Here's why social data is the ultimate map to what interests people

March 23, 2017

Written by NewsWhip

Social data provides the perfect map to the types of content that audiences engage with, and when. 

When people like, share, tweet, or otherwise engage with a story on social media, they leave a data trail that represents a fascinating map of what audiences are interested in with, and when. 

This social data is already used by publishers to help inform how they reach their readers.  

Social media editors use it to measure the impact of their content on different social platforms. On the editorial side, editors and content creators look to social metrics like shares and comments to inform what topics their readers and audience are interested in reading about.

But there’s another use case that comes from using analysing historical social data to inform future coverage and output, as well as simply seeing what people talk about, when. Social engagement with stories and coverage of events leaves an ‘interest trail’ of what people were engaging with and talking about around different topics.

By tracking social engagements with different stories and social posts across a time period, it’s possible to look at the extent to which people responded to breaking news and other events on social media.

Through our NewsWhip Analytics platform, we meticulously record these interactions, allowing us to go back and look at how audiences responded to these events. For instance, here’s what social media engagement with articles about ‘Brexit’ looked like throughout 2016:

The impact of the surprise result in social feeds was evident by the enormous bump in engagement with content in June. Engagement with stories about Brexit rose again in November, as comparisons between the referendum result and the election of Donald Trump were covered heavily in the media.

This sort of retrospective political analysis is an endlessly fascinating application of social data. Here’s what engagement with stories about three main candidates in the upcoming French presidential election looked like from November 1 to mid-March:

Outsize English language media interest in Marine Le Pen’s campaign peaked in February, with news of a visit by Le Pen to Lebanon making most impact for social media users outside France. 

However, by applying geographical and language filters to the content, it’s possible to compare what engagement inside France itself looked like over the same time period. By specifying French language coverage from French news sites, the engagement graph changes significantly.

Here, interest in centre-right candidate François Fillon is much more pronounced, indicating suggesting that among French social media users, the story of Fillon’s investigation by authorities had a likelier propensity to spark engagement. 

Away from politics, this social data analysis can be applied to more recurring events to help get a perspective on when people start engaging with specific types of content. Here’s how the engagement graph for stories about Game of Thrones and Stranger Things looked like over the course of 2016:

By looking back at how audiences engaged with different stories over different time ranges, it’s possible to get a sense of when audiences responded to particular content and coverage. Perhaps the most obvious example of this application is through by looking back at specific events and seasonal trends to see when people start sharing and talking about specific items each year. 

Commemorating holidays on social media has become an integral part of the celebrations. There are obscure holidays to jump in on, like National Puppy Day, as well as features from the platforms themselves: festive filters on Snapchat, birthday videos on Facebook, and clever hashtags on Twitter.

When do different holidays start to attract engagement and coverage on social media? Which holidays are more popular than others? We looked at NewsWhip Analytics to find when seasonal events and other news start to drive engagement in the year.

It seems like social media is waiting for Santa all year long, as Christmas eclipsed all other holidays. Christmas saw over 140 million engagements across social media in 2016 for domain-based content. This is nearly 100 million more than the runner-up, Halloween.

Moms > Dads on Social Media

Our biggest trend came from looking at two seemingly equal holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The social engagements revealed a big disparity between the two.

Mother’s Day drove many more engagements than Father’s Day did in 2016. But, if we dive into the networks themselves, we can see Mother’s Day scored its win from Facebook and Twitter. Father’s Day was more engaging on LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Father’s Day picked up the bulk of its Pinterest engagements from a BuzzFeed post on “19 Hilarious Tumblr Posts That Prove Dads Are Precious”. Aside from gift ideas and DIY projects, sentimental lists like this can go big on social.


Annual sports championships have become holidays in their own right, especially so on social media. Here’s how popular sports finals drove engagement in 2016.

The Super Bowl saw the highest peak in social media engagements, almost 40 million around the event itself. But be not deceived, the Champions League drove the most engagements for an annually recurring sports finale.
If we look at engagements over the course of 2016, we can see just how these numbers played out.

The Olympics topped the charts, as a sports event that only happens every two years and is globally relatable.

It’s important to note again that these engagements are based on English-language content. If we included our scope to other languages, the World Cup and Champions League might far exceed the Super Bowl.

As it is now, the Super Bowl saw substantially more engagements on LinkedIn and Pinterest than the other annually recurring sports leagues. On LinkedIn, the Super Bowl saw 389,000 shares to the World Series’ 95,000.

School’s Out

What about seasonal events like school holidays? We looked at terms around spring break, summer vacation, graduation, and back to school.

Graduation is the most popular on social media, reaching almost 4.5 million social engagements at its peak. Buzz around graduation builds steadily through the spring, maintaining highs in May and June.

As one might expect, graduation-related content is hugely successful on LinkedIn. Graduation drove over 180,000 LinkedIn shares in 2016, while the other school holidays saw significantly less. Stories around graduation speeches, advice for new grads, and best cities and career paths drove engagement on the platform.

As to the other school-related events, ‘Back to School’ peaked in August, but started building in July, when everyone wants to still be on the beach (except, maybe, the parents). Back to School is the biggest of these school-related events on Pinterest. Ideas for the new school year — outfits, supplies, lunches — see thousands of pins.

Interestingly, ‘Summer Vacation’ content also sees the most engagements in August, when summer is coming to an end. Engagement for summer vacation starts building in March, as ideas and deals around travel drive interest.

What About the Other Holidays?

How do seasonal holidays fare? We looked at New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and Easter to get a sense of when engagement begins for each.

In terms of engagements for 2016, Easter and New Year’s Eve were closely matched. Content around New Year’s and New Year’s Eve drives nearly triple the amount of shares on LinkedIn than Easter or Valentine’s Day. The top shared content around New Year’s on LinkedIn focused on goals and resolutions for the upcoming year.

Social media buzz for New Year’s starts building in September, a solid three months before the end of the year.

Bon Appetit

Food is an integral part of holiday and seasonal festivities. We pulled out two here on Pinterest, champagne and hot chocolate.

We can see the different times of year that Pinterest buzzed around these two drinks. Hot chocolate was increasingly engaged with towards fall and winter. Champagne was popular two times of the year, around graduation and New Year’s Eve.

It’s worth taking a pulse on social media and knowing when content will be well-received. When is your audience engaging with this particular food, season, sport, or holiday? With well-timed and well-planned content, you can stand out from the rest.

Take a demo of NewsWhip Analytics to discover your audience’s top-engaging trends now


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