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SXSW Was a Tweet Success: Analyzing 2009-2010 Activity and Sentiment on Twitter

As you may or may not know, I am, among many other things, a contributing data analyst at PeopleBrowsr, a leading provider of social search and conversation mining tools and services.

While PeopleBrowsr receives the activity feeds of many prominent social networks, among the most fascinating to analyze, is of course, the real-time micro conversations that populate Twitter and the passionate people who tweet towards significance.  In the past, we gawked at Twitter’s Most Engaging Celebrities and also boarded Twitter’s Most Engaging Airlines. Now let’s take a look at the very place that catapulted Twitter into the spotlight, our beloved SXSW Film, Interactive and Music Festival.

Every year, film aficionados, geeks, and music fans migrate to Austin Texas to celebrate their respective Spring Breaks with the people who share their passion. It’s where relationships are forged and consummated, new passions are discovered, and where memories are immortalized.

Initially, we’ll examine how conversations on Twitter symbolize the experiences shared at SXSW as well as how these conversations are indicative of the proliferation of Twitter and SXSW as compared over two years. In addition, the data will bring sentiment to life, revealing how people felt about SXSW in 2009 and 2010.

Statistical Overview 2009 vs. 2010

Total Mentions – At a Glance

The volume of conversations are indicative of more than we may realize. The jump in volume between 2009 and 2010 is quite colossal and representative of the intensifying interest and championing of this unique event.

Overall, Tweets about SXSW were up 66% between 2009 and 2010 starting about one week prior to the show and capping the search on the last day. In 2009, there were 261,129 Total Mentions of #sxsw, #sxsw2009 and “sxsw 2009” as compared to 395,247 Total Mentions of #sxsw and sxsw (refined based on usage and timelines used for filtering search) in 2010. This includes Tweets sourced from Austin as well as Tweets about SXSW sourced from spectators.

2009: 261,129

2010: 395,247


Sentiment is defined as a view of or an attitude toward an event expressed usually in the form of opinion and accessorized with facts and hearsay peppered across the spectrum of dialogue. To assess true sentiment, PeopleBrowsr sampled 9,000 Tweets and rather than simply provide automated results based on algorithms, the team used Mechanical Turking to analyze the sampling to provide a human-qualified analysis.

The results are interesting and warrant explanation. For those who actively review sentiment analysis around brands and keywords, this will not surprise you, the vast majority of conversations in 2009 and 2010 contributed towards a neutral view, 91% in 2009 and 87% in 2010. Tweets that contribute towards the neutral percentage are most likely to have contained the hashtag or simply a reference as part of another conversations. For example, neutral tweets include live tweeting of sessions, questions or statements regarding parties, or real-time observations and questions inside and outside SXSW as opposed to something along the lines of, “I absolutely love SXSW.”

However, SXSW fans did express their adoration and support for the event, nudging up to 11% in 2010 from 8% in 2009. And, the event itself is rumored to have grown by over 40% year over year. If you monitored the press during and after SXSW, it’s clear that the show is expanding beyond its core group of SXSW stakeholders. Depending on the author of the article and whether or not they were among the long-time supporters of SXSW, readers might garner the impression that the event hit a tipping point. But judging from the words of those who expressed their views, 2010 realized only a 1% increase in negative sentiment from 1% in 2009 to 2% in 2010, not even close to painting a gloomy picture that some envisioned by any means. In fact, positive Tweets grew from 8% in 2009 to 11% in 2010.

2009 Sentiment:
8% Positive
1% Negative
91% Neutral

2010 Sentiment:
11% Positive
2% Negative
87% Neutral

2009: A Detailed View

In 2009, SXSW took place between Friday, March 13th and Sunday, March 22nd. With over 260,000 Tweets related SXSW in 2009, daily activity hit over 2,000 Tweets on March 6th, one week before the event began. Tweets then rose to 5,000 on March 9th, 10,000 on March 11th, and just under 15,000 on March 12th. On opening day, attendees for Film and Interactive drove Tweets up to just under 30,000 on March 13th, peaking at roughly 36,000 on March 17th, the last official day of Interactive.

As the majority of geeks left Austin Texas, it appears that they took the Tweets with them. The steep decline of status updates following its apex of 36,000, Tweets fell to about 25,000 on March 18th. By the 20th, Tweets had dropped to 12,000 daily and around 9,000 on the 21st. By the last day of the festival, Tweets descended to 6,000.

Reach and Volume 2009

PeopleBrowsr reviewed all tweets referencing SXSW in 2009 to surface all unique Twitter users as well as those with the greatest number of followers. Essentially, PeopleBrowsr wanted to set the landscape for the number of people Tweeting about the event, whether or not they actually attended. The number is quite impressive.

Total unique @Names who mentioned SXSW = 58,322

Of course, notable personalities and brands took part in sharing the excitement around SXSW. Twitter users with the most followers:

1. @iamdiddy (2,503,133)
2. @lancearmstrong (2,447,946)
3. @google (2,150,144)
4. @time (2,027,487)
5. @mashable (1,968,936)
6. @SaraBareilles (1,835,427)
7. @nprpolitics (1,834,524)
8. @perezhilton (1,830,441)
9. @MCHammer (1,829,938)
10. @WholeFoods (1,754,689)
11. @feliciaday (1,744,029)
12. @zappos (1,684,111)
13. @biz (1,653,050)
14. @ICHCheezburger (1,650,826)
15. @Veronica (1,628,544)
16. @dooce (1,619,336)
17. @JetBlue (1,603,279)
18. @guardiantech (1,595,353)
19. @DellOutlet (1,575,659)
20.@adventuregirl (1,518,604)

2009 Sentiment Review

Positive Examples

Negative Examples

Sentiment Allocation 2009

2010: A Detailed View

In 2009, the graph spotlighting the concentration of Tweets resembled that of a 10-gallon cowboy hat. In 2010, the activity more accurately resembles a rocky mountain range. That comparison is important as it is reflective of renewed cycles of Tweets across multiple user segments, signaling a baton pass from geeks to music fans. In 2009, Tweets were mostly bolstered by the geeks. In 2010, it was clearly apparent that Twitter is appealing to those outside of the tech echo chamber.

This year, SXSW started on March 12th and ended on the 21st with over 395,000 Tweets sharing experiences and observations compared to over 261,000 in 2009.  By March 5th, Tweets had already hit 7,000 in one day. After a two-day slow down, SXSW conversations sparked a meteoric rise on March 8th hitting 9,000. On opening day, Tweets climbed to over 40,000 on March 12 hitting its peak at 46,000 on March 13th (compared to the peak of ~36,000 in 2009).

From March 13th – 14th, Tweets fell to just under 40,000, but rose again to about 43,000 heading to the final stretch of SXSW Interactive. As SXSW Music was kicking in, Tweets hit 25,000 on March 17th, but rose to 30,000 on March 18th and 19th. On March 20th, tweets had dropped to 25,000 – 20,000 and by the last day of the show, Tweets finished at 16,000 (about 10,000 more tweets over 2009 on the last day.)

Comparing 2009 to 2010 on an overlay chart provides visual perspective on the growth and distribution of Tweets during the multiple segments of the event.  Tweets enjoyed a second life this year tied to the fact that both Twitter and the conference are much larger this year. Music fans indeed Tweeted their experiences with one point hitting a delta of 20,000 tweets between the 2009 and 2010 events.

Reach and Volume 2010

Total Tweets that referenced SXSW in 2010 around the festival dramatically jumped year over year. At the same time, total unique @names almost doubled with 112,705 in 2010 compared to 58,322 in 2009.

PeopleBrowsr again ranked Twitter users with the largest number of followers who tweeted about SXSW. This year, Ashton Kutcher took the top spot from P. Diddy (Sean Combs). Ashton actually attended SXSW Interactive this year and attendees frantically tweeted about their sightings and meetings.

1. @aplusk (4,653,154)
2. @twitter (3,030,642)
3. @lancearmstrong (2,459,874)
4. @google (2,161,418)
5. @petewentz (1,986,717)
6. @jtimberlake (1,892,468)
7. @rainnwilson (1,885,654)
8. @perezhilton (1,851,129)
9. @nprpolitics (1,831,493)
10. @WholeFoods (1,754,526)
11. @feliciaday (1,744,134)
12. @ThatKevinSmith (1,666,324)
13. @biz (1,652,739)
14. @markhoppus(1,627,373)
15. @Veronica (1,626,709)
16. @dooce (1,617,538)
17. @jack(1,601,667)
18. @Ustream(1,542,426)
19. @threadless(1,526,989)
20. @anamariecox(1,492,944)

2010 Sentiment Review

Positive Examples

Examples of Negative Sentiment

2010 Sentiment Overview

Sentiment Comparison: 2009 and 2010

For a detailed review, please see The SXSW 2009 and 2010 Analytics and Sentiment Report by PeopleBrowsr below…

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44 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “SXSW Was a Tweet Success: Analyzing 2009-2010 Activity and Sentiment on Twitter”

  1. greeblemonkey says:

    You always pull out the most interesting data. I have to admit, though, that I am surprised by the overall positive feelings this year. Although, I supposed my personal feelings were mixed. Negative about the conference, positive about the interactions with people. And I heard similar reactions from others – so many they balanced out overall.

    • briansolis says:

      Thank you. I also “heard” a lot of negative sentiment vocalized, but the tweets show otherwise. I think (hope) it shows a more balanced perspective. Cheers!

  2. Nick Rovisa says:

    What an incredible and insightful article Brian. Analytics and Engagement are quickly becoming my favorite topics. So important to 'new' marketing and advertising!!

    I hope you and PeopleBrowsr will continue to analyze trends from all sorts of major events. I bet the Tweets from this year's Masters would be VERY important to Tiger's publicist! I am willing to bet that they end up more favorable than negative..

  3. I'm surprised can I know how method that you had been used & what's the Tools, for monitoring and get sentiment accurately?

  4. themaria says:

    I love when social media data can help us gather intelligence about an event, product or trend. It's not unexpected that the volume of tweets is 1.5x last year's volume, since attendance was up 40%, AND Twitter gained mainstream acceptance somewhere in between SXSW09 and SXSW10. Also, not surprising is how volume drops off after Interactive goes home. In my report, which I reference below, I saw the same drop off in tweets, so I considered 3.18 as the cutoff date for my “during” analysis. I think it's mindblowing that the top person tweeting about SXSW (@aplusk) has 2x more followers than last year's top person. Not that twitter follower counts mean anything, heh..

    Funny timing: same day that you published this post, I published my insights on Biz360 most buzz-worthy startups to see who garnered the most share of voice in the pre-festival buzz, during the festival and, just as importantly, who was able to sustain the buzz afterwards, and what events drove the buzz. The results may surprise you – let me know what you think:

  5. Thanks for sharing this

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