Social Media Monitoring and The Papal Visit

I was listening to the radio this morning and there was much discussion around the visit to the United Kingdom of Pope Benedict XVI.

One of the topics discussed was the positive impact of the visit for Scotland’s tourism industry and the measures being used to determine impact. These appeared to focus on traditional approaches, including mentions in the mainstream media and the experiences of 100 participants at the event. This research is usually extrapolated into a measure of wider economic impact.

I doubt whether the analysis includes a Social Media perspective and having noticed strong trends on Twitter before and during the visit I knew it would be worth understanding and incorporating the “buzz” on Social Media into any wider view of impact.

Using SocialRadar and Radian6 we analysed at a high level the activity on Social Media channels around the state visit to the United Kingdom of Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday 16th September.  We have used the key search terms “Papal Visit” and “Pope Benedict” to generate our River of News.

The first thing we notice is the peak in activity on the day of the visit (Thursday 16th).

Figure 1: Volume of Mentions

Trend of Total Mentions over 30 daysWe see a pronounced rise in the volume of mentions shortly before the visit from an average of around 2,000 mentions per day to approximately 12,000 mentions on the day of the visit.

In terms of platforms and channels, it would appear that Twitter (Micromedia) is important.

Figure 2: Trends on Social Media Platforms

Trends by Media Type in last 30 daysMuch of the activity centres around Twitter on the day, where 53% or 6263 of the mentions were made. Blogs were also important in generating posts.

Mainstream News may have fewer posts but on the day it generated the most engagement.

Figure 3: Comments by Platform

Comments by Media Type

More than 28,000 comments were made, far outweighing the next most important medium in generating comments – Blogs.

Socialradar pegged sentiment as largely positive.

Figure 4: Sentiment from SocialRadar

Papal Visit Sentiment

SocialRadar ranks the broad sentiment of the posts around the visit as 60% positive and 40% negative. Radian6 views positive to negative sentiment as 40 – 60, providing the opposite result (but with far more neutral sentiment).

Figure 5: Sentiment from Radian6

Papal Visit Sentiment R6There is little doubt that the visit has attracted both positive and negative sentiment. SocialRadar provides an indication of some of the keywords used, including: “best” and  “enjoy” from a positive perspective and  more negatively, words like “hostile” and “bad”.

Figure 6: Word and Category Analysis

Papal Visit Word AnalysisTag clouds provide a more detailed view on the topics or themes of the posts, highlighting the issues that surrounded the visit as well as some of the aspects of the day’s event.

Figure 7: Content Tag Clouds

Papal Visit Tag CloudPapal Visit Tag2

In a more general sense, we can see mentioned the meeting with the Queen, the visit to Bellahouston Park and both Edinburgh and Glasgow are mentioned in almost equal measure. There is far greater mention of England than Scotland, a point for those measuring the impact from a Scottish Tourism perspective. Other less positive aspects are also mentioned, including “abuse” and “scandal”.

What does it all mean?

I think there are a few clear findings from this analysis, indicated below:

1. It would be wise to include Social Media Monitoring in any measure of impact, the numbers of individuals posting and commenting highlights an “active quartile” and alludes to a far greater population exposed to messages around the visit on Social Media – positive and negative.

2. It is difficult to determine precisely the level of positive versus negative sentiment and it would appear that both exist, if not in equal measure depending on which software tool you believe.

3. Traditional Media has had a strong role to play in engagement around this event, with lots of comments on Mainstream News posts. However, new channels like Twitter and Blogs are increasingly important.

4. It is critical to look deeper at what is being talked about and the sentiment expressed. Understanding the proportion that are engaging in positive and negative posts gives a more accurate reflection of the ‘real’ media impact surrounding the visit.

5. Despite the talk of a secular society, the decreasing importance of religion and some of the scandals that shadow religious institutions there is substantial positive sentiment around this visit. This suggests that there are very many advocates and influencers that are also active on Social Media.

6. Finally, social media offers opportunities for organisations of every kind, including religious establishments to engage and energise their followers. I believe we will see more use made of these channels in future.

As always your comments are welcome.



About Alan Stevenson

Over the last fifteen years I have split my time almost equally between Developing Digital strategies for public and private sector clients and helping organisations visualise, specify, plan and optimise technology-based solutions within their organisation.
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4 Responses to Social Media Monitoring and The Papal Visit

  1. Interesting post. It shows how word-of-mouth is moving more and more to Social Media for a wide range of topics.

    I will refer to this post with a link in my next post about Social Media Monitoring Tools.

  2. Alan Stevenson says:

    Thank you. Important to keep getting that message out there. Sometimes think that Social Media users are the “ignored majority”.

  3. That’s true… I sometimes read slander about “Social Media experts”. The fact is there are just that many because many received that message while much more have still not received it – companies, public persons like politicians etc. etc.

    There’s a very interesting recent example of the power of social media about the German president resigning after bloggers exerted pressure on him:

  4. Interesting post Alan, hopefully we will see a greater incorporation of social media channels in Research specifically on WOM.

    Sentiment when automated can be a tricky one. Algorithms are getting better day by day and while it’s helpful for a broad overview we tend to use manual coding from our in-house Social Media Analysts when it comes to sentiment analysis. It’s safe to say that the Pope’s visit most likely attracted a fairly even split of negative vs. positive sentiment.

    I look forward to reading more.

    Olivia Landolt
    Marketing and Community Manager

    @6Consulting | UK authorised Radian6 partner

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