Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Forensics of a Live-tweet Event

Monica Perez Nevarez 9/3/2013

Adventures in tweeting

Tweeting is a universe onto itself, and businessmen as well as journalists are still trying to make sense of it. It’s not necessarily about letting your followers know what you are up to; it’ s about building trust and engagement with your followers and finding new ones. Best way to do that? Follow people with many followers, and live-tweet events that have a large following. The first is self-explanatory; the second less so. Below you will find a forensic dissection of a “live-tweet” event, to see what we can learn about that particular form of communication, and how you could harness that power. 

On 8/31/2013, President Obama gave a ten minute statement regarding his decisions on what actions the US should take against Syria for illegally and immorally using WMD gas to kill over 1,000 people in Damascus during their ongoing civil war (he is determined and ready to act with a limited military response, but wants Congress to debate and vote on the actions the US should take).

I live-tweeted the event as a way to study the mechanics and uses of tweeter, (and made all sorts of newbie mistakes for illustration purposes) as a case study of what live-tweeting looks like, its possible uses, risks, benefits, and best practices, and to highlight any shining examples of excellence under pressure.

I learned of the event exactly three minutes before it was set to start (as it turned out, the President would be late, but no one knew that at the time). [For a basic summary of live tweeting from the horse’s mouth, read “Live Tweeting Best Practices” by Twitter; to read a well-known twitterer’s tips, see “How to tweet like a Pro”; for the best ways to make twitter work for your company read the misleadingly named “20 ways to tweet like a Pro”; and for expert tips on social media follow Sree Sreenavasin as @sree on twitter or visit his webpages and]

Since twitter is a fledgling communications tool, taking a forensic look at what happened in a relatively small amount of time on a broadly covered event will give readers a sense of how others use this tool, for what purposes it is used, and the skills needed to use it to effect. A short but weighty statement by the President that was covered widely by the mainstream media and on the twitter-sphere is a perfect choice because it was guaranteed to have the broadest kind of followers tweeting the event (and therefore the best examples of live-tweeting).

Globally, of the hundreds of millions of people watching the President on TV, and the tens of millions that were on Twitter at the time, only about 43 people live-tweeted the President’s statement on Syria (in my circles).

The numbers are small enough to be searched by hand, as opposed to using complicated algorithms. In a not-so-distant future, there will be so many people live-tweeting events that it will be much more difficult to do this kind of artisanal analysis.

The Set-up

The first thing I learned: research your subject before you live-tweet. (After the fact, I found AP had published a copy of the President’s speech at 12:30pm, which I could have used to follow and quote the President more accurately).

It is very hard to take notes or tweet and analyze what is being said at the same time, so the more you know in advance, the better your tweets will be. Gather as much information as possible before you start.
The second thing I learned was that live-tweeting is best done by people that are adept at the short-hand language of tweeter (let’s call it “tweetese” for now, with posts of less than 140 characters, use of the “@” or “at” symbol to message followers and the “#” or “hashtag” symbol to index posts for future search), and are experienced at tweeting while the event is happening.

It is a learned skill to be able to listen, quote the important points and write in “tweetese” at the same time. It very much feels like a mashup of doing three things at once: transcription (writing what is being said, listening), translation (digesting the information, putting it into tweetese), and micro-blogging (publishing information, typing correctly and quickly).
There is a certain amount of preparation that goes on before the event starts (preparing your followers for the live-tweet event) and much commentary afterwards, but tweeting live, while the event is happening, is writing history as you experience it.

Later commentary and analysis will bring color and depth to the discussion, as well as many more perspectives, but it will be spatially dispersed, and the tweets harder to find (although with , searching twitter will be easier).

Event Watch

I started my “event-watch” at 1:12pm for a scheduled 1:15 presidential statement by looking for TV channels that were covering the statement, as I was going to cover the event from home. CNN was carrying the event, as well as CNBC (who added distractions like cut-aways to infomercials during the half-hour wait – Note: there will always be a lot going on (or nothing going on), and you’ll find a lot of extraneous ‘noise’ when you live-tweet, so concentrate on what you are doing!). Also, make sure you don’t create extraneous ‘noise’ yourself by cutting distractions if you are at home: shutting off your cel phone, walking the dogs beforehand, and giving the children something engrossing to play with, if any of these situations apply to you.

There were more sites on the internet live-streaming the event than on TV. Broadcast media have ceded control of this type of reporting over to social media, the more nimble of the two forms of communication; and TV focuses on analysis after the fact.

This is a smart adaptation, because TV is better at planned, longer-form analysis than unscheduled (or off-schedule) events that can be ‘telegraphed’ with short messages (we’ve gone from soundbites to twitterbites).

Live-tweeting is opening up opportunities for many more people to weigh in with their opinions; for experts and specialists in their fields to broaden their reach, their visibility and their reputation by tweeting live events and attaching their expert opinions as added value and needed perspective; as well as for ‘trolls’ (cyber-bullies), snark-addicts and spin-doctors. 'Lurkers' are those that read everything, but don't engage or interact, and make up the majority of followers.

So for a non-violence activist, this Presidential statement was the time to weigh in on alternative options and the costs of war; for a defense contractor, it was a good time to analyze the military situation; for a political scientist, it was a good time to parse out the political and economic fallout of all the choices; and for a journalist it was a good time to show their writing chops to the world, and link to in-depth articles on the subject.

This was a political event; but the mechanics of tweeting are the same for business conferences and events.

 Please note: being there is better than seeing it second-hand on TV, as some of the tweets made clear (there were anti-war protesters outside the White House chanting, and they were moved away by police before the President started his statement, so they were not heard on TV). But seeing it on TV is better than not tweeting about it at all; just let your audience know where you are when you start.

 The President was over 30 minutes late to the podium. I used the wait time to check my twitter feed for comments on the upcoming statement and to retweet posts for later study. Copy-pasting the thread to a Word document helps by archiving the event and creating a list of who else was live-tweeting the event (twitter streams constantly, so threads are lost unless they are copied to a document quickly).

[Note: Every twitter feed is made up of people in your ‘circles’, i.e., people whom you ‘follow’ or who ‘follow’ you. This means my thread is different from anyone else’s thread and my thread will be shaped by the filters of who I ‘follow’.]

If you ever want to create immortal tweets, tie them to a big event, an event that future historians will want to look into (and present followers are interested in), and be sure to include indexing tools (the use of hashtags - # - before a name, {as in #Syria in this case} to make your tweets easily searchable).


 Since I knew very little about the event I was about to cover, I decided to simply quote the President, as best as I could, as a way of practicing my live-tweeting. About 20 minutes after the end of the speech, I copied my thread to a document, and started to dissect it. There were 617 posts in total between 1:12pm and 2:20pm (average of 103 tweets every ten minutes). During the actual Presidential Statement (10 minutes, 1:54pm to 2:04pm) there were 157 tweets of which 106 were about the President’s statement. There were 86 people from my circles tweeting at the time, with 43 live-tweeting the President’s statement exclusively.

 Here’s the breakdown: Part 1 – Pre-event: 1:12pm to 1:54pm. In total, 253 tweets by 150 twitterers; just discussing the President’s statement on Syria: 78 tweets by 44 twitterers, with 40 twitterers tweeting more than once.

 Part 2 – Actual Event: 1:54pm to 2:04pm. In total, 159 tweets by 86 twitterers; just discussing the President’s statement on Syria: 107 tweets by 43 twitterers, with 18 twitterers tweeting more than twice, and two tweeting more than 8 times.

 Part 3 – Post-event: 2:04pm to 2:23pm. 156 tweets by 112 twitterers; discussing the President’s statement on Syria: 55 tweets by 41 twitterers. Edited thread for ‘only Syria’ comments here. Content analysis: uses, risks, benefits, best practices, and examples of excellence For the sake of brevity, I will only analyze the actual live-tweet event (Part 2).

See the full transcript here.