Tweets Per Seat Reveal What’s Hot at SXSWi 2013 & 2014


While SXSWi has officially closed up shop for 2013, Austin is still buzzing about all the great sessions, gatherings, and innovation that filled our fine city for the past few days. As you have probably noticed, all this excitement and chatter spilled over into social media feeds around the world. To make sense of the all the conversation, we launched our SX Social Viewer, which took all the conversation surrounding SXSWi 2013 and filtered it into digestible bites including interesting trends, stats, and streams.


We took a deep look at the data flowing through our Social Viewer (over 1.3MM Tweets) to give you perspective on what trended at this year’s conference and what the chatter implied will be big in 2014.


To do this, we looked at the volume of social conversation for each SXSWi topic (see list) and at each topic as a ratio of conversation to the amount of seats given at this year’s conference (Tweets per seat). As any attendee can tell you, some sessions had extra seating available, some were at capacity far before the sessions even started - and the same patterns were seen in social data about the sessions.

To structure the experiment, we leveraged the unique hashtag each session was given by the conference organizers (which, in aggregate, were used over 90K times during the conference), making it easy to track audience response on Twitter. That said, we had to take into account that at SXSWi not all topics are treated equally. For example, mobile technology sessions may have had three times as many social mentions than DIY social chatter saw, but if that’s due to SXSWi scheduling 15 mobile sessions to DIY’s two sessions, it’s a bit of an unfair advantage. To create a better look at the trends, we took this into account and looked at the topics that over-index based on the attention given to them by the interactive conference this year (elevated Tweets per seat ratio).



Here’s an example: One of the top sessions for social response was called “Sparking Social Change with Content Integration”. The session was held in a venue with an estimated seating capacity of 500 people, but saw 1,438 Tweets mention it’s unique hashtag of #sxsw #socialgood (both original Tweets and retweets), giving it a ratio of 3 Tweets per seat. This ratio can help indicate the excitement of people in the room to share information, but also the virality of the content beyond the session.

By running this analysis on all sessions, and then aggregating the data at the SXSWi category level, we can see which categories are over-indexed and under-indexed with social response given the “audience impressions” at the conference.

The top over-indexed category is the general “Digital Domain” group. While emerging categories are always a draw at the innovative SXSWi conference, conference organizers should stick to the core of digital with their programming for next year. Also in the top five are Social and Relationships, Health and Medicine, Content and Distribution, and Design and Development. If we were to guess which categories will have more sessions at the 2014 SXSWi, these are at the top of the list based on the fact that they resonated with the audience above the representation they were given on the agenda (more Tweets per seats).

At the bottom of the list show categories that may be waning in the eyes of conference-goers. Art and Inspiration, Gaming and Game Development, Science and Space Exploration, and Community and Activism. These topics were under-indexed for the amount of SXSWi sessions they were given versus the social response seen through Twitter. You will likely see less and less sessions around these topics in next year’s event.


Social networks continue to provide a great perspective from which to look at events. By combining social network data with other data (in this case, seating capacity), you can identify actionable insights around your brand, campaign, and event.


Chris Kerns's picture

Chris Kerns

Chris Kerns has spent more than a decade defining digital strategy and is at the forefront of finding insights from digital data. He currently leads Analytics and Research at Spredfast. His research has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, USA Today and AdWeek, among other publications.