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Published August 7th 2012

How Fractions of a Second Can Become Online Domination

Usain Bolt established himself as the fastest human to ever have lived over the weekend, setting the social world alight with his devastating Olympic record performance and earning the much-coveted gold medal for Jamaica.

Bolt joins a tiny few to have won the race at consecutive Olympiads, though his opponents were just a solitary injury away from helping Sunday’s nights event from becoming the first race in which all eight runners clocked a time of under ten seconds.

We thought it would be fun to look at what the world had to say about the athletes, and that we did, in the only way we know how: social media.

We tuned the Brandwatch device to the precise 100m wavelength and tracked the buzz around the eight sprinters competing in the final, listening to the social noise taking place both before and after the 10 seconds of madness (from 8pm-midnight on Sunday).

So, as expected, super-athlete Usain Bolt wipes the floor with his competition, amassing over four fifths of the tweets, status updates, posts and other online activity that we are able to track at Brandwatch about the 100m runners.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to see that the finishing positions of the sprinters aren’t too far off their rankings when pitted in terms of volume of online mentions.

Could there be a correlation with raw speed and propensity to be included in tweets? Well at face value, there absolutely is. Bolt and Blake placed first and second in both charts, while Tyson Gay managed third place in the social chart, but fourth in the actual race.

Powell shows up in fourth in share of voice, though his injury after ~60m meant that he stumbled down to last place in the race. This data suggests that eighth place probably wasn’t where he would have placed had he not picked up the niggle.

Bolt’s lion share of the tweets compared to the relatively insignificant discussion of athletes coming in the lower positions suggests an exponential relationship between the runners and their share of voice.

We’ve removed Powell’s data, as his stumble produced an anomalous result.

The relationship is so tilted towards the winner that even when the data is plotted on a Log 10 scale, the line is almost flat. This chart shows that the higher the position of the athlete in the placing, the larger the share of voice: to a logarithmic scale of 10 (though the athletes actually receive a slightly bigger share of voice than that scale would predict).

So, the athlete sitting in first place (Usain Bolt) received 1,000~ times more mentions than the second placed-athlete (Yohan Blake) did, and 10,000~ times more mentions than the seventh-placed athlete (Richard Thompson).

The extent of Bolt’s domination on social media far exceeds the domination he exerts on the track, but these tiny fractions of a second are exaggerated on an epic scale when the social media magnifying glass is whipped out.

It illustrates the winner-takes-it-all nature of social media. Market leaders can very well be like gold medals, and being first place can put you in a position to dominate the field.

Keep an eye on our blog for continued social media analysis of the London Olympics.

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