With the passing of one the last century's most influential individual, we expected to see a phenomenal wave of respect and mourning on...

Mandela's death - Kanye, Obama, Styles and selfies

With the passing of one the last century's most influential individual, we expected to see a phenomenal wave of respect and mourning online. As a 21st Century global behavioural trait, it has almost become custom for people to pay their respects publicly, with a tweet or Facebook status, and however strange it may have seemed as a concept 10 years ago (I'm struggling to find a parallel with pre-social online behaviour) it gives us an incredible insight into how conversation across the world sparks, evolves, finds influence, and eventually dies out. From a simple 'RIP' through to a crafted piece of prose, each and every message of respect is a statement. Psychologically, I find this online behaviour fascinating, and I believe a good proportion of messages we see are the product of (what I like to call) 'social celebrity mindset'. 'Social celebrity mindset' is a form of innocent egotism, where someone feels compelled to make a statement publicly, be it deploring an event, supporting a cause, or mourning a death, because (they feel) it is almost expected of them. Along with the obvious benefits of a celebrity status come some hardships. A lack of privacy, and a scrupulous eye watching for any, and inevitable slip ups are just the start. Another hardship, (and this is where I think 'social celebrity mindset' comes into play) is the expectation for comment on contextual events. This doesn't apply to all celebrities of course, and is far more relevant to some than others. For example if Barack Obama hadn't tweeted this with regards to Mandela's death, I'm sure we would have heard about his 'flagrant lack of respect' in the news the next day. In my opinion, many people now feel the need, albeit subconsciously, to put their stamp on an event in a similar way to celebrities in this sense. Clearly this is only conjecture, and doesn't apply to all, but as I said - this is a fascinating behavioural change in the last few years, that seems to have gone, for the most part, unnoticed. Interestingly, David Hepworth, a British writer with a fairly prolific twitter account, tweeted the following on Friday morning:

"Feeling a bit exposed now that I appear to be the only one who hasn't paid a personal tribute to Nelson Mandela." - Link

Perhaps it could be said that David dwells within the space between celebrity and average Joe, but nonetheless it's comforting to see others are interested by this new collective cultural effort.

It was along this train of thought that led me to use our tools and experience, as a Digital agency, to research exactly what people were saying, and how when and where they were saying it. Which, as it turns out, was fascinating in its own right.

First things first - there's been a bunch mentions of 'Mandela' in the last week or so. In fact, according to our tools, which bear in mind, only focus on English language posts, there have been 13.1 million tweets. Putting that into perspective, that's more than the total number of tweets regarding American football, soccer & basketball put together…over the last month. 'The Hobbit', released globally last week, is still receiving about half the number of mentions that Mandela is per hour, 10 days on from his death.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this history defining event is not the volume of mentions, but the sparks of conversation and sways of influence that we saw. Three of the most influential tweets in the wake of Mandela's death were from Obama, Harry Styles and Kanye West. Both Barack, and Kanye collectively inspired (if that's the right word) over 55 thousand people to tweet in support, or for whatever reason, anger. Both of these tweets were, subjectively, thought provoking quotes from two extremely influential figures - perhaps that's an understatement actually. One extremely influential person, and one man who  became the most powerful and influential individual on the planet. Then you have Harry Styles. The power of influence is dependent on many factors, not least the type of person 'under the influence', but regardless of this, Harry Styles is extremely influential. If Barack and Kanye sparked 55 thousand tweets (directly) together you'd assume that that's a fairly good barometer of what can be achieved with a single tweet. Harry Style's tweet, which simply read 'RIP Nelson Mandela' sparked over 159 thousand tweets, more than 3x that of Obama and Kanye (oh and you can put Piers Morgan, Yahoo News, BBC News, The New York Times, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Fry and The Huffington Post into that category too, and it's still less that Harry's influence). This is truly astounding. Having spoken to many about this, I have been challenged that this is purely due to '14 year old girls ruling Twitter'. I agree actually to certain extent, but that in itself is an incredible indicator of the times. We have one of the most powerful tools mankind has developed at our disposal. A method of talking to millions of people and individuals simultaneously. And the people who are using most are '14 year old girls'. 

Anyway, not wanting to dwell on the Harry Styles point too much, I took a look into the drivers of conversation. Unsurprisingly, 'RIP', 'Memory', 'South Africa' and 'Madiba' were the most common terms. However, behind these lines of conversation, the most influential topics were 'selfie and funeral', 'obama selfie' and 'interpreter'. Make of that what you will. However, it was comforting to see that there was a surprisingly low level of conversation around the coincidence of Mandela's passing, and the premiere of Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom in Leicester Square.  

In terms of where the conversation happened; people in the US tweeted 4x more than those in South Africa, with just over 2.8 million tweets, in comparison to just over 700k from SA (english mentions). People in the UK actually tweeted more than those in SA too, which I think actually says more about economic and language divide than global sentiment, but interesting none the less.

Overall, sentiment online swung from initial overwhelming positivity, to outrage at the Obama & Cameron 'selfie', through to backlash at sensationalist media coverage. In fact, according to our automated sentiment tracker, 22% of all conversation online regarding Mandela was specifically negative on the 11th & 12th December, showing the effect that the media coverage of 'selfie-gate' had.

Mandela's passing is almost incomparable in terms of global relevance, and gave us an incredible insight into just how much of an impact he had on millions worldwide. 

You may also like

Powered by Blogger.