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Using Social Data to Measure the Success of the First Ever Round-the-World Solar Flight Interview

Interview By Hannah Tregear on April 4th 2017

In July 2016, Solar Impulse, a solar-powered aircraft capable of flying day and night without a single drop of fuel, completed its record-breaking voyage around the world.

Swiss explorers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg were the driving force behind the adventure and took turns piloting the single-seater airplane, crossing Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the USA, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Middle East.

This historic feat was accomplished over 23 days of flight and 17 legs, covering 43,041 km.

solar impulse

The primary aim for Solar Impulse went beyond breaking records. Instead, it was to demonstrate that clean technology and solutions, such as those in use on Solar Impulse, are viable and have the potential to improve society and provide new economic opportunities.

Having concluded the flight, the Solar Impulse Foundation has since established the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions (WAES) in order to federate the main actors in the field of clean technologies in order to bring efficient solutions to the environmental and health challenges of our world.

Post-voyage, Solar Impulse worked with the Brandwatch Research Services team to help answer key business questions about the campaign, using social data.

The Brandwatch Research Services team is a group of world-class researchers with a combined 40 years of experience in analyzing social. Their experience working with hundreds of multinational organizations equips them well to answer any business question.

After the research had been delivered to Solar Impulse, we spoke with Vincent Colegrave-Juge, Head of Public Affairs at Solar Impulse, to discover social listening helped with their post-campaign analysis. 

solar impulseHi Vincent, thank you for talking to us. Can we start by asking what led you to social listening in the first place?

Our aim was to carry out an action that would capture the imaginations of people from around the world, to spread the message of clean and efficient energy solutions.

It was important to understand to what extent and in what ways we had reached people, understand what messages or content had resonated most with our audiences, and use these learnings for our future activities with World Alliance for Efficient Solutions (WAES).

We also wanted to identify whether our impact was limited to the notion of a solar-powered flight, or if we had impacted upon the overall ‘cleantech’ discussion.

Lastly we also sought to understand how our performance measured to other relevant players in the field.

What end goal did you have in mind by using social listening?

Our situation was quite unique – the notion of a solar-powered flight around the world was not traditional. It also covered a significant amount of time, and included many moments when the plane itself was not in the air.

As such, we hoped to measure a number of elements; the peaks and troughs, were we able to retain attention when we weren’t flying, did the narrative resonate with people, does our message extend to clean technologies in general, and have we earned credibility as a source of information and thought leadership on the subject.

Our KPI’s included:

  • Overall reach
  • Where and through what activities were we seeing greatest engagement
  • Benchmarking against other players talking about clean technologies and sustainability in general.

We wished to measure our impact across both traditional and social media channels, and did so using a variety of approaches (talking about the journey itself, the technology behind it, and generating conversation more generally on clean technology and sustainability) and types of engagement (blog, photo, video, live broadcast, etc.).

solar impulse

What specific types of information were you looking to gather?

There was certainly an urge to take the learnings from the whole mission and understand what did and didn’t work.

It was also important to us to identify the types of content and messages that were successful and would lend themselves to our future activities with WAES.

Furthermore, we wanted to understand which types of content worked and in which contexts – be it our activities or external events. We also used more granular data to measure our success relative to other channels and voices.

What insights did you find most useful from the Research Services team?

The report identified that Solar Impulse created buzz and overtook volumes for general discussion around clean and solar energy. The brand also drove peaks within clean energy conversations, demonstrating the impact that the flight had on discussion around environmentally friendly power sources.

The Research Services team also highlighted that posts by Solar Impulse engaged a greater number of authors than the entities selected to compare and benchmark our success.

Furthermore, Solar Impulse succeeded in receiving a greater share of positive mentions and a higher net sentiment score than its peers.

From the analysis, we saw that recurring topics within clean energy and solar power conversation often revolved around large-scale infrastructure projects, the electric automotive company Tesla, and positive business stories around solar power.

Recurring top Authors within clean and solar energy conversation included news sites and advocates of clean energy. This suggests a strong consumer appetite for positive stories around the business of clean energy and big energy infrastructure projects run by governments.

What does success of the whole campaign look like to you and how did you measure that success?

Thanks to the research, we were pleased to see that we received significant pickup at a variety of moments throughout the testing period, in particular at the start of the flight (March – July 2015) and the final stages, especially the concluding stage in Abu Dhabi (July 2016).

Our social media was met with great success, and we were satisfied with our pickup by traditional media outlets. Our greatest successes came from posts, including images over landmarks and live videos or interviews from the cockpit of the plane.

Significant personalities made mention of Solar Impulse, most notably UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Thanks to Brandwatch Analytics we were able to recorded some fantastic results from the campaign:

  • 22 millions pageviews, 3.5 million unique users and 12,106 questions asked by the audience on Solar Impulse website
  • 30 live interviews from the cockpit
  • 25 million live videos views cross platform (YouTube, Livestream, Periscope)
  • 2,570,439 likes, 274,790 shares,133,290 comments on Facebook
  • 1.150 billion impressions and 150,000 posts on Twitter with #futureisclean

solar impulse

Will you be acting upon any of the insights identified in the research report?

The report from Brandwatch allowed us to back our impressions of how our communication activities had gone, and give greater detail with hard data and trends that we will be able to learn and build upon.

Our next activity, the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, first launched at COP22, will build on the momentum generated by Solar Impulse to further encourage the use of and implementation of clean and efficient solutions, and federate the primary actors in the ‘cleantech’ sector.

We were happy with the report delivered by the Brandwatch Research Services team. It enabled us to consider how we might use similar support from data analytics in the future – the questions we would ask and the manner in which we would frame our approach.

With regard to our primary activities, it enables us to maintain momentum and build upon the credibility we have earned through Solar Impulse, and target interested groups and individuals to support our activities with the Alliance.

A huge thank you to Vincent for talking to us. We were delighted to work with Solar Impulse and wish them the very best for their next mission, we’ll be keeping an eye on activities online.


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