Tracking Virality and Breaking the News: A Study on Texas

Originally published by author and intern Lauren Wong on HuffingtonPost.com, June 26, 2013. Click to read original story.

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At 2:17 a.m. Central Time, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards read aloud a text from Dem. State Senator Wendy Davis: “The Lt Gov has agreed – #SB5 is dead.” At 2:29 a.m. CT, 12 minutes after hundreds of Texas supporters broke out in cheers in the Rotunda in a moment captured by photographs, Vines, Instagrams, and Tweets, I posted from the Crowdbooster Twitter account: “Wendy Davis confirms #SB5 is dead after Texas GOP attempts to change timestamp on vote. Powerful example of social media spreading awareness”

As of 3:30 a.m. CDT, the New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, BBC, and the AP either had yet to break the victory or reported, incorrectly, that the bill had been passed.

stand with wendy sb5 filibuster texas senate wendy davisYesterday, Davis attempted an 11-hour marathon filibuster of Senate Bill 5, which would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest victims and create more stringent requirements for abortion facilities. Throughout Davis’ filibuster, which had to last from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., she couldn’t lean on anything for support, use the bathroom, or eat. The GOP ultimately ended her filibuster by citing three instances throughout her speech where she touched on topics “not germane” to the bill (the topics: Planned Parenthood, sonograms and Roe v. Wade). As the clock ticked down, Republicans attempted to ram the bill through, but the rising shouts of Davis supporters throughout the Rotunda made it nearly impossible to tell whether the vote was accomplished before or after the midnight deadline. The meeting was suspended.

social media gains wendy davis facebook twitter youtube texas sb5 filibuster

Graphic info credits: Filibuster by the numbers

That’s when social media reared its head. Over 180,000 people watched the live YouTube stream of the filibuster – Obama even tweeted a link to it – as there was no major network coverage of the full event. One channel was run by the nonprofit Texas Tribune; the other, a self-described “Citizen Journalist” named Christopher Dido. According to a CNN article, users posted a total of 730,000 tweets about the filibuster at a peak rate of 5,776 per minute in the minutes leading up to midnight. Nothing was free from the all-seeing eyes of the Internet. So when the Texas legislature was caught red-handed changing the timestamp on the final vote from 6/26/2013 to 6/25/2013, spectators went into a frenzy. Side-by-side screenshot comparisons blew up Reddit and Twitter, yet Republicans stayed that they had met the deadline. Finally, it was declared: SB5 was dead. Freelance journalist Andrea Grimes tweeted a Vine of supporters erupting with cheers as Richards read out Davis’ celebratory text in the Rotunda. Hours later, Republicans admitted they had not completed the vote in time.

orange shirt texas rotunda senate sb5 wendy davis

So where were the breaking reporters? They were there. But they didn’t wear press passes or clutch at voice recorders. Instead, they donned orange shirts, raising their iPhone 5s to document it all.

We saw it happen in Boston. As major news sources were just starting to report that an MIT officer had been shot, a friend who attends Tufts University was texting me about reports of a carjacking, a bomber possibly dead on the ground, and explosives being thrown from the stolen vehicle, all just a town over from her Medford campus. Twitter confirmed; #Watertown and #Boston were trending. It was not the first time social media was involved in propagating the news, but for many, it was their first time watching it firsthand. Boston shed a new light on a journalism perpetuated by the people: the news never sleeps, and major reporters got caught dozing.

The inherent problem preventing today’s news outlets from matching the timeliness and virality of social messages is accuracy. Media networks can suffer major setbacks for presenting and promoting information they can’t be certain is true, whether it’s a tangible monetary impact or an intangible destruction of credibility. By breaking a story to a global audience, reporters must take the leap of faith and accept the potential consequences of being wrong for the rewards that come with being the first to be right.

Crowdbooster’s Twitter following of 11.3k is small change in the face of @NYTimes’ 8.6 million, so we have a much smaller opportunity cost of posting a potentially inaccurate update. This isn’t something that will change – major news media outlets will always have more at stake than the average teenage girl or social media startup account – but it continues to speak to the future of reporting. And for the first time, I was an informer, not a spectator.

crowdbooster graph analytics tweet twitter social mediaI was glued to my screen, punching in variations of trending hashtags, for the hour leading up to midnight. #standwithwendy had 400,000 global mentions at one point. When I first caught wind that SB5 had been defeated, I was ecstatic. But it was 12:20 a.m in California. My personal Twitter following (not a very large pool to begin with: 160 people, many of whom live on the East Coast) was either subtweeting or posting nostalgic pictures of last weekend’s EDC. So I turned to Crowdbooster, whose account influences a diverse following of 11,000+ people, some of whom have hundreds of thousands of followers. And I helped break the news. In four minutes, my tweet had 18 RTs. In 15 minutes, it had 50. My tweet appeared in the Top section for the query “#SB5.” At an exponential rate, I was educating real people who went on to educate their own vast networks, and so on. I refreshed my dashboard constantly, watching the little red dot migrate east on the graph, growing larger and larger.

buzzfeed news social journalism media twitterA little over an hour later as BuzzFeed and CNN finally tuned in, my tweet had 200 RTs and 60 favorites and had reached over 300,000 people – much credit owed to a retweet by @MarthaPlimpton, an account with a following of 141,155. By the time I woke up the next morning, the tweet had 300 retweets and 80 favorites. Now, almost 24 hours later, it has 310 retweets and 91 favorites. But it’s not about the number of times people press a green button – it’s about the number of pairs of eyes that have absorbed my message, the people who came off enlightened, in any small part, by my knowledge. The concept of one girl sitting in bed watching a live ticker being able to enter 140 characters that in approximately 7 hours can reach nearly half a million people is absolutely incredible to me. Social media is a powerful beast, but a beautiful one at that.

In the early hours of June 26, as the media seemed to sleep, thousands of people propped their laptops up on their pajama pants and did the job for them. SB5 is dead, but the power of social media is more alive than ever.

Crowdbooster’s New Feature: Collaborate Seamlessly

Using Crowdbooster with your officemates just got this much more fun…

No, seriously. It’s with great pleasure that I announce today that you can now collaborate with multiple users on Crowdbooster. We are especially excited because to us, this signifies an institutionalization of social media in the modern organization. This is very different compared to when we started. Back then (circa 2010), trailblazing social media managers, fueled by not much more than a vision of a more connected world, single-handedly took on social media management roles with little to no resources at their disposal. Today, the social-savvy workforce is coming together on social platforms, with increasingly more resources to engage.

Here’s what you can do right now if you upgrade to Crowdbooster for Teams. Invite your entire marketing team to use Crowdbooster. Don’t forget to include temporary contractors and the awesome intern. Invite the executives and your clients, too. Crowdbooster was designed to be extremely simple to understand, so no training would be required for the other members of your team to start running reports and managing social profiles. Crowdbooster was also made to be visually stunning for you to use to demonstrate your performance and win over your clients and bosses, so send them access. You can add, remove, and limit users to manage only specific accounts. If you don’t want a user to have permission to change anything or post messages, you can easily limit her access level.

User settings

Social Profile settings

This is our first stab at making Crowdbooster work better in today’s collaborative environment. What features does your team need to get things done? What kind of roadblocks are you running into when managing social media as an organization? Tweet us @Crowdbooster.

When we look out into the future. We see social penetrating the organization, transforming more parts of the business than the ones we can rattle off right now – customer service, public relations, marketing, etc. Crowdbooster intends to be there to serve you. On top of that, what excites us even more is how the people inside social organizations will turn around and change social media even further by showing us how to use social media in a way that we never would’ve imagined. From there, we will get a lot closer to making the world a more open, authentic, and connected place.

Changes coming to Crowdbooster: replacing freemium with paid-only subscriptions

Summary: On March 1, 2013, Crowdbooster’s currently free service will be replaced by a paid subscription at $9 a month. Below we explain how we arrived at this decision and how it affects you. 

Dear Crowdbooster users,

We have recently made the very difficult decision to discontinue Crowdbooster’s free service and replace it with a paid subscription at $9 a month starting on March 1, 2013. We understand that this is going to create problems for those of you who rely on Crowdbooster. To help you through this transition, we want to offer discounts, help you look for free alternatives, and give you time to explore the new Crowdbooster. We hope to continue our journey together.

What does this mean for you if you are a free user?

  • Your current free service will be discontinued on March 1, 2013. If you don’t take action, your account will simply be deactivated on March 1. Please be assured that you will not be charged.
  • Between now and March 1, 2013, you will enjoy an extended trial period with all features of the paid service to avoid interruption and let you evaluate our offering.
  • We are offering a special discounted pricing as our way of saying thank you for supporting us over the last two and a half years. The discounts are:
    • 20% off your monthly / annual rate if you subscribe to any plan during the month of January* (~4 months of savings).
    • 10% off your monthly / annual rate if you subscribe to any plan during the month of February*.
    • *Either way, you will not be billed until March 1, and we encourage you to subscribe in January to lock in the lower rate.
  • You will get a better Crowdbooster with data export and much more to come. This change is coming on the eve of a major redesign to Crowdbooster with improvements across the board. Today, we are also announcing a completely new export feature to help you take Crowdbooster to Excel and share your insights more easily. This is an example of what you have to look forward to as a paid subscriber.

See your discounted pricing table and sign up now.

Why did we decide to change?

The cost of supporting free users has taken a toll on us. As Crowdbooster has become mission-critical to many of you, we started falling behind on our promise to give you the highest quality service and we hated it. Instead of the unsustainable freemium model, we’ve decided to charge a low monthly price of $9 for the currently free service. This freedom will allow us to innovate faster (like our new export feature) and provide you an even better service. We firmly believe great analytics can make a big difference in how we learn to communicate and tell stories using social media. If you’ve enjoyed Crowdbooster over the last two and a half years, we hope you’d consider purchasing a plan. As always, we welcome your comments and are committed to making Crowdbooster great for you.

Thoughts? Tweet @Crowdbooster. Send us a message on Facebook. Email Ricky from Crowdbooster at ricky@crowdbooster.com or give him a call at +1 (888) 960-6018. He will also be responding to all of you who have been giving us feedback over the last week about this change.

Looking for free alternatives? We’ve started a Google Doc right here to help you out.