Twitter and beyond: the #Oscartrial by the social media numbers


On Valentine’s Day last year, the web took some time off from the chocolates and roses to obsess over a seemingly unbelievable story from South Africa — the fact that Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius had shot and killed his girlfriend. In the first six days after the news of Reeva Steenkamp’s death broke, there were more than 1.3-million posts online about the incident — and 84.4% (1.1-million) of those were tweets, as Twitter became the go-to source for information after journalists were banned from live streaming the bail hearings.

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Just over a year later, Pistorius’ murder trial has officially entered its second week, and the court is packed daily with local and international journalists tweeting about everything from the athlete’s facial expressions to witness testimony. So how much online conversation is this trial generating, considering it is being livestreamed by every news organisation with a YouTube channel and broadcast across the globe? Thanks to data from 25AM, a SalesForce Marketing Cloud authorised reseller, we have some insight into the volume and type of chatter across social media, blogs and mainstream news outlets.

The stats

In the last month (9 February – 10 March 2014), there have been 893 957 social posts related to the Pistorius trial. That this number falls far below the 1.3-million posts shared in less than a week after Valentine’s Day last year could be explained by the fact that the trial is freely available on radio, TV and online livestreams, while the only real-time option for the hearings was social media.

The volume of posts spiked on the one-year anniversary of Steenkamp’s death, when it was announced the trial would be broadcast live, and when proceedings officially began on 3 March.

Twitter is still the dominant social channel when it comes to all things Oscar, with hashtags from #OscarTrial to #OscarPistorius and even the names of the attorneys, judge and witnesses trending in South Africa as the trial progressed. Overall, some 87.2% of all conversation around the proceedings took place on Twitter, with more than 780 000 tweets in the last month. The world’s biggest social media site, in comparison, was completely dwarfed by live tweets, and responsible for just 3.5% of the conversation. Mainstream news sites took third place with 3.2% of all posts.

The locations and the ages

Although the trial is currently underway in South Africa, the majority of conversation online was generated in the United States. The US took first spot with 45.7% of all posts, with the Southern African nation coming in second with 21.6% of all the posts, followed by the UK with 7.3%.

Interestingly, 25AM found that a large portion (40.4%) of the posts shared after the trial started were shared by 20-34 year olds, followed by the slightly older 25-44 age group (20.5%), confirming the idea that platforms like Twitter are skewed towards younger early adopters.

The influencers and subjects

While Pistorius’ attorney, Barry Roux, is already well on his way to becoming a meme, it seems he’s also winning the race for most-talked about legal mind. The prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, isn’t gaining nearly as much of a share of the conversation — Roux is being mentioned four times as much. I put it to you… it must have something to do with all those catchphrases.

Predictably, by far the most used hashtags are #oscartrial and #oscarpistorius, followed by #pistorius, #news and #sabcnews. The most influential accounts in the mass of conversation around Pistorius are largely similar to the ones that were prominent during the initial arrest and hearings, with some shuffling of position and the introduction of a ground breaker in the form of the official account of the dedicated 24-hour Pistorius Trial channel, @OscarTrial199.

Barry Bateman, who dominated the Twittersphere last year for his Pistorius coverage, has also moved position from third most mentioned user to eighth most mentioned.

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