Anatomy of a Twitter Death Hoax: “Rip Nelson Mandela”

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Around 9:40 GMT on Saturday morning the phrase “RIP Nelson Mandela” began trending worldwide on Twitter, sparking a wildfire of tweets about his status as dead or alive. This is not the first time death hoaxes have surfaced on Twitter, but it was the first time I noticed one early enough to analyze it to try to find out how it happened.

So I grabbed all of the still existing tweets about Mandela from this weekend and started digging. Below is a timeline of over 6,000 tweets about Mandela from this weekend I captured to analyse.

The first thing I found was that the first person to use the phrase was the user “lebolukewarm” who has since deleted his Tweet, but not before it was retweeted at least 71 times in a few minutes. While he wasn’t the first to tweet about it, it appears that lebolukewarm was the cause of the rumor’s “tipping point” on Twitter. This may undermine traditional ideas about “influential” users as lebolukewarm has barely more than one thousand followers.

Lebolukewarm’s original Tweet happened around 8:40 GMT, an hour before the phrase trended, and between 8:28 and 8:40 several other users, most from South Africa, reported receiving a broadcast Blackberry Messenger (BBM) notice that Mandela had died. One user posted a screen shot of the message.

I talked to Sasha Mitchell, one of the people in South Africa who received the message, and she told me one of her friends sent a broadcast message asking if the rumor was true because she had gotten a BBM from someone else.

I also talked to Lebolukewarm himself and he was kind enough to send me the original BBM he recieved (the source of that BBM got it from someone else and asked to remain anonymous).

Sasha said she believed the original message was an intentional hoax, because any well intentioned person would have researched the rumor before broadcasting it. She also told me that most of her BBM contacts also got the same message, followed by one shortly after that said “He just had a heart attack but he is fine, pls resend to everyone!!!”

A rumor about Justin Bieber dying also emerged on Saturday, and some users reported having also received a BBM about it as well. Early in 2010, McAfee reported that a loophole in a version of the BBM software allows users to add contacts that they don’t really know, opening the door for spam and hoaxes like this.

It appears that while the Mandela rumor was started by some anonymous individual spamming Blackberry users, the real tipping point came when the meme jumped to Twitter and a single user was the vector for that jump.

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Infographic: 5 Questions and Answers about Facebook Marketing

For more mythbusting and social media science, don’t forget to register for my Science of Social Media webinar.

The infographic below represents some of the data I’ve analyzed and published on my blog over the last year. It seeks to answer some of the most important questions about Facebook marketing with real science.

If you want to learn more about Facebook marketing, don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Facebook Marketing Book, or enter to win a free copy.

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New Data: Post to Your Facebook Page Every Other Day for the Most Likes

Alison and I (mostly Alison really) just published The Facebook Marketing Book.
Check out her post to win a free copy.

One of the most common questions I hear about Facebook marketing, is: “How often should I post to my page?” And of course, I wasn’t happy that I didn’t have hard data to backup any answer I might give, so I did a little analysis.

I looked at over 2,600 of the most liked Facebook pages and their posts per day rates. What I found was surprising. As pages posted more than once a day they tended to have fewer likes, especially once they got past a 3 posts per day level.

I then dug a little deeper and looked at only pages that posted less than once a day and found that the number of likes was highest for pages that posted around once every other day.

The takeaway here is that you need to have regular activity on your Facebook page, but users don’t like it when you “spam their feed.” It seems that the optimum posts per day frequency is once every two days.

If you want to learn more about Facebook marketing, don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Facebook Marketing Book, or enter to win a free copy.

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