Research & Insights

By Lukas Bergstrom, February 1, 2013

Who Twitter Got?

The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers battle it out on Sunday. Snacks have been acquired. Storylines have been established. Someone, somewhere is carefully dusting a new 72″ plasma. We’re ready for our biggest national holiday.

However, the crucial question of who Twitter users are rooting for hasn’t been answered. It turns out that figuring out the answer to this question is pretty complicated:

Why not just search for “rooting Ravens” and “rooting 49ers” and compare? Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t report the number of search results for different searches, so we wouldn’t know how many people tweeted “rooting Ravens” or “rooting 49ers”. As we’ll see, this isn’t an accurate metric in any case.

Why not used an automated tool? Unfortunately, automated sentiment analysis tools can’t answer this type of question accurately. To understand why, try to guess how automated tools are likely to assess the following examples:

Good Gawd “@BreeOlson: Who’s rooting for the #Ravens this #SuperBowl ? I am!

Follow if you’re rooting for the 49’ers! RT if you’re rooting for the Ravens! #SUPERBOWL

“@989RadioNow: who are you rooting for in the #SuperBowl ? my vote goes to the #RAVENS” 49ers here!!!

These aren’t isolated examples; in order to express themselves in 140 characters or less, people often write in ways that are difficult for machines to interpret. Luckily, CrowdFlower has a better tool for the job.. We pulled over 1,000 tweets referencing the Super Bowl and “rooting”, and had the crowd decide if the tweet was rooting for the 49ers, the Ravens, or neither. It took about fifteen minutes to set up a CrowdFlower task that got thousands of answers from hundreds of human beings all over the world.

So, what was the answer?

In news that will surprise no one, Twitter, like God, is rooting for …

SF 49ers logoOk, maybe we let our hometown bias get the better of us there. Here’s how the data came out:

Number rooting for the 49ers vs the Ravens

Chart showing Twitter rooting for the Ravens over the 49ers by about two to one, with a large number of Neutral votes

So Twitter users who mention the Super Bowl and “rooting” in their tweet are rooting for the Ravens about twice as often as they’re rooting for the 49ers. Let’s pass over this embarrassing fact as quickly as possible. Why all the tweets that didn’t express an opinion?

We took a closer look at those tweets. A lot of them looked like this:

The Superbowl is this Sunday! Who are you rooting for?

So we formed a hypothesis: a lot of the neutral tweets were promotional: companies or other organizations trying to start a conversation with their followers about the Super Bowl. To answer this question, we had the crowd look at the Twitter profiles and tweets of everyone whose tweet had been rated Neutral. We asked them to decide if the user was a company or a person. Again, it took about fifteen minutes to set up a task that got thousands of answers on our dataset from all over the world. Here’s what we got:

Number of Neutral tweets from Companies and from People

Chart showing that about 40% of the accounts are companies

About 40% of the Neutral tweets came from companies. That means that there were a very high number of tweets in the original dataset from companies. It makes sense that companies would try to start conversations with their customers around the Super Bowl (those who live in glass houses … ), but it’s still surprising to get so many in a mostly random pull of Twitter data. One explanation might be that there are fewer companies than people on Twitter, but companies tweet more often. Food for future research.

So in summary:

  • Twitter’s rooting for the Ravens
  • A lot of Twitter traffic about the Super Bowl comes from company accounts
  • The people who are most excited about Sunday are all Beyonce fans (you’ll have to trust me on this)

Have fun Sunday.

And if you’re interested in analyzing Twitter with the crowd, check out our dead-simple, crowd-powered tool Senti.