This was my ninth time attending SXSW in the last 10 years, and while some say the event has lost its identity, I disagree. There was a renewed sense of energy this year, and most of the people I talked to had a specific purpose in mind for attending.
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At SXSW 2018, I found myself constantly sharing ideas with top-notch content creators. We weren’t rushing to stand in line for hours to get into parties. We were collaborating, learning from each other, and making each other better.
With that in mind, here are the five big business trends I found at SXSW 2018:
1. LinkedIn was king
LinkedIn was again a major player throughout the festival, with attendees customarily adding each other on LinkedIn during meetings in lieu of exchanging business cards. LinkedIn Learning was out in full force this year, doing professional headshots for attendees at the tradeshow. There was also a #LinkedInLocal meetup–a global grassroots effort for people to get to know the folks behind the profile.
2. Crypto and blockchain were everywhere
Crypto folks came in from all over the world this year. At the same time the event was going on, Google announced they would no longer allow anything crypto-related to run ads in its space. This took a $60 billion bite out of the cryptocurrency industry overnight. Undeterred, some of the smartest minds in crypto got together all over town with their own parties, events, and speaking panels to strategize a way forward. This industry is showing up and growing up. CryptoFriends ran an outstanding 2 day summit highlighting the women of blockchain as well as a well-attended ICO pitch event followed by a live show of the Bad Crypto Podcast.
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3. Virtual reality and augmented reality made moves
Augmented reality company Lampix, which won the SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event in the category of AR and VR last year, was back hosting an application-only speakeasy lounge where they were demonstrating their table-top technology for gaming applications. Virtual reality technology was being utilized and showcased around every corner. Ready Player One also was a huge hit in terms of activations this year at SXSW. The activation also included a floor of VR experience and even a world premiere of the Ready Player One movie.
4. Sports had a bigger presence
There was an entire sports track filled with lectures like “VR’s Implications in the Sports Industry” and “Embracing Technology to Super Serve Fans,” signaling the emerging intersection and application of many of the technologies showcased at SXSW with decades-old sports traditions.
5. Personal storytelling now trumps celebrities
Small and focused content is more powerful than stuff that’s over the top, and it’s thanks in part to the shift toward human connections. Human storytellers make a greater impact than celebrity spokespeople or ad campaigns, and that was completely evident during the Experiential Storytelling track. Small is the new big. In fact, this seismic shift toward the human element of storytellers and stronger personal connections highlights the fact that the technology that has long dominated the conversation is there to serve the humans, not the other way around.
Maggie Kimberl also contributed to this article.