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Online Trends

Published October 4th 2013

48 Hours of the Government Shutdown in Social Media Review

Whenever there is a major event happening in the world, people everywhere turn to social media to voice their opinions.

Things were no different this week, as the United States faced its first government shutdown in seventeen years.

Overnight, the volume of social media conversation relating to the shutdown soared to almost two million mentions, just a matter of hours after the announcement.

As we have access to so much fascinating data, we decided to look at some of the most interesting trends emerging from the madness.

And we don’t just mean the simple trends that jump out at you.

You don’t need social media listening tools to predict that healthcare and various political parties and institutions will be at the forefront of the discussion, so we looked beyond the cover.

Here is a list of topics most closely associated with the shutdown conversations on social media over the past 48 hours. We decided to skip the obvious ones and focus our attentions on the, well, less predictable ones.



What did we learn?


The great thing about social media data is that the number of angles from which you can look at it is virtually endless.

Through social listening we can learn much more than what is waiting for us on the surface. We looked past the social anxiety and general uproar about the shutdown, and discovered a whole array of delightfully snarky reactions to the crisis. So let us dig in.




If you ever want to learn what the online community cares about, social media is the place to go.

The shutdown followed that pattern, taking over all available social media outlets. But within the shutdown discussion, there was one thing that caught our attention: GTA. Grand Theft Auto.

At first we thought everyone got excited that due to the shutdown they have more time to enjoy the online version of GTA V that just came out. To our surprise, when we looked into the issue, we realized that the social media users obviously know more than we do.


Naturally this commentary is nothing more than a pretty sharp joke (we hope), but it is a great example of a situation in which a popular topic emerges through the clutter.


Pickup Lines


The second trend we fell in love with emerged around midday, as the news about the shutdown begun to sink in.

As a nice point of comic relief, the social universe begun coming up with shutdown-inspired ways to get a date. The hashtag #ShutdownPickupLines became popular and found its way to traditional media outlets, including the Washington Post and NPR.

It is truly a great example of how social media and traditional media intertwine and can grow together. Even though the pickup lines were only a short-lived fad on Twitter, they remained present in the media space much longer, due to the buzz they created.


In other words, if you want to know what will be big in the media tomorrow, look at social media today.

And here are a few #ShutdownPickupLines that we liked the most:



Taco Bell


Finally, what makes social media different from other platforms in the situation of crisis is that there is no turf more perfect for a viral campaign.

As it turns out, Taco Bell’s shutdown Twitter trend happened without any activity on Taco Bell’s side whatsoever! It all began with a few tweets coming from unrelated but popular handles right around midnight of New York time.


Soon after, other users jumped on the bandwagon and Taco Bell became a trending topic within the government shutdown debate. Turns out that people do not care if the government works or not, as long as they can get their tacos.

Like most content that goes viral on social media, Taco Bell was not a long-lived topic of conversation.

When the first wave of fascination calmed down (and people went to sleep), so did the trend in general.


We can’t help but wonder how much bigger this trend could have become had Taco Bell capitalized on it and joined the conversation.

After all, right timing, catchy concept and a little bit of luck and you might just be as successful as Oreo was with their Super Bowl blackout ad. And the stage was already set for Taco Bell by the general public too!

Maybe there was a reason why the fast food giant did not want to get involved. Maybe they just enjoyed the free buzz. Regardless, the Taco Bell / government shutdown trend shows just how easy it is to mark your presence in a highly coveted social media space if you go viral.

You can be sure that we will keep monitoring the situation, as the social media scene changes constantly and new interesting trends are bound to emerge. We are still secretly hoping for a great branded viral campaign that everyone will talk about!

PS: Congrats to President Obama’s PR staff for making it through the day! The President was tweeted and re-tweeted at over 66 thousand times. On a  brighter note, at least Mr. Obama’s Klout score is guaranteed to go up, eh?

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