Social media and society

Social media and society

ATNIX: Australian Twitter News Index, November 2014

With the drama and excitements of the Melbourne Cup and G20 summit receding into memory, and the current trials and tribulations of the federal government taking centre-stage once again, it’s time to update our Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX) for the month of November. Sadly, scheduled server maintenance has meant that we’ve missed out on news sharing data for the final week of November, so this update will cover only the period until the 24th – but it provides some useful insights and a handful of surprises nonetheless (as always, click to enlarge the graphs below).

First, what’s striking about the Twitter link-sharing patterns for November is most of all their stability: there’s no obvious G20 bump in activity on 15 and 16 November. This is not an uncommon pattern in our observations over the years, in fact: events such as the G20, which are already very well covered by the mainstream media and tend not to generate a great deal of unforeseen surprises, usually fail to enthuse users into sharing further news stories on Twitter. The logic behind this, perhaps, is that anyone who paid any level of attention to the media during this period would have already encountered the blanket coverage of the G20, so there’s very little need to engage in any additional news sharing.

Australian Twitter News Index, Nov. 2014. Axel Bruns / QUT Social Media Research Group

Where there are unusual bumps in activity, they remain entirely non-event-related. ABC News’s strong performance during the first week of November, for example, has very little to do with the Melbourne Cup, but is instead due for the most part to its coverage of exceptionally beautiful ‘fallstreak hole’ cloud formations over eastern Victoria; not only did this article receive substantial attention from Australian users, but it also gained some international virality over a period of several days. Similarly, during week two news.com.au briefly rises above its long-term average as it covers a greased-up Kim Kardashian’s latest media stunt, which didn’t quite “break the Internet” as advertised, but certainly resulted in a handful of extra links being shared.

As we’ve seen time and again, what generates above-average news sharing on Twitter is breaking, unforseen, and surprising news, then; by contrast, the tacit assumption is that everyone has already seen the major news items of the day. And apparently this applies even to the Melbourne Cup, made especially tragic this year by the sudden death of race horses Admire Rakti and Araldo.

Of course this doesn’t mean that online audiences fail to be interested in these events and topics. Turning to our Experian Hitwise data on Web browsing patterns in Australia for the same sites and timeframe, it is obvious that The Age, ABC News, the Herald Sun and a number of other sites record clear spikes in readership on Melbourne Cup Day, so clearly there’s considerable attention to the event and its sad aftermath. Interestingly, there is far less enthusiasm for the G20: while the regular weekend slump in online news readership is perhaps somewhat less pronounced on 15 and 16 November, audiences are certainly not glued to their computer screens as the world leaders deliberate. Perhaps online is trumped here by the considerable television coverage which the event also received.

Total visits to Australian news and opinion sites, Sep./Oct. 2014. Data courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia.

There are clear spikes in readership across most of the leading news sites on 27 November, however, and I would not be surprised if this is directly related to cricketer Philip Hughes’s death that day. In the absence of any data for the week, I would also assume there to have been a spike in tweets sharing news stories related to this tragedy, especially in connection with the #putoutyourbats campaign.

Beyond such day-to-day fluctuations, aggregate patterns are also worth noting. In links shared on Twitter, The Conversation almost caught up with The Australian during November (keeping in mind again that we were unable to gather data for the final week of the month); a particularly strong performance which may have been aided somewhat by The Conversation’s continuing expansion into the US market, however. Overall, aided by its coverage of celestial phenomena, ABC News stepped well clear of close competitor Sydney Morning Herald this month, while The Age regained third spot from news.com.au.

In terms of overall site visits as recorded by Experian Hitwise, the situation is considerably more stable. Here, The Age advanced to fourth spot on the back of its Melbourne Cup coverage, while all other rankings remained stationary; most notably, the G20 Summit had little impact on the placing of local sites Courier-Mail and Brisbane Times. Amongst the opinion sites, The Conversation remains the clear market leader, but The New Daily continues its strong run and is now well clear of closest pursuer Crikey – all the more surprising because such readership has yet to translate into link-sharing on Twitter. By contrast, Independent Australia has lost ground and has fallen back behind The Saturday Paper. (Note that we’ve had to temporarily exclude New Matilda from the list, due to a data issue; I’ll update this post once the issue is resolved.)

Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.

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