Social Media Provides A Real-Time Appraisal of Public Opinion

The current media storm over the News of the World hacking scandal is showing few signs of blowing over just yet, and thanks to social media, we can now monitor the ups and downs of the key players in real time. For a number of years, Twitter in particular has acted as the litmus test for breaking news stories; the relevance and resonance of each news story is measured by whether it’s big enough to trend on the social network, and how high. For a media obsessed with asking consumers to call or text in their opinions, they could do far worse than observe the stories that the population really want to talk about by monitoring Twitter more closely (although a very specific type of Twitter-consumer).

This week, The Guardian newspaper, a key player in the hacking row did just that, by publishing a detailed analysis of Twitter conversations and trends around the News of the World hashtag. The Guardian monitoring tool includes three key elements; the number of tweets per hour over a given period (Thursday – Monday), a word cloud of most frequently used terms, and a barometer of the most popular topics in the story visualised as a series of bubbles that grow or decline depending on the number of tweets the topic has received – all broadcast under the News of the World hashtag.

The result of all of this is a highly dynamic, visually stimulating and real-time insight into the public perception of a specific news story. The technology clearly demonstrates the impact of new information over a given time period and the impact that news has on public opinion and word of mouth, measured through Tweets. Whilst the Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and Andy Coulson popularity bubbles are reasonably constant, waxing and waning only slightly and always at the centre of the story, as stories break and new players enter the game, new bubbles are created, such as the Steve Coogan button, following his vociferous appearance on BBC’s Newsnight.

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