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South by Southwest (SXSW) is an interactive, music and film conference held in Austin, Texas each year.  The Keep Left team packed their cowboy boots and crossed the Pacific last month to attend the interactive component, and hear about the technologies set to redefine the way we think, live, work and do business.  From virtual reality to the re-emergence of GIFs, there’s a lot for communications professionals to evaluate and start experimenting with in 2016.  Here’s a wrap of the standout trends, from Keep Left CEO, Caroline Catterall.

Virtual Reality Roller Coaster

Virtual reality

The breakthrough technology for 2016, VR or ‘immersive storytelling’ is something you’ll be hearing a lot about in 2016 if you aren’t already.  According to SuperData Research the VR market will be worth $4b by the end of the year, consisting mostly of hardware (VR headsets), and $9b in a couple of years’ time once the software catches up.

We were lucky enough to experience some great examples of VR in action.  Lufthansa demonstrated how it’s using VR to promote its business class service and drive sales.  What better way to influence a customer to upgrade to business, than give them a taste of the service?

Of course there were some wacky demos too.  We rode a virtual roller-coaster and were invited to take part in a virtual shark attack (politely declined).
While the business case for VR is still emerging and there are issues like motion sickness to overcome, we’re looking forward to experimenting with immersive storytelling this year as early signs suggest huge potential for it in property, design, sport, gaming and the behavior-change space.

GIFs 2.0

First established in the ’80s, GIFs are now making a comeback. It used to be that designers would require Photoshop to produce GIFs, but advancements in technology means we now have the tools to do this easily.  What’s more, Twitter recently introduced a GIF library you can use when composing a Tweet, in response to the fact that people shared over 100 million GIFs last year.  Yes, they’re popular again.

Why are they so great? Because GIFs can represent clearly how we’re thinking or feeling. A GIF can make you laugh or cry in just a matter of seconds, where it would take thousands of words to achieve the same effect. That’s because the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.

With animated GIFs taking approximately five seconds for our brains to process, they can be the happy medium between a single photo and a longer (and costlier) video.


Podcasts aren’t often the first things to come to mind when you think about the myriad of ways a brand can build its profile and tell a story these days, but this also means the first mover advantage is still available.  In the U.S. audience numbers for podcasts are trending upward on the back of hit programs such as Serial, and Australian audiences are slowly but surely tuning in.

Should they be considered as part of the corporate communications mix? While the barrier to entry is low, the commitment levels are high and you’ll need a producer to keep it sharp.  But ultimately, a podcast will only work if you have great talent.  So if you have a charismatic CEO who is never short of an idea, this may be something to consider and is definitely something we’re looking at for start-up clients who have successfully grown their businesses, gone global and can share the learnings.


Another technology we heard about was Jelly.  The brainchild of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, it’s being billed as a human-powered search engine specifically for answering queries such as ‘Is Qantas a safe airline?’  Still in beta phase, Jelly is earmarked for launch soon and it will be interesting to see if it can do what others haven’t, and gain market share from Google.


Caroline CatterallCaroline Catterall is the CEO of Keep Left – a PR, content production and content marketing agency that takes a data-driven approach to storytelling. Keep Left combines insights, creative thinking and analytics to develop storytelling narrative and content that connects with the head, while resonating with the heart. It’s high-impact communications that can be measured.