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Shark Week 2012: How To Drive The Shark Conversation (Without Jumping It)

on August 7, 2012 - 3:59pm

Update: Want a personal walk-through of the State of the Shark online? Join Son of Sharkinar on Friday, August 12 at 11:00 am PT/ 2:00 ET. We'll share Shark Week campaign plans as well.

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Shark Week 2012 is fast approaching. If you're involved in the online conversation about sharks, Shark Week represents a major opportunity to grab some attention, and extend your social media reach. Just how big is this opportunity? And what can you do to best leverage it? Using Upwell's magic "Big Data" 8-Ball, and salty nautical insight, we're going to give you the answers.

Shark Week Is Big

In a typical week, Upwell measures between 40,000 and 70,000 mentions of sharks online. During Shark Week 2011, there were over 740,000 social mentions of sharks, 95% of which were directly attributable to Shark Week.

There's no escaping it: Shark Week is responsible for the single largest bump in the online shark conversation for the entire year.

When you see that fin-shaped spike, it's time to get into the (social media) water.

Total social mentions for Upwell's keyword groups for "Sharks" and "Shark Week", January 1st - December 31st, 2011

And Getting Bigger

Since 2009, total social mentions of Shark Week have increased by a factor of five every year. If that trend holds, this year's Shark Week could generate over 2,000,000 social mentions. Now you're talking attention apex predator!


Of course, mentions in and of themselves are only helpful if the information or sentiment they express is factual or positive. While Shark Week unquestionably promotes strong conservation messaging, does that break through the notion of sharks being eating machines with big teeth that occasionally kill or injure humans?

Fortunately, yes, We broke down those 740,000 Shark Week-related social mentions into three categories: 

  • Celebratory — e.g. "Sharks are awesome!"
  • Terror — e.g. "Sharks are violent killers!"
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Unpacking Social Mentions of Mission Aquarius

on July 27, 2012 - 11:49am

Mission Aquarius has taken its bow, after several aquanauts spent a week from July 14th to 21st underwater at the Aquarius Reef Base off the Florida Keys. The project received plenty of major mainstream media attention, from NPR to the Washington Post to Fox News and even The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

But how did it fare in online social mentions?

Upwell tracks social mentions because they're a concrete action. Creating a blog post, retweeting or posting a video is a bigger deal than just viewing content. We track ocean content makers. These makers drive the online conversation," says Rachel Weidinger.

Note that our tracking of social mentions is different from the more common metric of tracking impressions, like views on YouTube videos. We count social content as it is posted online, tracking posts with keyword searches. This social mention metric has more in common with the metric of media hits than it does with the metric of impressions.

To kick things off, here's a graph that shows overall online social mentions of Mission Aquarius from June 1-July 26:

Social mentions of the Mission Aquarius keyword set June 1-July 26, 2012 developed by Upwell

The grand total: 12,559 social mentions of Mission Aquarius. That's 12,559 times an individual took the time to create online content specifically mentioning Mission Aquarius.

Now, let's break that down a little.

Two Influencers Created Half the Attention

Many people and news outlets were speaking about Mission Aquarius. But online, the bulk of these social mentions were the result of just two sources: @ReefBase, the official Mission Aquarius twitter account (4,375 mentions since July 1st), and ocean tech journalist (and former Gizmodo Editor) Brian Lam (2,514 mentions since July 1st). This graph shows the contributions of these two sources to the overall spike:


Social mentions of the Mission Aquarius keyword set by Mission Aquarius (blue line), ReefBase (purple line), Brian Lam’s posts (orange line)

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Equally Evil = Socially Awesome: Unpacking The ICRS 2012 Spike

on July 21, 2012 - 2:38pm

Update: A Look At The Ensuing Conversation

On July 13th, the New York Times posted an Op/Ed by Roger Bradbury, an ecologist at the Australian National University. Entitled "A World Without Coral Reefs", Bradbury advanced the view that a total collapse of coral reefs was all but certain, and proposed that we should reallocate funding to account for this reality. In his words:

 They have become zombie ecosystems, neither dead nor truly alive in any functional sense, and on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation. [...] But by persisting in the false belief that coral reefs have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse. Money isn’t spent to study what to do after the reefs are gone — on what sort of ecosystems will replace coral reefs and what opportunities there will be to nudge these into providing people with food and other useful ecosystem products and services. 

With its alarming title and controversial assertions Bradbury's editorial immediately received a burst of mentions online. The New York Times doesn't enable commenting on its Op/Ed posts, so the discussion of this post took place largely in social media, as you can see below:

Total social media mentions for Upwell's keyword groups for the Bradbury Op/Ed (purple line), Revkin's 7/14 post (orange line), Gaskill's 7/16 post (pink line) and Carl Safina's 71/7 post (green line), from July 13-21, 2012

Several noted science and conservation journalists were quick to respond, including The New York Times' Andy Revkin ("Reefs in the Anthropocene – Zombie Ecology?" and "More on Coral Reefs and Resilience or Ruination"), Melissa Gaskill ("When Coral Reefs Recover"), and Carl Safina ("Life Finds a Way -- But Needs Our Help"). These posts each received their share of online attention, though none approached the number of mentions of the Bradbury post.

However, since these responses were made as comment-enabled blog posts, a good portion of the

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By The Numbers: Which Ocean Acidification Hashtag Is The Most Popular?

on July 16, 2012 - 12:46am

Last week’s High Tide Alert highlighted the spike in online mentions of ocean acidification following NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco’s characterization of it as “osteoporosis of the sea” and “climate change’s equally evil twin.” Just for good measure, we even compared it to online mentions of the Kardashians, a subject we expanded on in our blog.

But we were curious about something. Just how are people communicating about the subject. On Twitter, the words “ocean acidification” and the hashtag #oceanacidification use up a lot of characters, leaving little room to say much about it other than “is really bad and I’m against it.” Does that work against it, and are people finding other ways to talk about it online?

Twitter mentions of Upwell’s Ocean Acidification keyword group, that included (green) or did not include (green) one or more of the top ocean acidification hashtags. (May 15th - July 15th, 2012)
Looking at the data for the past two months shows that the majority of people talking about ocean acidification aren’t using hashtags. (Since hashtags are primarily a Twitter convention, in this post we’ll be looking at monitoring data for Twitter only.)
Out of nearly 10,000 tweets related to ocean acidification, only 13.1% referred to the issue with a hashtag.
Twitter mentions of the four most popular ocean acidification hashtags appearing in tweets monitored by Upwell’s Ocean Acidification keyword group. (May 15th - July 15th, 2012) 
Of those tweets that used tags, by far the most popular one was #oceanacidification, which appeared nearly half of the time, or 45.2%. In descending order of popularity, the top four ocean acidification hashtags are:
  1. #oceanacidification (568 tweets - 45.2%)
  2. #ocean (324 tweets - 25.8%)
  3. #acidification (228 tweets - 18.2%)
  4. #ocean #acidification (136 tweets - 10.8%)
It’s worth nothing that one of these—#ocean—isn’t a very good hashtag at all, at least not for grouping together content specifically related to ocean acidification.
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Ocean Acidification vs. The Kardashians, Part Deux: The Gulf Is Even Wider Online

on July 9, 2012 - 6:30pm

Recently, an analysis by Media Matters bemoaned the fact that print and broadcast media devoted approximately 40 times as much news coverage to the Kardashians as to ocean acidification. This was despite, and perhaps because of, the latter’s established importance—and, one is left to infer, the former’s non-importance (taking a leap of faith here that you’re on the same page as us on this one).

Media Matters’ study didn’t look at online mentions, so we did. And what we found was surprising.

Tweeting Up With The Kardashians

While the purpose of the study was evidently to hold media outlets accountable for their insubstantial coverage, looking at the relevant online mentions of the two subjects suggests that those media outlets are actually relative models of discretion, decorum and depth.

Total online mentions from January 1 - July 9, 2012 for Upwell's ocean acidification keyword set (green) and our Kardashians keyword set (red). 

Between January 1 and July 9, the Kardashians received 9.6 million total mentions. In contrast, ocean acidification received 70,333 total mentions. That’s 136 times more mentions for Kim and her sisters than a declining pH. (Imagine that!)

Does this actually mean anything? Comparing Kardashians and ocean acidification isn’t so much comparing apples and oranges as it is comparing apples and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. But it is a strong illustration of the challenges in breaking through the online noise, and the reality of the relative size of the ocean bubble, as well as the power of celebrity. 

Of course, this is looking at total online mentions. That means every publicly posted tweet, Facebook post, blog post, forum post, news article or YouTube video. Given such a large cross-section of the Internet using populace, perhaps a weakness for the sensational should not come as a surprise. What about online news media?

A Model of (Relative) Restraint

Online mentions (news media only) from January 1 - July 9, 2012 for

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By The Numbers: Which Rio+20 Hashtag Should You Use?

on June 19, 2012 - 4:43pm

To receive the most attention, Upwell recommends that you include both Rio+20 and the hashtag #RioPlus20.

Yes, that's more characters. But we have reasons. 

Although the Rio+20 Conference doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, the online conversation about the conference has been underway for days. This is especially noticeable on Twitter, with celebrities like Stephen Fry and band Linkin Park mentioning the event. Unfortunately, the conference's name—specifically its problematic use of the "+" character—has created some confusion about which Twitter hashtag is the correct one to use.

What are hashtags, and who chooses them?

If you know this already, feel free to skip ahead.

For the unfamiliar, a hashtag is a word within a tweet prefixed with a hash (#) sign, designed to provide an easy way to mark a tweet as having to do with a given topic or event. Originally an informal convention proposed by an early Twitter user, hashtags quickly gained widespread acceptance, and are now a ubiquitous part of the Twitter experience. More importantly, most Twitter clients, including Twitter's own web client, automatically recognize hashtags, turning them into clickable links, which easily allow users to search for other mentions of a given hashtag. This is a powerful method of discovery, enabling readers to recognize and quickly dive into a larger conversation.

However, since hashtags are a wholly emergent phenomenon—there's no "Hashtag Council" deciding which tags become the official ones, for example—it's important that Twitter users study each conversation they intend to join in order to determine which tags (if any) are already in use.

The "+20" gets ignored.

In the case of the Rio+20 Conference, this process has been complicated by the "+" character smack dab in the middle of the event's name. Why? Because Twitter doesn't recognize special characters within hashtags.