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According to hitwise: “share of US Internet visits to Twitter increased 24% on Friday, April 17, the day of Oprah’s first Tweet. Comparing visits with the previous Friday, visits were up 43%.” Oprah is well recognized for the impact she can have on a product or service and these numbers seem to validate that. I started wondering, however, if coverage volume (irrespective of the influence, UMVs or circulations of a given publication) can be proven to have some sort of effect on the growth of a service. I decided to try to reverse engineer Twitter’s growth by looking at coverage of Twitter since its founding and the rate of increase in unique monthly visitors to Twitter.com.

Through Compete I could get monthly UMVs for Twitter going back 12 months (I could have paid for 2 years, but I’m not going to do that). I decided to restrict the media search to the same time frame. I conducted the media search with Factiva, and searched for all articles in all types of publications mentioning the word Twitter – which means I probably picked up about 100 or so unrelated articles a month (based on a quick search I did covering years preceding Twitter’s launch).

Here’s what I found:

  • Since April 2008 media coverage of Twitter has increased 2157%.
  • Increase in Twitter traffic has increased 832% in the same time frame.
  • The rate of increase of media coverage outpaced the rate of increase of UMVs to Twitter.com 9 out of the 12 months.

The following graph illustrates the findings:

Growth of coverage of Twitter and UMVs to Twitter.com

Growth of coverage of Twitter and UMVs to Twitter.com

So what does this mean? Um, probably not much. It does suggest that a highly covered service will have high traffic to its Website, but who really doubts that? It also suggests that the media is increasing its coverage of Twitter at a rate that outpaces Twitter’s growth, but I’m not completely comfortable with that conclusion as many people ‘experience’ Twitter without visiting the homepage.

I performed this analysis expecting to find that months of high Twitter growth would coincide with months of unusually high media coverage but that wasn’t always true. What I’m left with is the feeling that this type of analysis, if performed over enough years and enough companies, could begin to reveal some trends and tendencies that might allow us to prove a correlation between coverage and growth in traffic, but clearly this analysis is insufficient. It’s also worth noting that while Factiva does pick up a fair amount of online coverage, much was omitted. I did try using some blog search tools, but the results weren’t reliable enough to include in this post.

Yesterday Google News released a new timelines feature which enables users to visualize the ebb and flow of a given story over time.  Here’s the link to the Google News Blog post.

It doesn’t seem to work with every story and doesn’t appear to apply to actual searches.  Google’s post does, however, allude to some up-coming developments, so maybe that will be added (or maybe the timeline feature isn’t fully rolled out – everything’s in Beta in Googleland anyway).

Right now these timelines are a curiosity, however if they do become more functional – as I expect they will – they could provide users with a powerful way of understanding the news cycle.

However functional they become, timelines are something of a side-show, what i’d be more excited about is a Google News open API (if one exists someone let me know, I haven’t found it).   This post by Jeff Jarvis provides an overview of news media APIs and supplies some valuable links.

How might a news APIs help PR/marketing? Well, it will supercharge our ability to look at news and influencers as data points.  Public relations professionals would suddenly become data analysts.  How’s that for a disruptive change?

I spent the week crunching the number of times the words ‘the’, ‘of’ and ‘and’ appeared in tech trades and the MSM from 2004-2008 (and then made some projections for 2009).  While I certainly feel that this analysis has some meaning, I can’t escape the conclusion that it also has some severe limitations.  Here are the ones I see:

  • The words I chose may be the most frequently used words in the English language, but I have no proof that they appear in enough articles to be statistically relevant.  For all  I know journalists could be writing the same number of articles as always, while minimizing the use of the words I selected.
  • I can’t vouch for Factiva. Do they pick up everything? Is their database up to date? Might there be a large number of articles waiting to be loaded into the system? I don’t know.
  • Is this just evidence of journalism moving to new publishing platforms? The source lists I searched included some online content, but surely not all.  I may have evidence of traditional media shrinking, but that doesn’t mean journalism is any way diminished.

Any others? Let me know.  I believe my inferences are the correct ones but clearly my analysis is flawed.

The mainstream media (MSM) will publish 11% fewer articles in 2009 than in 2008; that’s 27% fewer articles than were published in 2006.

Let’s say that again: one out of every 4 articles published by the MSM in 2006 will go unpublished this year.

How did I come to this conclusion? Well, using the same approach as my previous posts I came up with the number of articles featuring the words ‘the’, ‘of’ and ‘and’ published by the MSM in Q1 2009.

I then checked every year since 2004 to see if Q1 articles represent 25% of the annual output (they do, but more on this later).

I then multiplied Q1 2009 coverage by 4 and got the result.

The following graph shows the expected decline in raw numbers, followed by a graph showing the year-over-year percent decline.

(Raw total of articles in MSM featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and' 2004 - 2009)

(Raw total of articles in MSM featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and' 2004 - 2009)

(Percent year-over-year change in number of MSM articles featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and', 2004 - 2009)

(Percent year-over-year change in number of MSM articles featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and', 2004 - 2009)

I decided to check traditional technology trade media as well. The result? Somewhat unexpectedly we can expect tech trades to publish about 5% more articles this year than last year – though still about 28% fewer articles than in 2006. (I didn’t do the Q1 comparison for tech trades).

The following shows raw numbers and percent change for tech trades.

(Raw total of articles in tech trade media featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and' 2004 - 2009)

(Raw total of articles in tech trade media featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and' 2004 - 2009)

(Percent year-over-year change in number of articles in tech trade media featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and', 2004 - 2009)

(Percent year-over-year change in number of articles in tech trade media featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and', 2004 - 2009)

One final thought. I said earlier that Q1 coverage in MSM historically represents 25% of total annual output. This isn’t precisely true. Over the past 2 years Q1 coverage represented 26% of the annual total. Not a huge difference I know, but it does seem to indicate declining rates of articles being published within the course of the past two years. I would expect this pattern to hold in 2009 as well, meaning the numbers are likely to be slightly worse than my projection.

Tomorrow I’ll touch on some of the limitations I see with this analysis.

Yesterday I posted some stats and graphs indicating traditional tech media are publishing 32% fewer articles today than in 2006.  I took the same methodology (see last post for detail) and applied it to major national US and business publications (as grouped by Factiva in their source list). The result:

Today there are about 18% fewer articles being published in the mainstream media then in 2006.

  • Articles with the word ‘the’ declined 18.2%, from a high of 1792011 in 2006 to a low of 1465854 in 2008.
  • Articles with the word ‘of’ declined 17.9% from a high of 1742164 in 2006 to a low of 1430187 in 2008.
  • Articles with the word ‘and’ declined 17.7% from a high of 1723305 in 2006 to a low of 1417414 in 2008

Here are the graphs:

(Raw total of articles featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and' 2004 - 2008)

(Raw total of articles featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and' 2004 - 2008)

(Percent year-over-year change in number of articles featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and', 2004 - 2008)

(Percent year-over-year change in number of articles featuring 'the', 'of' and 'and', 2004 - 2008)

Let me know what you think. Tomorrow I’ll make some projections for 2009.

I tend to be unmoved by the declining state of traditional media. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading the paper, but bankrupt publications and out-of-work journalists are evidence of nothing more than atrophied business models. People still want news; people still get news. Who cares if it comes on newsprint?

Nevertheless the current disruption has a real effect on our business; so much so that I’m frequently asked about the impact of layoffs, magazine closures, newspaper bankruptcies, etc. When a client asks these questions I tend to answer them by pointing to a recent development such as the closure of the Rocky Mountain News or the Washington Post’s decision to close its business section.

Intuitively most people understand that these developments translate into fewer opportunities for traditional media coverage but is that really true and, if so, by how many?

With these questions in mind I decided to count the number of articles appearing in technology trade media since 2004. To make this manageable I decided to search these publications (using Factiva and its ‘computers and electronics’ source list) for articles featuring the most frequently used word in the English language: ‘the’.

This is what I found:

  • From 2006 – 2008 the number of articles in technology trade media with the word ‘the’ in it declined from a total of 135757 to a total of 92021

(Total number of articles in technology trade media featuring the word ‘the’ from 2004-2008)

(Total number of articles in technology trade media featuring the word ‘the’ from 2004-2008)

  • This represents a 32% decline in the number of articles with the word ‘the’ in it since 2006.

(Percent change in articles featuring ‘the’ since 2004)

(Percent change in articles featuring ‘the’ since 2004)

Given the fact that it is virtually impossible to write an article without the word ‘the’ in it, this would seem to indicate that there are approximately 32% fewer opportunities for coverage in technology trade media today then there were two years ago.

To confirm this theory I decided to run the same analysis on the next two most frequently used words in the English language: ‘of’ and ‘and’. This is what I found:

  • Articles featuring ‘of’ decreased from a total 132451 in 2006 to a total of 89298 in 2008
  • Articles featuring ‘and’ decreased from a total of 134127 in 2006 to a total of 90544 in 2008

(Total number of articles in technology trade media featuring the word ‘the’, ‘of’, and ‘and’ from 2004-2008)

  • All three words had an identical negative growth rate of 32% from 2006 – 2008.

(Percent change in articles featuring ‘the’, ‘of’ and ‘and’ since 2004)

This seems to confirm it; there are 32% fewer articles – and fewer opportunities – for coverage in traditional technology trade media today than there were just two years ago.

Later today or tomorrow I’ll post numbers and graphs for mainstream media, and then play around with some projections for 2009.

When I was in college I very nearly failed a course entitled: “Introduction to the Methods and Ideas of Math.”

It was the first, and last, math class I took in college.

While my diminished capacity for calculation had no bearing on my career choice, I’ve found mathematical illiteracy to be no impediment to success in public relations.

Why? Because PR is subjective: from the development of programs to the measurement of success (or failure), the industry seems to have an aversion to objectivity.

Perhaps it’s because so much of the industry was based for so long on the strength of media relationships – a commodity which is hard to characterize and even harder to measure. But PR has always been about more than just relationships with key journalists and, even if that were not true, mass layoffs and other media disruptions dramatically decrease their value (he said with no actual, you know, evidence).

Today I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with the subjectivity of PR – for one thing, it makes it virtually impossible to develop trust with clients who, you know, base their business decisions on objective reasoning (I know, crazy).

It is for this reason that I’ve decided to launch this blog. ‘Difference Engineering’ won’t provide any answers. I don’t have any. But I do hope to explore the objective underpinnings of marketing and PR in the hope that the process of examination may help just a bit.

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