A Brazilian car washer caused some of his loved ones to faint and others to run away in fear when he strolled into his mother’s home during his own funeral, police said yesterday. I am aware of this because the Toronto Star wrote about it, and during its first 12 hours the story was one of the most shared news reports out of Canada on the web (alongside two about hockey). I learned this through Spike, a tool that uses social metrics to track the world’s hottest news stories.
Developed by Dublin-based start-up NewsWhip and launched in beta last week, Spike uses tracking technology to find out which stories are getting the most attention on Facebook and Twitter. Users can monitor the web’s most viral stories by time frame (published in the past one, three, 12 or 24 hours), by region (currently the site has an Anglo-Saxon focus, but it is expanding) by topic, and by publisher. NewsWhip has designed Spike as a pro tool for journalists, and plans to begin charging later this year, according to Journalisk.co.uk. Until November 7, however, the tool is free for anyone to use without signing up.
For editors, three examples of Spike’s utility would be 1) in the morning to see what happened across the world while you slept, 2) to make early predictions of the day’s big stories, and 3) to track the “velocity” at which your most social stories ripple across the social net. From a wider perspective, Spike would also serve to show you how well your news organization’s content was holding up against the competition on social networks.
To give you a sense, here is part of a chart from Buzzfeed showing NewsWhip’s Top 10 “social monster” websites (those that are “killing it” on Facebook), ranked by the number of stories they published that had over 100 Facebook interactions, including likes, comments, shares, etc in the month of September.
NewsWhip's Top 10 sites by #of stories w/ 100+ Facebook interactions:
This second chart shows the data from another angle: it ranks the sites by the total number of Facebook interactions. You’ll notice that looking at it this way zips Buzzfeed from #8 to #4, and The New York Times from #5 to #3.
NewsWhip's Top 10 sites by total Facebook activity:
Why does any of this matter? Social networks are growing in importance as tools for spreading the news, particularly among the young. A recent study by the Pew Foundation found that for Americans under 30, social networks have far surpassed print and digital newspapers as a primary source of daily news: it found that 33 percent of young adults accessed news on a social network the previous day, while only 13 percent had read from a print or online newspaper.
This shouldn’t be surprising, given that Facebook has 1 billion users, and the median age on the platform is 22. Of the “millennials” (people belonging to the post-1982 generation) on Facebook, over a third use it for news, according to a study commissioned by The New York Times that we reported on earlier this month.
“What we’ve got out there is a billion people using Facebook and Twitter, and they are all like little editors, they are sharing content with their friends,” said NewsWhip Co-Founder and CEO Paul Quigley to Journalisk.co.uk. “When you harness all of that you get a lot of little signals pointing towards the important things.”
As Alma Kastlander, the Head of Information at the Swedish Media Publishers’ Association observed at a WAN-IFRA event last week, “to be successful in social media, you need to know what drives the share.” The stories that go viral are not necessarily front page-worthy in the traditional sense; often they are unexpected, and provoke an emotional reaction. Kastlander gave an example of an old article from Swedish newspaper Göteborgs Posten about a young boy fighting cancer. Despite having been published many moons ago (on the Internet calendar), it had recently been rediscovered and turned into a viral sensation by social media users who were moved to share it.
A quick look at the highest-velocity story for any region in the past 24 hours on Spike would appear to confirm this hypothesis. Run by top social publisher the Huffington Post, the article has been shared a total of 36,049 times on Facebook and 3,536 times on Twitter in the 12 hours it has been live. Its headline reads: ‘Mourdock On Abortion: Pregnancy From Rape Is ‘Something God Intended.’
Unexpected? Check. Emotional reaction? Check.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kevin Shorter