Fidget Spinners: Have They Reached Peak Popularity? (Or, When Will This Madness End?)

Fidget spinners are taking over the world. From classrooms to offices, the spinning toys (that spin, and only spin), are wielded by children and grown-ups alike.

In fact, according to @SliceIntel, they now account for 17% of daily toy sale in the US.

Fidget spinner hype has been growing steadily, with thousands taking to the internet to rant and rave about the craze. So far, fidget spinners have peaked at over 150k posts in a single day.


But like every playground trend, the sun will go down on fidget spinners. And, for some, the inevitable death of the fidget spinner can’t come soon enough.

What are fidget spinners?

In case you’ve not come across one just yet (and you will soon), fidget spinners are a handheld device with a central circle that’s held by the user while the outer part of the contraption spins.

They are said to relieve stress and anxiety as well as help children and adults with ADHD. The science behind them, however, appears to be dubious.

Hate for fidget spinners

/>There’s no shortage of bad feeling for fidget spinners.

Many teachers banned them.

Even dogs hate them.

Look how closely the resemble the creepy carpet in The Shining. They must be evil.

Searching for words like “annoying” near “fidget spinners” reveal thousands of mentions from frustrated commenters, suggesting that while they might be helpful for the user, they’re distracting for the people around them.

Love for fidget spinners

That said, the social data doesn’t necessarily mirror the utter disgust I’ve experienced in my own bubble of fidget spinner skeptics.

Generally speaking, sentiment-categorized mentions are skewed positively towards fidget spinners (around 65% positive, 35% negative). Positive mentions have been growing and trending above negative for the last week or so, suggesting we are reaching a peak in popularity (if it hasn’t already happened).

Where is the love coming from?

People can’t seem to agree on them. This map of geo-tagged mentions in the US demonstrates just how divisive fidget spinners are.

baristas expectedly hating on Unicorn Frappuccinos more than the general population in our recent Starbucks analysis) that’s not what I found.

This chart shows sentiment-categorized mentions from the two groups of authors.


Perhaps teachers are more sympathetic to them than we think.

Also fairly unexpectedly, men seem to be singing the praises of fidget spinners more than women.



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Is the controversy harmless?

Fidget spinners have provided the internet with a light-hearted debate, like whether the dress is black or gold, in a time of heavy news and political upheaval.

But is the trend harmless? The spinners were originally designed for people who struggle in the classroom, but the mass uptake, debate and sometimes ridicule that surrounds them could mean that the people who find them most useful could suffer.

This tweet is one of the most popular in the fidget spinner conversation over the last week.

Taking a longer term view, we’ve also seen some inter-generational friction in the tweets (and some of it between very close “generations”).

Ian Bogost of The Atlantic has, perhaps, the most depressing take on fidget spinners.

The same values that the fidget spinner symbolizes, like innovation and individualism, are supposed to produce a glorious future: life-extending technology, on-demand delivery, and hyperloop transit. But in truth, progress has ground to a halt. In its place: an infinite supply of gewgaws, whether apps or memes or tops. Each fashions a new itch, whose scratch offers a tiny, temporary relief that replaces broader comforts.

Of course, an infinite supply of gewgaws is the least of our worries.

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Which Day is Leg Day? Social Insights On Gym Goers’ Online Habits

Regular full body workouts aren’t the common fitness advice of the internet. If you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle and punch your way through a forest, the internet will return a matrix of complex workout regimes.

Many of these are just trying to sell a $67 ‘shredded in 7 days’ ebook on Instagram, or lure you to their ‘Crossfit Memes’ Facebook page to scrape your demographic information. A few communities do sincerely feel , and become disciples of a specific workout plan.

Some recommend , and offer an app to help you through it. Most commonly, the self-taught experts on bodybuilding forums and message boards will advise on some kind of ‘split’, or ‘bro-split’. This involves working out a specific muscle group on a specific day.

Over the last two years, people have shared these workouts over 2 million times on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and even 4chan’s fitness ‘/fit’ imageboard. We’ve captured this data, , to find some patterns.


New Years Resolutions don’t stick, . Over last year, workout-related posts decreased by 50%. In January, people shared their workouts over 100,000 times – in December it was 53,503.

That’s still a huge amount of social capital. Yet, not all workouts were created equal. Isolating legs (hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps) received seven times more mentions than its closest competitior – chest day. 

By digging into the data a little further, the reason for leg day’s massive popularity online is revealed. Novice aesthetically minded bodybuilders tend to place all their efforts in working the upper body. This has been called by veteran forum posters. Skipping ‘leg day’ is a cardinal sin in these communities. Therefore, when gym goers successfully hit the squat rack, they tell people about it.

Also, we found many posts that mentioned two muscle groups in the same day. Such as ‘chest and back day’, or ‘arm and abs’ day. We didn’t count these in the totals below. ‘Leg day’, however, was rarely mentioned in conjunction with other muscle groups.


Depending on which day you hit the gym, the popular equipment will vary.

Most gym goers have their own personal routine which they repeat, week-in, week-out. Start the week with chest, go easy on weekends, squats on Wednesday, et cetera. They might think it’s unique to them, but they’re wrong.

Using />

Squatting on leg day reaches a distinct peak on Wednesday. That near-holy ritual of trying to do a half-sit while carrying something really heavy isn’t attempted on weekends. In fact, workouts in general see a bit of a slump at the weekend and pick up mid-week.

The chest (strained by bench presses, flyes, wide pushups, and pullovers) is the exception. By a significant margin, it rises on Monday. To a novice, there’s no obvious reason for this. To an experienced gym goer (like we’ve been stalking this whole article) it’s obvious: chest day is fun.

As the chest muscles are larger than, for example, arms, you can move a much heavier weight. That means looking cooler in the gym, getting more immediate post-workout swole and turning more heads when you hit shower.

Put more eloquently by internet poet Noel Castanza:

Learning that chest day is best day can be enlightening for folks trying to take advantage of the energized, rabid fitness community on social media. With middle-sized fitness niche pages , there’s bound to be a lot of money thrown away by people who don’t understand it. So, save those squatting memes for a Wednesday.

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Will the Return of Twin Peaks Appeal to an Impatient Generation? The Data Tells

Black coffee and cherry pie may appear to be two unrelated foodstuffs to many, myself included up until this weekend.

But for fans of the television classic Twin Peaks, they denote the favorite pick-me-ups of Special Agent Dale Cooper who was last seen in the Red Room at the Black Lodge in the final episode of the series which aired in 1991.

Some 26 years later, the show is back and as recognizably undecipherable as it ever was.

The return of the show, directed by David Lynch, is an interesting choice from the Showtime network. While surreal crime/horror offerings along the lines of American Horror Story have done well with younger audiences recently, the slower moving format of Twin Peaks may go down awkwardly with a generation accustomed to frantically second-screening.

That said, there’s still a loyal cult following of the original iterations as Sunday’s premiere showed.

The beginning of the show, featuring the famous title sequence, saw the highest peak in mentions as viewers got excited to settle into the new season. “Can’t wait” and the fact that people had waited over 25 years were among the trending words and phrases in the first five minutes of air time.


Reviewing the first two hours of Twin Peaks madness, the Guardian’s Mark Lawson claims “Anyone coming fresh to the cult is likely to have been utterly bewildered.”

While other reviewers described it as “familiarly inscrutable.” The slow pace of Twin Peaks, and its abundance of mismatching puzzle pieces, is not for everyone it seems.

The antithesis of instant gratification

@Badnecklace offers wise words on the new season.

Her advice certainly wasn’t heeded by @orlar35.

Nor was it by the 73 people who tweeted the words “bored” or “boring” in their commentary in the 12 hours following the show’s start at 9pm ET.

@MsHappyDieHappy was unimpressed with those who chose to live tweet the show as if it were a more family-friendly and easier-to-decipher Doctor Who episode.

Twin Peaks is not necessarily a social friendly show – something that younger viewers may find frustrating. But does one have to have been a fan of the previous seasons to understand or enjoy the current one?

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Watching the originals

Whether or not someone needs to have watched the old Twin Peaks seasons in order to understand the new one isn’t entirely clear.

In one case where I found someone asking about this someone replied with a fish riding a bike.

That said, I did find over a thousand people discussing watching the originals between May 15th and the morning of the 22nd.

The overwhelming majority of them were talking about “re-watching” the show, as opposed to watching the originals for the first time, but we did find plenty of people enquiring about where to find the originals and saying they needed to watch the originals before the new release.

The future of Twin Peaks

Given how many re-watchers compared to new watchers there were, our guess is that the latest season of Twin Peaks could be a slow burner.

We found a significant number of people complaining that they hadn’t finished their re-watch yet and thus couldn’t start the new season til it was finished.

Meanwhile, if newer viewers are going to take the time to re-watch the originals before starting the newer season it could grow even more slowly.

It also appears to appeal more to male audiences (around 57% of gender-categorized authors discussing the show in the last week were male).


Perhaps this will level out as more episodes are released and the show grows its audience, but time will tell.

Based on how the data looks, I think Twin Peaks will remain a cult favorite and probably won’t reach the dizzying mention spikes of the likes of a show like Game of Thrones.

Compare the spikes to an average episode of GoT and you’ll find it achieves around 10% of the mentions per minute. (For clarity, with GoT we’re just looking at tweets, but with Twin Peaks we’re looking at mentions across social media).

But, given the unpredictable nature of the series and the talent behind it, perhaps it’ll be a much bigger hit than we expect. Who knows?

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How FOX used social data to create a 320% increase in positive sentiment


Unpicking the Audience for Alien: Covenant

The Alien series is back and, as per usual, it’s scary af.

Released in the US on the 19th May, Alien: Covenant is the sixth installment of the overall Alien series (it’s a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus but takes place before 1979’s Alien).

The Brandwatch React team doesn’t like to be scared. The Brandwatch React team prefers the regulated, aptly lit, air freshened familiarity of a tidy office than the sticky, sweaty, confined arena of spookiness that is the cinema playing Alien: Covenant. That’s why we have so much data.

Today we analyze the online audience surrounding the movie using Brandwatch Audiences. In a matter of minutes, we were able to break down the groups of authors that followed @AlienAnthology and @AlienMoviesUK on Twitter by a number of different demographic criteria, as well as look at the trending content in that audience.

Where are the ladies at?

This is a heavily male audience, with 80% of gender-categorized authors being dudes.

This is interesting given the strong female lead, “Daniels”. Katherine Waterston, who plays the character is apparently well aware of the comparisons that will likely be drawn between Daniels and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, who is widely celebrated as one of the first action heroines. Obviously this doesn’t translate into a guaranteed high turnout from female audience members, but one might expect a little more interest.


Time will tell whether women are more likely to talk about the film as it opens in the US than follow the dedicated Twitter accounts.

Our data suggests that the proportion of women discussing Alien: Covenant on 12th May (when the movie was released in the UK) was around 27%.

Movie buffs

People who follow the Alien Twitter accounts in question tend to be really interested in movies.

It makes sense, given that it is a movie. But also that the movie is a sequel to a prequel. Kind of like a non-Star Wars fan is probably less likely to go see a Star Wars movie if they’ve not seen all of the others. If you’ve seen all of the Alien movies and are a big enough fan to like the page, it makes sense that you’re more of a movie buff.


(Note: The percentages shown above represent the portion of that audience compared to the rest of Twitter. For example, from this you could deduct that movie lovers are 553% more likely to follow one of the Alien movie Twitter accounts than other accounts on Twitter).

It shows in their trending stories, too.


Compare that to followers of @beourguest (the Beauty and the Beast movie Twitter account) and you’ll see a noticeable difference.


Trending amongst the @beourguest conversation were Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran and Harry Potter.

While there was an entertainment focus, it certainly wasn’t all about the latest movie news. It’s safe to say that Alien: Covenant is attracting more classic movie-lovers than Disney’s hit film.

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Brandwatch Audiences also looks at the profession of authors. We thought it would be interesting to examine the differences between followers of Alien: Covenant and those interested in a film with a similar genre and age group target.

When we compared those following Alien: Covenant with followers of upcoming horror flick The Mummy we found that, while the differences were subtle, there was a higher proportion of students interested in The Mummy, while there were more teachers or lecturers interested in Alien: Covenant.

If you’re seeing the movie this weekend you may not be surprised to see a slightly more mature audience in the seats around you than when you go to see The Mummy later in the year.


^If you’re an Audiences customer, charts like these are part of some exciting ongoing developments being made to the platform. Watch this space!

Getting highly personal with the audience

The marketing surrounding Alien: Covenant has been terrifyingly good. If you’re not a fan of personalized marketing, maybe hide behind the sofa now.

Those who retweeted have been receiving scary reminders ever since, with their names incorporated into branded videos.

Here’s what our friend John McCarthy of has been getting so far.

Super fans can also create their very own “Walter” (built to serve) at .

This level of personalization is rarely seen – viewers of the UK’s Channel 4 on demand service were actually called out by name in the terrifying Alien: Covenant ad.

It’s certainly proof that this Alien movie has adapted to technology that may not have even been imaginable when the first in the series was released over thirty years ago. It’s also a little unnerving. We’ve discussed the blurry boundaries of intriguing and creepy marketing before, and the Alien example may be exciting for some.

If calling out viewers of an ad by name is something that catches on, it won’t be long til somebody oversteps the mark.

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How FOX used social data to create a 320% increase in positive sentiment


Is Avril Lavigne Dead? A Social Data Investigation Into The Popular Theory

Why does the internet have to go and make things complicated? Today, once again, the theory surrounding the death of Avril Lavigne, and replacement by a lady named Melissa, has resurfaced.

And, once again, we fell down the rabbit hole.

Why is it back?

Basically, this Twitter thread went viral. If you’re not aware of the general theory, go ahead. See you in five minutes (or maybe five hours depending on how deep you go).

What can social data tell us about the “Is Avril Lavigne dead?” conspiracy theory?

The theory has been around for a long time.

We used Unlimited Historical Data to search for mentions of Avril Lavigne near “clone” or “replaced” or “lookalike” (and other terms/misspellings) for the past three years. As you can see, there’ve been bumps in interest in the story for a while (although, admittedly, they’re kind of drowned out by the current huge spike.


Going back further with Google Trends, you can see how the question “is Avril Lavigne dead” has grown in search popularity. Presumably, the trend grew as the pile of totally legit evidence towered higher.


1. A good story never dies (but Avril Lavigne did, in 2003).

One of the most famous artifacts in the Avril Lavigne conspiracy theory story is the Brazilian blog “Avril esta morta“, dated in May 2011. It’s been six years and this theory still hasn’t been put to bed.

Everyone loves a conspiracy theory and, it appears, is willing to spend chunks of their working day examining the sometimes dubiously curated evidence for a compelling and dramatic (yet often fairly trivial) narrative.

There’s never been a shortage of suspense-loaded dramas in the public consciousness, real or unreal. However, with Netflix and other networks continuing to invest in drawn out true-crime stories like Making a Murderer, it seems there’s a real hunger for stories with macabre themes right now. That might be why the story of Avril Lavigne’s alleged demise has resurfaced again so enormously.

2. There are multiple theories, and the details are very inconsistent.

Some people think she died in 2002, some in 2003, some in 2004. Others, who are just stumbling on the trend, probably think she died this week.

Some think it is her altered handwriting, others that she now prefers wearing dresses as opposed to pants on the red carpet. Some think it is her makeup preferences, others the way that her eyes are a slightly different shape.

But the overwhelming theme is that she is dead and that a body-double named Melissa Vandella took her place.

Maybe it’s not Melissa Vandella, though – we searched for mentions of “Avril Lavigne lookalike” and found people posting fairly convincing pictures of themselves tagged with the words. Maybe it’s not just Melissa Vandella. Maybe there are hundreds of Avril Lavigne lookalikes. Maybe everyone is Aril Lavigne in the right light.

3. It’s pretty hilarious, really.

You only need to have a quick scroll through Twitter to find the “evidence” and resulting sarcasm.

Who’s talking about Avril Lavigne’s death?

Female authors are around doubly as likely as male authors to talk about the conspiracy theory online.


We also thought we’d take a look at what the real fans were saying using Brandwatch Audiences. Trending amongst the tweets of people who use the words “Avril Lavigne” in their Twitter bios (of which there were over 9,000) were pictures of old vs new Avril as well as a picture circling Avril’s nose (a common part of the theory is that her nose shape has changed).


When will it end?

We may not be able to reveal whether the conspiracy theory is true using social data alone, but we know when it will be solved.

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A Shambles of Our Time: Learnings From The Fyre Festival, in Five Lord of the Flies Quotes

If you’ve been on social media in the last few days, the Fyre Festival probably doesn’t need an introduction.

In case you need a recap, the event was organized by rapper Ja Rule and his business partner Billy McFarland, and was billed as a “transformative experience” on a private island featuring huge artists and sporting an exorbitant price tag.

It was endorsed by an array of some of the most influential people on social media (including Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid), and hundreds handed over their cash for what looked to be two weekends of lavish indulgence.

Things didn’t quite go to plan.

As guests arrived at the event it quickly became clear that things weren’t ready.

Using the same platforms the festival organizers had used to relentlessly hype up the event, disgruntled guests didn’t take long to tell their stories online, and the festival was quickly likened to the Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies.



In the spirit of the social media reviews of the festival, the Brandwatch React team decided to unpick the Fyre Festival 2017 as it happened in social data, peppering our analysis with illustrative quotes from William Golding’s classic story.

“The fire is the most important thing on the island”

Just as ship-wrecked Ralph prioritized the island fire to attract attention, the Fyre Festival organizers were all about the hype.

Vanity Fair released a fairly cringeworthy leaked pitch deck revealing business intentions for the festival, and reported that the organizers had recruited an army of 400 influential “fyre-starters” (in this case, big name influencers offered big incentives to promote the event) – more on them later.

According to the article, these influencers pulled in 300 million impressions on their promotional posts in 48 hours.

As expected, the festival generated healthy, excitable mentions in the lead-up, but as things began to go wrong the sentiment changed.

A few tweets about confusing travel details gave way to an enormous influx of anger as more guests arrived at the site to find that their tents weren’t ready and their luggage inaccessible.

As anger grew, journalists and commenters reading the comments took notice, and it didn’t take long for online outrage to peak (at one point we measured 20k mentions in a single hour).


While the fyre-starters and other promotional material did an incredible job of creating hype and selling tickets, it was all smoke and mirrors. The reality of what was waiting for party-goers on the island compared to the inflated expectations is astounding.

“Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along”

Despite the mainly positive mentions, among our data preceding the event we found a number of skeptics with doubts about whether the festival would succeed. One of the most prolific was a mysterious tweeter who appeared to predict the chaos and disappointment a long time before everyone else.

The account claims not to be involved with the organization of the festival, but after joining Twitter in March 2017 they added a series of tweets criticizing the marketing and logistics. also predicted trouble, asking ten days before the outrage whether the organizers were in over their heads.

“He lost himself in a maze of thoughts that were rendered vague by his lack of words to express them.”

“This is NOT MY FAULT” wrote Ja Rule in a tweet explaining the ensuing chaos of the festival.

Meanwhile, McFarland publicly described the events as the “worst day of my life”.

The organizers acknowledged that they were unable to handle the situation and had to postpone the festival, but are keen to plug next year’s iteration.

Their apologies weren’t accepted too willingly by many of the stranded guests, and weren’t much of a consolation for those who claimed they heard nothing from the organizers before the full shambles of the situation came to light.

We’ve covered United Airlines. Generally, “NOT MY FAULT” in all caps is ill-advised.

“The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.”

The role of the “fyre-starters” in all of this represents an interesting debate.

Do they have some kind of moral responsibility for the Fyre Festival disaster? After all, they were the ones encouraging people to get tickets for a festival that never really happened.

Perhaps more interestingly, are they legally responsible? In many cases, the influencers failed to signify in their posts that they were promoting an event in exchange for a reward, something that the American Federal Trade Commission isn’t too keen on these days. If the Fyre Festival inspires any kind of crack down on influencers failing to make clear they are being paid for posts, some of the most well-known faces of Instagram could face severe consequences.

As Amelia Tait writes in the New Statesman, the real rich kids of the Fyre Festival aren’t the ones who are suffering. Many of the unimaginably wealthy fyre-starters simply deleted their promotional posts and canceled their flights while those who bought tickets in good faith were left in a less than ideal situation.

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On a separate note, had the festival been a success it would probably be held up as a concrete example of the ongoing power of influencer marketing (and that perhaps there’s more to be said for celebrity influencers than advocates of micro-influencers let on).

Instead, it showed that we can literally trust no one.

“Maybe there is a beast…maybe it’s only us.”

Over-hyping, inflating the truth and downright lying appear to be becoming common practice in our post-truth times. At the same time, building trust around a brand and being authentic has never been more important.

As marketers (and, often, as competitors for eyeballs), perhaps this is something we should all be conscious of.

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Social Outrage: Redheads Are Fighting For a Long-Awaited Ginger Emoji

March 22nd 2017 heralded a highlight in modern day calendars; the news that new emojis were coming. The online community went wild in reaction to the proposed emoji update released by Unicode, which will be realized on iOS this summer.

The update will bring the masses an exciting array of mythical creatures such as mermaids, elves, vampires, fairies, and zombies. It even includes extinct creates such as dinosaurs. Of course, more food has been added too with steak, pretzels, and even the humble broccoli joining the ranks.

However, in amongst all this excitement, there was a group of people who were once again disappointed.

The gingers.

Why isn’t there a ginger emoji?

/>In fact, it was the content of the latest update which really got the flame-haired folk frustrated, with many taking to social media to lament the fact that mythological beings had precedence over real life redheads. The inclusion of more arbitrary emojis appeared to add insult to injury, with the addition of what appeared to be people holding ‘spoons’ in a shower igniting further fury.

Redheads unite

The fight for redheaded representation has been steadily gaining momentum over the past seven months and with almost 15,000 mentions globally, the struggle has been real.

Every time Unicode release a new emoji update onto iOS, fiery redheads take to social media to exhibit their frustrations.


In the beginning, the demands were modest with redheads asking for a meager carrot as a way to express themselves.

However, with each update that passed and as the list of existing emoji became more complex, the auburn ambition began to increase.

When our humble demand for a carrot emoji was met, we got greedy. We wanted more. In the days leading up to, March 22nd 2017 there was buzz around the newest update. Would it include it the redheads? People were tentatively hopeful.

However, when news of the soon to be released update broke, auburn fury reached boiling point.

Again, some emojis were seen as surplus to requirement and authors irritated were by the latest magical and mythical inclusions.

Globally united gingers questioned what type of a world we live in where the undead, the extinct and those who shower with cutlery are represented before gingers.

Now, as a redhead myself, I am aware only we only make up 1-2% of the global population, but surely the volumes of redheads exceed the number of mermen? Or the current population of ‘man fairy’?

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Is there a burning auburn light at the end of the tunnel?

Unicode, the company responsible for creating emoji for Apple, have promised to address the issue in their next meet-up in response to the rising online pressure.

Furthermore, YouTuber and ginger activist CopperCab, of ‘gingers have souls’ fame, added his voice to the fight for justice, stating in an interview that redheads have suffered enough ‘setbacks because of our genetics such as being sunburned more easily.’ Despite this, there are people out there that still dispute his claims that gingers have souls, with some going as far as to suggest that there is already an emoji in existence which perfectly represents us…

Additionally, a petition started in the cultural home of the flame folk, Scotland, has gained almost 22,000 signatures thus far. Scotland has emerged as the frontier for this metaphorical battle, with the country boasting one of the largest percentages of redheads globally (the figure is estimated between 6-13%).

Perhaps we can be cautiously optimistic and perhaps, in the words of the infamous old Orange slogan, the future is bright, the future is orange? On that note, it is only natural to end on a tweet from my favourite corner of the web; Scottish Twitter.

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Lessons in Crisis Management From the United Incident

Early on Monday morning last week (April 10), I had my first exposure to the now infamous United Airlines PR crisis which went on to become one of the biggest news stories of 2017 to date.

In case you need reminding, or somehow managed to miss what will probably go down as the biggest social media crisis of all time, here’s a brief recap.

The crisis started with a series of Tweets and Facebook posts from several passengers about the treatment of Kentucky Doctor David Dao while on United Express Flight 3411. Many of the posts included videos shot on mobile phones, which showed Dr Dao being violently removed from his seat and dragged from the plane.

What happened next will live long in the memory as an example of how not to deal with a crisis in the social media age. The outrage that followed and the misplaced responses from United catapulted the crisis to front page news across the globe and sparked discussion about airline overbooking policies that could impact the entire industry.

My first exposure to the incident came on Twitter, which is where most of the outrage has played out. While scrolling on my timeline I noticed that two people I followed had ‘liked’ Jayse David’s Tweet, which at the time of writing has been retweeted over 170k times.

When I first watched the video I was obviously shocked by what I saw. I was also surprised that it had only amassed around 2,000 retweets despite the Tweet timestamp showing that it had been published several hours before. Looking beyond Twitter, a Google News search of ‘United 3411’ revealed only a handful of articles covering the story. Things were about to change shortly, but at this point, the conversation appeared relatively quiet.

Like many people, I’ve paid close attention to the crisis over the last week, watching as the internet’s angry mob mobilized, while shaking my head at how United responded. With each new development, my thoughts came back to my first exposure on Twitter and the relative quiet before the storm. In today’s ultra-connected digital world, why did it appear to take so long for the story to grow?

Using Brandwatch Analytics, I collected all the conversation surrounding United on Twitter over the last week. By tracking how those first few hours played out, I hoped to learn more about how the story grew.

The first Tweets appear online

The first Tweets about the incident starting appearing online between 7-8PM EST on Sunday, April 9. Jayse David’s Tweet was published at 8.01PM EST.

The following chart plots the volume of Tweets about United during the first 48 hours. As you see there wasn’t any initial spike in conversation in the immediate hours following the incident.

Most enterprises these days will use a social listening platform like Brandwatch Analytics for crisis detection. It’s one of the most commonly employed social listening use cases. Enterprises can monitor real-time conversations about their brand and set up alerts to inform them when there are changes of note.

The problem for United is that any alerts set up to track a spike in conversations wouldn’t have notified anyone that a situation was unfolding. In fact, conversations about United actually decreased in the following hours.

The timing of the incident might have played a big part in the relatively slow burn of conversation. While 8 pm isn’t exactly late in the day, it might just have passed by a large proportion of the English-speaking internet population who were logging off for the day.

It wasn’t until 5 am EST the next day when online conversations about United saw a spike that was out of the norm. A social listening alert set to detect increases in conversation might have just started to notice something was happening, nearly 10 hours after the first Tweets appeared.

In just a two hours United would go from under 1,000 mentions an hour to nearly a quarter of a million mentions between 12-1 pm EST.

As @DonaldKim helpfully pointed out to United, they’d just made the front page of Reddit.

By this point, the slow burn had turned into a small fire and it was about to turn into a raging blaze of negativity.

Tracking negative sentiment

If United couldn’t have relied on a spike in overall volume to trigger an alert, they might have been able to rely on a change in sentiment to tell them that something was up — an increase in negative sentiment on social media demands attention.

The chart below shows the number of Tweets about United that were categorized as negative during this period.

As you can see, there is no noticeable increase in the volume of negative mentions until 8 am the next day. A crisis alert relying on an increase in negative mentions wouldn’t have had the necessary spike due to the lack of total mentions in the early hours after the incident.

When the total volume of conversation doesn’t increase dramatically, net sentiment can offer a way to detect unusual shifts in sentiment. A greater proportion of negative mentions will result in net sentiment dropping, which might be enough to trigger a crisis alert.

For United, there was a change in net sentiment following the first series of Tweets.

Net sentiment around the brand dropped to negative at 8 pm EST, however just two hours later net sentiment was back up to positive.

Further investigation shows that the incident on Flight 3411 was going head to head with an overwhelmingly positive story that involved their brand — Carter Wilkinson’s quest for a year’s free supply of Wendy nuggets.

Using topic analysis in Brandwatch we can see that at 10 pm, the conversation around United was being dominated by their promise of a free flight for Cater Wilkinson.

The need for user-defined sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis is undoubtedly a powerful tool for detecting crisis, but an out-of-the-box solution might not fully meet the needs of every business.

By looking at all the topics surrounding the incident we can see that ‘overbook’ is a common phrase. For most industries ‘overbook’ would be an irrelevant phrase and as such might not be flagged as negative by some sentiment analysis rules.

Brands in the market for social listening should be wary of platforms offering a one-size-fits-all approach to sentiment analysis. Brandwatch Analytics allows users to come up with their own rules to define sentiment on top of our extensive library of rules that already exist. Using Brandwatch Analytics, United would have been able to create a rule that ensured every incoming mention containing ‘overbook’, ‘overbooked’ or ‘overbooking’ was automatically categorized as negative.

This user-defined approach to sentiment analysis might well have helped trigger an alert that would have notified United the second the story started to take hold.

Spotting ‘unknown unknowns’

A user-defined approach is undoubtedly far superior that an out-of-the-box solution, but what about issues that might be hard to predict that don’t relate to known issues? ‘Unknown unknowns’ are a big issue for crisis detection as most alerts are only programmed to react based on what we can anticipate.

In these instances, it’s sometimes best to let the machines do the work. At Brandwatch, we have a feature called Signals that doesn’t require users to define what triggers an alert. Instead, our algorithms analyze all the mentions relating to your brand to identify anything unusual. This could be a spike in conversations around a certain topic (overbooking), the appearance of a new hashtag (#flight3411), or the increase in retweets from a certain individual (in this instance, the Tweet by @JayseDavid).

Getting the context needed to respond accordingly

Of course, a lot of this article is theorizing about what United knew in those early hours. Even without a robust crisis alert system in place, the people manning the United Twitter account might have still been able to spot that something was building.

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In fact, despite the lack of conversation spike, it hadn’t fallen outside of United’s field of vision. The official United Twitter account was responding to initial Tweets about the incident requesting more information and promising to investigate the situation.

Around four hours later, United put out their first official statement to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.

I must preface this by saying that I’m not an expert in crisis communications, so I don’t want to suggest to United Airlines, or anyone else that I know exactly how they should have responded. However, I think it would be fair to say that the early responses to the incident landed badly and helped escalate the crisis to front page news.

A lot of the internet’s collective anger was directed at the choice of the language used by United when commenting on the incident.

The first official statement on Twitter from CEO, Oscar Munoz, drew intense ire, particularly for the use of the phrase “re-accommodate”.

This was the point where the conversation peaked with nearly a quarter of a million Tweets happening in the hour after the statement was published on Twitter.

Analyzing the common topics surrounding the incident before the statement, we can see that the most common phrases used by the public were “overbook” and “forcibly removed”.

This data analysis might have helped United understand which aspects of the conversation were important to address when releasing official statements. Despite the police’s involvement, there was no real conversation about ‘police brutality’. Instead, people were more fixated on the how the practice of overselling flights played a significant role in the events that unfolded, along with how the passenger was treated.

In the following days, United have released follow-up statements that addressed the key issues around overbooking that dominated the early conversation. There is a notable shift in the choice of language and sentiment used in Oscar Munoz’s second statement, which is a fairer reflection of the topics that were at the heart of the issue.

The ripple effect to other airline brands

The discussion around overbooking has not been isolated to United. This incident has thrust overbooking practices into the collective consciousness, with many people calling for there to be an industry-wide review of the policies relating to overselling flights.

Nearly a week after the incident, European airline, easyJet, were also making front page news after two customers were removed from an overbooked flight.

It was perhaps inevitable that the next airline to encounter an overbooking situation of a certain magnitude was likely to get dragged into the conversation. What happened to easyJet is a good reminder that a social media crisis can become a black hole drawing other brands towards it.

It’s an unfortunate part of crisis management that brands learn from mistakes — both their own and those committed by other brands. Perhaps the biggest lesson from the fallout of ‘United 3411’ is that brands can’t expect to brush past crisis communications with corporate spin. When they do respond, they need to put public’s interest first. They need to fully understand the important aspects of the conversation so they can effectively address the topics that really matter.

This is not our first post about United Airlines this year. Read our how leggings gave United their first taste of a social media crisis in 2017.

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What Can We Learn From 500k People Saying They Want A Vacation?

There’s nothing like a sunny getaway. Escaping the work, the noise, the never-ending stream of appreciative tweets… Maybe that’s just me.

Some say that we’re spending less time on vacation, but surely that’s not stopping us dreaming about getting away.

Well, according to our latest analysis, it definitely isn’t.

Over half a million “I want a vacation” tweets

Using Unlimited Historical Data we were able to look back over the last 12 months of Twitter conversations relating to vacations. In just minutes, we were able to discover over half a million instances where people talked about wanting or booking a vacation, or simply stating that they needed to get away from it all.

We dove down into the data to unearth insights that can tell us more about the trends and behaviors relating to vacations. Here’s what we learned.

Chasing the sun

June is undoubtedly the most popular month when people talk about wanting a vacation.


September, October, November, and December were not key times to talk about going on holiday. That’s probably down to the weather, although there’s definitely a boost in January despite the less-than-summery temperatures.

Perhaps, for some, the stress of the holiday season gets in the way of a relaxing break, or maybe travel-related New Year’s resolutions spark vacation discussion online. We found that Christmas was a common topic amid mentions between 1-3 January 2017, with a number of tweets talking about wanting something new to look forward to.

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Mid-week stress

Monday through to Wednesday are the most common times that people talk about wanting to get away. A coincidence, given that these are the start of the working week? We think not.


We might have predicted that the most mentions would occur on a Friday after a long week, but perhaps the proximity of a weekend break is enough to quell the need for a full on vacation.

Lunch time booking

12pm and 1pm ET appeared to be the most common times to discuss vacations.


Since there were so many mentions in the work week, we’d imagine many of these are driven by long days with a brief break in the middle in which to dream about a better place…

When do people want a vacation most?

According to our data, it’s Tuesdays in June between 12-1pm.

Why is this valuable?

Knowing when people are most tempted by a product is very different to knowing when people buy it most. That’s why mixing social data and sales data can make a beautiful combination.

While most holidays might get booked over the weekend or in the evening, knowing that people are most susceptible to tempting offers on a Tuesday lunchtime is a great tip for marketers working in the hospitality industry. Timing content publication and advertising spend to match these spikes can help brands capitalize on increased consumer intent.

Breaking it down by location, profession, or gender can help make these campaigns even more targeted. For example, zooming in on female students shows that they’re most in need of a holiday in April, with exams, stress and wanting a tan amongst the most common reasons used. There are multiple ways a brand could interact with these holiday-hungry students to get them an affordable deal that’ll get them through their long hours in the library.

Are you a journalist looking to cover our data? Give us a shout at for more information.

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United Airlines Mentions Exceed 1.5 Million in a Day As Passenger Dragged From Plane

United Airlines has seen a largely negative reaction on social media after footage surrounding a man being dragged from one of its planes went viral on Monday.

Mentions soared

United was recently embroiled in a storm of negative tweets after a passenger tweeted comments about passengers being blocked from boarding a plane because of their attire (you can read about that here), however, the reaction to the removed passenger has been far more significant.

On 26th March, when “LeggingsGate” saw United Airlines hitting the headlines, we tracked around 135k mentions of the brand in one day across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On the 10th of April, as the footage circulated around the internet, the brand was mentioned over 1.5 million times. Comparing the two peaks (#leggingsgate on 26th March and April 10th’s spike), there were around 1000% more mentions.


If you want an idea of what those comments contained, we took a look at sentiment-categorized mentions.

United had enjoyed a couple of days with an overwhelmingly positive sentiment – April 8th and 9th saw more than 91% of all sentiment-categorized mentions register as positive. The positivity stemmed from a tweet where United offered a free flight to the individual currently seeking 18 million retweets to get Wendy’s chicken nuggets free for a year.

However, the 10th April saw 69% of mentions categorized as negative, driven by the story surrounding the passenger being removed from the plane.


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What happened?

Passengers on United Airlines flight 3411 filmed as another passenger was forced off the airplane after it was overbooked.

The shocking visuals circulated quickly, with a tweet containing a video of the scene hitting the front page of Reddit early on Monday.


Here’s the tweet driving the main topic – please be warned that it contains fairly shocking footage:

Mentions climbed very quickly as it turned into one of the biggest stories of the day on social media.


Meanwhile, the top hashtags included the flight number and a number of boycott-related terms.


United Airlines’ CEO responded to the story with the following statement.

The power of images

Senior PR Data Analyst at Brandwatch, Kellan Terry, has a theory on why the mentions took off so dramatically.

The reason for the larger backlash this time comes down to visuals. The circulating video of a passenger being forcibly removed from the flight has caused mentions to soar. Without the video, even if fellow passengers had tweeted about the incident (without images and video), this happening wouldn’t have received the attention it has gotten.

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