talking about plans to find the best parties and likely indulging in the practice of RSVPing for 136 events and actually attending 12 of those events.

Geo-location Wars
While Twitter is useful for helping understand how cultural events are changing, the use cases extend further into helping understand the rise and fall of startups. With the launch of Foursquare and Gowalla at SXSW in 2009, it was the beginning of the so-called geo-location wars. Many people have wondered how Foursquare ended up the winner, and SXSW provides interesting insight into how Foursquare came out on top. Back in 2009, if you looked at SXSW Tweets, it would tell you it was anyone’s game because surprisingly Foursquare only received a little more 100 Tweets than Gowalla. By 2010, Foursquare had been more clearly marked as the winner with Foursquare receiving nearly double the Tweets that Gowalla was receiving. At that point, everyone was still writing posts to determine the pros and cons of each service, but the social data was clear — Foursquare had the buzz that year in part to their ability to easily publish updates, badges and mayorships on Twitter and perhaps even their rogue game of Foursquare outside the Convention Center. By 2011, Foursquare had completely suckerpunched Gowalla with Foursquare receiving the lion’s share of public voice receiving nearly 65,000 Tweets to Gowalla’s nearly 8,000 Tweets. By the end of 2011, Facebook ended up making an acqui-hire for the Gowalla team.

BBQ vs. Tacos
This next trend might seem silly, who cares if more people are interested in BBQ or Tacos? I mean, what significant impact can this social data have? But if you’re a restaurant chain or looking to start a new franchise chain, it would be interesting to know about cultural food trends such as the rise of cupcakes as it is happening.

While many have long suspected that Austin was a BBQ kind of town, the social data has shown that at the last SXSW, Tacos overtook BBQ as the most talked about grub to grab. More data science would have to be done to determine if the Taco is becoming a more widestream cultural trend, but when all other Tweet volumes were falling in 2012, the term Tacos was charging full-steam ahead.

This is just the beginning of what social data can tell companies about trends and market research. We think historical social data will provide invaluable to market research with the sheer volume of conversations that are happening on Twitter.