A couple of years ago – and still today – any unexplained phenomenon that included social media would simply be named “viral”. Virality means that idea/news/meme starts to spread without the help of the original source. This spreading happens by the infectious nature of the idea or by the influence of those who have come to contact to the viral agent. This has been both the dream and the nightmare of the marketing and PR departments. Last week the nightmare scenario occurred to the The Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre in Finland (CIAPC).

In the spring 2012 the CIAPC contacted a Finnish man claiming copyright violations in a P2P network. Long story short: After some threatening emails by the CIAPC and the man’s refusal to pay a compensation the police performed a search and seizure operation. The seizure part included a 9-year old girl’s Winnie the Pooh labeled laptop. Last week, the man described the situation in a Facebook post (original in Finnish) that suddenly started spread through the Facebook’s share-function. Soon the main stream media caught on (first online article in Finnish) and by the end of the next day in even made its way to international media (TorrentFreak and TechCrunch). The result: a PR disaster for the CIAPC.

The original post has at the moment 2 655 Facebook shares. The video below is the dynamic network of the public sharing of the post. The data was gathered by Mikael Rekola using the 99analytics.com  social media analytics platform. Each line represents a share of post, not the post views.

The video visualizes how the original post was shared and re-shared in the first 48 hours of its publication. Largest portion of the shares happened before middle part of the video within the first 24 hours. Actually, 97 % of the public shares happened during the 48 hour period. Those users whose shares got the most re-shares joined the game early.  This means that that the time is of the essence if the PR departments wish to react to these events.

When we look at the time scale of the spreading, we notice a sharp increase in the shared posts between 8 and 11 A.M..  The cascade started from several sources, including politicians  Dan Koivulaakso and Jyrki Kasvi,  who shared the post around 9 A.M. The first news story increased the shares of the original post. Before that, most of the shares were re-shares. The role of main stream media in facilitating these viral phenomenon cannot be forgotten.

The picture below that holds all of the shares. Size of the node represents the amount of shares the user caused and the brightness of the color of the node represents the amount of comments and likes the share received.

Almost all of the shares became directly from the original post (73 %). Less than 4 % of the shares reached some sort of virality i.e. spread beyond the first sharer.The longest chain of shares expanded for 5 steps. ( In Facebook, users are in average 4 steps from one another). We also checked if a friend relationship is present in the shares. Of the public shares, only 14 % of sharing happened between friends. But in the second degree shares, friend relationship was present in 43 % of the shares. The long sharing chains are actually quite rare (pdf) and awareness doesn’t require sharing: for every share there are tens or hundreds of share views.

The power of main stream media to spread a message is unparalleled: the power of social media comes from the power of amplification and raising awareness.

Twitter: jattipaa



EDIT: added some details on what the lines between the nodes represent.