Santa Got More Shares Than The Apocalypse

After surviving the Mayan Doomsday unscathed, and enjoying the holiday season, some of us at SimpleReach began to wonder what sharing patterns had looked like on content related to the now laughable (actually it was always laughable) Apocalypse. So we decided to take a look into our rich trove of social data and analyze how sharing activities on networks were influenced both before the impending doom and after it was safely past. We were also curious about what kind of impact the potential end of the world had on a more prevalent topic – Christmas and the holidays. We figured that different topics would be less likely to have overlaps in terms of social activity, and we would be able to see clear and independent trends.

To get started, we created an extensive list of relevant keywords for both topics and queried our content database for matches in tags, categories and article titles. Each list consisted of about 15-20 of the most common keywords:

  • Christmas, xmas, Santa Claus, …
  • doomsday, apocalypse, mayan prophecy, …

To begin our analysis, we divided social activity for the two category sets into three time-based buckets: the week leading up to the 21st, the 21st, and the week following. We focused the research on activity across three of the top social networks – Twitter, Facebook, and StumbleUpon. Broadly, this is how social activity behaved across those networks:

Actions and referrals across networks

Different patterns in activity are immediately noticeable.

For example, on Twitter there were more Apocalypse related social actions and referrals on the 21st than in the entire preceding week. The number of social actions on that day were 1.33 times the total combined actions for the past week, while referrals were a bit higher at 1.67 times. This wasn’t the case with Facebook, although Facebook experienced the highest activity on the 21st. Curiously, on Stumbleupon, there appears to have been more interest in the Doomsday after the predicted day in terms of actions! There were 19,953 social actions in the week after compared to 15,973 actions in the week before – around 25.2% more activity.

To follow up on our hunch about Christmas articles being affected by Doomsday, we looked at pageviews on Christmas related articles in the week before the 21st and on the 21st itself. (In the week after the 21st there was obviously a lot more Christmas activity.)

Comparing Christmas and Doomsday refs

As expected, social actions were greater on Christmas articles than Doomsday articles across all networks. However, on the 21st, pageviews for Christmas content across Twitter and Facebook were lower than the corresponding numbers for articles about the Apocalypse. Doomsday was obviously a hot topic on Facebook and Twitter, temporarily overtaking Christmas in terms of pageviews. For StumbleUpon, in contrast to Twitter and Facebook, the pageviews on the 21st were higher for Christmas related content than Doomsday related ones.

Social actions are important because they typically drive referrals from a specific type of traffic source, so we took a closer look at trends in referrals over our selected time periods. The types of referrals we are looking at are an aggregate of pageviews driven by social media (social referrals), and pageviews driven by search (search referrals). While there are always visitors who reach a site directly (i.e. no referral), we are not including them in this analysis. We plotted referrals on Doomsday content and Christmas content on a day over day basis for a comparative illustration in traffic trends.

Daywise referrals
For articles about the Apocalypse, we noted that search was more influential than social in terms of driving traffic. On the 21st, there were 2.09 times more search referrals than social. On the other hand, when it came to Christmas articles, people were more likely to get there through social channels than through search. In particular, on Christmas Day, we saw 3.94 times more pageviews from social compared to search. Interestingly, for Christmas related content search referrals peaked on Christmas Eve, while social referrals peaked on Christmas Day. Our conclusions are anecdotal, but we like to imagine search referrals on Christmas Eve correspond to last-minute gift-finding panic, while social referrals on Christmas Day correspond to the love (or hate) of said last-minute gifts.

All in all, we’re glad that everyone survived the apocalypse (and the holidays). While we realize there is no longer cause for concern, we’ll keep monitoring the social channels. Just in case.

About faruk

Faruk Ahmed is an undergrad at the Institute of Engineering and Management in Kolkata, India. He is interested in machine learning, data analysis, and other such sundries.

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