Don't Even Bother Retweeting This: Elizabeth Taylor Overtakes Crises in Japan, Libya on Twitter

Remember the swine flu? Not since the pandemic of 1918 has the public so feared influenza. Health organizations worldwide warned of the potentially global threat to our wellbeing. Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Amtrak himself, suggested we avoid using public transportation (including trains!) for fear of H1N1 spreading. And every news organization in the U.S. featured updates on the virus round-the-clock.

That is, until the next round of crises...the Gulf oil spill, the shooting in Arizona, the health-care bill, General McChrystal's swipes at his superiors. The news media runs on a crisis-to-disaster cycle—and often, it's difficult to determine why an issue that caused so much concern could evaporate from the public awareness so quickly.

In the world of social media, that cycle is even more hyperactive. Take Twitter. In the past few weeks, crises in Egypt, then Lybia, and then Japan dominated the public dialogue. But yesterday, Elizabeth Taylor passed away...and how quickly our conversations changed. 

Thanks to data compiled by Crimson Hexagon, which uses a statistical human-assisted approach to monitoring Twitter chatter, we can see how the conversation changes once a new event occurs. In this instance, on March 23, conversations surrounding Elizabeth Taylor dominated some 500,000 tweets. Japan? Just 119,397. And Libya? Around 97,499.

Crimson is also able to determine public perception, with green representing positive sentiment, gray neutral, and red negative. It's interesting to see that Elizabeth Taylor's death was able to drum up more emotion—either positive or negative—than either crisis in Japan or Libya.

Perhaps this ADD focus shouldn't be surprising for a platform ruled by 140-character missives, which require limited effort for tracking even the most mercurial of moods. According to a September report from analytics firm Sysomos, tweets generally have an incredibly short shelf life. Sysomos analyzed more than 1.2 billion tweets and determined that just 6% of tweets are retweeted, and nearly all occur within the first hour. What happens after those precious 60 minutes? Just 1.63% of tweets are retweeted in the second hour, and only 0.94% in the third.

As those tweets disappear, so do the topics they cover. So, we might be thinking of you now, Elizabeth Taylor, but in an hour's time, we'll probably be on to the next disaster, crisis, celebrity death, or unfortunate mishap.

[Image by Classic Film Scans]

Add New Comment


  • Craig Brenard

    Scott, you're right. No big surprise here. But I'm not sure I totally get your sarcasm regarding the value of the article. The stats are very telling and should be real wake-up call for marketers who are spending a lot of time (and money) trying to get ahead of the "social" curve. Social media is not just social anymore (everybody's know that too, Scott). What a marketer can tweet in 60 minutes, in an effort to influence their customers and prospects (usually subliminally), can do more harm than good. The value and lessons learned from an article like this far exceed any superficial appraisal of some reader's common knowledge. And on a more social note...Liz Taylor was a gorgeous and talented woman (albeit not totally virtuous; like us, hey Scott). She was also a highly regarded humanitarian and will be missed by many.

  • Scott Byorum

    Oh, really? You mean nobody keeps thinking about the tweet I sent out last week concerning [insert insipid banal factoid here]. Say it isn't so! Oh, cruel world. I thought Twitter was actually meaningful. I thought people cared. I thought it would make me famous. Oh, how Twitter has pulled the wool over my eyes! The fact that practically everyone in the world can spew up to 141 characters at a time over and over again about absolutely anything at all... how could that possibly reduce our attention span to that of a banana slug? I never would have guessed. I mean, I though my Tweets were precious. Wow, has this article opened my eyes. I mean wow. Wow.