#SONA2015 reached 30 tweets per second in SA’s first true social TV event

EFF Parliament Fight

Aside from its political ramifications, last night’s events inside Parliament led to unprecedented numbers in local social media interactions. Focusing primarily on Twitter usage around the State of the Nation Address, Memeburn crunched the numbers and tapped into open-source sentiment tools to bring context to the important role Twitter played in our democracy.

South African tweets go off the charts

Over 8 million Twitter users saw the hashtag #bringbackthesignal that grew organically ahead of the opening of Parliament. As South Africans sat glued to their TV screens watching what was unfolding in the National Assembly, President Jacob Zuma’s speech was delayed because of the demand to restore the cellphone signal.

#bringbackthesignal traffic (Source: Keyhole)

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Journalists entering the chambers noticed their signal dropping once inside. Images emerged on Twitter of what was believed to be an illegal cellphone jamming device inside Parliament. Journalists started chanting “bring back the signal” and its hashtag started trending minutes later.

Within half an hour over 4 000 tweets containing #BringBackTheSignal were sent, growing to 5 500 once the signal was restored. Tweets containing the hashtag had a total of 15 million impressions and 8 million uniques, as measured by Keyhole, and sent at a rate of nine tweets per minute, according to Tagboard. The most popular came from City Press editor Ferial Haffajee:

As for #SONA2015, a hashtag created to encourage social engagement with the president ahead of his speech, over 267 000 tweets were sent at a speed of over 100 tweets per minute at one point. Right around the time Parliament erupted, some #SONA2015 trended at 30 tweets per second. These tweets reached over 18 million impressions as Beeld editor Adriaan Basson beat Max du Preez to be the most retweeted #SONA2015 tweet.

#SONA2015 traffic (Source: Keyhole)

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But what do these numbers mean and how do you interpret sentiment around these tweets?

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Measuring SONA’s social media impact

Officially a twitterstorm is reached at 100 tweets per minute, something SoNA delivered within half an hour of Zuma’s arrival at Parliament. As many noticed, both hashtags trending on local and international trendmaps, the event was unique to a South African audience since this wasn’t an international news event like the death of Nelson Mandela or the Oscar Pistorius trial. In other words, it can be assumed that the traffic around #SONA2015 and #bringbackthesignal was driven mostly by South Africans. Thus last night gave us a good indication as to how versed in Twitter we all have become and these numbers say there’s been a serious uptake.

Last year, Blue Magnet Digital estimated that South Africans sent on average 23 tweets a day, a very low number compared to our first world counterparts. Now consider that at one point South Africans sent 30 tweets a second about SoNA and you’ll realise the velocity of last night’s events. A good benchmark for what this means is if you consider that up until Ebola reached the US, this was the rate at which #ebola was being tweeted about across the world.

As for sentiment, Tagboard measured 88% of tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts as neutral, five percent positive and seven percent negative. This is the kind of measurement with which Twitter was able to predict Mitt Romney’s failure to become president ahead of the 2012 elections. What a seven percent negativity sentiment means for Zuma is up for interpretation.

A social TV first

Last night’s broadcast can also be considered South Africa’s first truly social TV event, as events unfolding on TV were influenced by social media and vice versa. Whether watching on TV or online, the conversations happening in real-time are the type of gold marketers attempt to use to their advantage during events such as the Oscars or Grammys. South African brands failed in effectively using the opportunity to their advantage, as this was the Super Bowl moment for social media.

Perhaps the most successful brand last night was eNCA. The broadcaster’s live feed from Parliament was available on YouTube, something that benefitted the channel greatly as its tweets were among the most popular last night in terms of likes and retweets. There was no other brand above eNCA in last night’s top tweets, as the personal Twitter accounts of editors, journalists and Chester Missing were the only to top eNCA’s.


That being said, eNCA’s sentiment tracker was a #fail. The channel attempted a “South African TV first” using test-dialing technology to track sentiment during Zuma’s speech, something that had the potential to be more than what it delivered. Sure enough kudos should be given to eNCA for experimenting with the technology, even if its of the kind CNN has used for nearly a decade during coverage of Barack Obama’s State of the Union and presidential elections.

As the social media tools to analyse sentiment improve, brands and especially news networks are in a good position to expand their knowledge of wide-scale audience sentiment. These numbers also show that South Africans truly care about what our journalists and editors have to say as custodians of press freedom and our democracy.



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