02 Jun The covfefe effect: a post-mortem analysis
I, like you, was asleep when the tweet that confused the world was penned at around 12:06 am EST early Wednesday morning and covfefe was born. Confuse it did, and what came next is an interesting phenomenon that is worth analyzing. I am talking about the extreme virality that occurred between that fateful midnight and the next 24 hours. As an Analyst, I can’t let this pass by without at least taking a look.
So, if you have been under a rock for the past few days, let’s look at the tweet in question.
Now, let’s get something out of the way before we dive into this analysis. Obviously, this a politically charged topic and the individual at the center of this is the President of the United States. But, I am going to do my best to keep this as apolitical as possible. The goal in writing this is to look at the short-term virality that causes something to go to stratospheric heights in a matter of hours.
The life of a covfefe
Let’s take a look at a timeline of events to gain a bit more context on the virality of the tweet.
May 31st 12:06 am EST – covfefe tweet is written
May 31st 12:08 am EST – Webster’s Dictionary gets involved
📈 Lookups fo…
Regrets checking Twitter.
Goes back to bed.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) May 31, 2017
May 31st 1:15 am EST – Jimmy Kimmel tweets about the incident
what makes me saddest is that I know I’ll never write anything funnier than #covfefe
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) May 31, 2017
May 31st 5:09 am EST – The tweet is deleted
Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
May 31st 9:00 pm EST – We reach peak covfefe (see trends below)
May 31st 10:20 pm EST – Mainstream media picks up the story (CBS News)
So, in less than 24 hours the tweet went from the confines of Twitter to the mainstream. It took an incredible 2 minutes for Merriam-Webster to chime in and comedian Jimmy Kimmel was quite late to the party, only getting in on the fun about an hour late.
When did we hit peak covfefe? Let’s venture over to Google trends and take a look. As you can see from the graph below, when the tweet first goes out there is a significant spike, which decreases slightly in the pursuing few minutes. We can only assume that people are starting to head to bed. But then, as the sun rises, we hit another higher level around 7 am. This only picks up momentum from 5 pm to around 9 pm on May 31st as people settle in. It’s all downhill from there as the pace slows and levels out throughout the day on June 1st.
And, yes, the world was confused.
To assess if something is truly viral, we need a comparison point. Well, I wonder what we could compare a covfefe to, if thats even possible? I think we should use the uber-viral fidget spinner. If you are unaware of the extremely popular fidget spinner, below is a vizual.
Enter Google trends, again.
Below is a 12-month view of the virality of the fidget spinner. As you can see, it also had relatively meteoric rise too. Yes, the trend is longer than our friend covfefe experienced, but never the less, it’s a decent benchmark.
If we assume that the virality for the fidget spinner started on March 19th, 2017 and use a 7-day view as a comparison point, if quickly becomes apparent that it’s a much slower bake than the covfefe in question. The virality of the fidget spinner was more akin to a trend rather than a spike.
Below is a comparison of the covefefe and the fidget spinner. Yes, covfefe beats the fidget spinner hands down in this comparison. But, as I said earlier, the fidget spinner has had a much steadier climb to virality. It’s as though covfefe truly was an overnight success.
Ok, great. It looks like both the fidget spinner trend and the covfefe thing have peaked. The fidget spinner had a great run; I can see it starting its slow decent to into Tamagotchi land. But why did covfefe die a premature death? Wasn’t there more left in Twitter or memeland to sustain it?
Well, trends usually end because something takes their place. And the covfefe trend is no different. At around 11 am on June 1st, we had a new hot topic that eclipsed both the fidget spinner and our friend covfefe – the Paris Climate Agreement withdrawal announcement. As, the trend (in yellow) below clearly shows, the covfefe is no match for substantive news.
The trends tell a compelling story, but what makes something so viral so short-lived? Well, I think it’s worth unpacking a bit, and I believe that there are three contributing factors. Let’s take a look at each.
The timing of when the virality of the covfefe tweet started is telling. 12:06 am EST is 9 pm on the West Coast. This time in the evening is likely Twitter primetime and a perfect time for a tweet to start its viral ascent. That coupled with those who are still up in the Central and Eastern time zones caused the covfefe train to keep moving down the track.
It would seem that there couldn’t have been a better time for that tweet to have been written and the ensuing virality. But, the inevitability of sleep patterns and day jobs will kick in at some point which caused it’s virality to slow.
With the timing being one factor, the community is another. The Twitter ecosystem is relatively small at ~313MM monthly active users. One thing Twitter does have going for it is that that ecosystem is active and collaborative. As evidenced by some of the early mentions of covfefe by Jimmy Kimmel and Merriam-Webster, people were engaged and enjoying every minute of the melee very soon after the initial penning.
Something can’t go viral for long without a community behind it. The Twitter community ran with covfefe, but as the trend indicates that community could only run with it for so long. If there was a bit more engagement from outside the Twitterverse, would covfefe survided longer? This is something we will neven know.
3) Sustained Interest
Sustained virality is somewhat oxymoronic, but it is somewhat attainable as the fidget spinner has shown. One reason for continued virality has to be sustained interest. Covfefe was interesting and entertaining for as long as it kept the community engaged. As soon as something more pressing or important came along, it died.
Covfefe fell victim to its own devices, and as soon as a new more newsworthy trend appeared, sustainable virality disappeared.
So, what have we learned? Well, that virality and trending topics are fickle creatures. Even ones such as a covfefe have a finite life. For now, we will have to spin our fidget spinners to relieve the stress of thinking of what could have been.