By Alex Lefley, director, brand at Edelman

Now that the dust has settled, the delegates have returned home, and the smell of BBQ has been washed out of clothes – it’s time to reflect on some of the top trends to appear out of this year’s South by Southwest, the world’s largest conference for interactive and emerging technology, hosted earlier this month in Austin, Texas.

Once again, a packed program of over 800 official sessions and numerous unofficial sessions took place with speakers stretching from mountain climbers through to neuro-scientists by the way of rocket engineers.  Throw in trade stands peddling every possible new technology that comes to mind and you’ve got a jam-packed schedule.

Below represents just a very small number of the fascinating trends that really caught my attention over the week.

1. Autonomous vehicles

There was no escaping autonomous vehicles this year at SXSW with flashy exhibitions from NIO, a new e-vehicle start-up to come out of China, and a fascinating discussion led by Ford CEO Bill Ford, who summised that whilst the technology was unquestionably just around the corner, the challenges fundamentally lie within society. In short, are we ready to manage the consequences of autonomising entire industries and the subsequent shift in employment needs? And are we employing the right people to make this happen?

2. VR as a communications tool

My colleague Jennifer Trou sums it up well in her recent Friday Five post: “VR and AR were seemingly on every corner and in every activation, but much of the conversation about them was still focused on the real-world applications. So while VR and AR will play a role in our future, many are still figuring out what that will be exactly.”

3. The future is bright. The future is bots

Bots were an unescapable force this year, from Abbey, the official SXSW bot who helped you find your way to the right session and helped many a delegate find out what they’d missed, all the way through to Facebook and messenger bots transforming how consumer engage with brands through social media.  One way or another, as AI becomes more complex and sensitive, bots will inevitably take over many roles currently held by real people.  Whether they can manage the Australian sense of humor is yet to be seen…

4. Influencer marketing – the new frontier

A huge conference track this year, a number of sessions dedicated their entire time to influencers. What I found interesting was the number of brands doing it right and the number that are still swinging and missing, with a heavy debate about the difference between ‘influencer marketing’ and ‘influencer engagement’.  For a more in-depth analysis of the state of influence in Australia, I suggest you take a look at Pauline Linton’s great piece on why you should be ‘fashionably late on spending money on trends’.

To hear more on how SXSW can give you five conversations you can have with clients tomorrow, the Account Planning Group is hosting “Insights from SXSW 2017” in Sydney on April 12 and Melbourne on April 20.

This article first appeared on the Edelman online magazine.