Monday, 8 March 2010

The Carling Cup "Digital Final" on Twitter: A Study in the Challenge of an Event's Scale


      The 2010 Carling Cup Final has come and gone and while Man. U fans are probably a little more pleased with the outcome than Villa supporters, the game itself stands as a strong lesson on the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of driving digital engagement for an event. Carling touted the game as the world’s “first digital final” which included: putting fans names on digital displays during the trophy ceremony, voting on the winning songs, placing fan created banners on pitch side advertising and linking this to charitable donations.  In addition to this, the hash-tag “#CCF10” was publicized in the run-up to the game. In theory, the brand wanted to utilize Twitter (in concert with other digital channels) to unify viewers in conversation, extending the experience of the final to those viewing it outside of the stadium. Harnessing Twitter activity as its own point of interest, Carling also created pages tracking Twitter activity around the event, showing activity by geographic region and time.
Source  Add this to the list of things I probably won't win (this year)

      The logic behind Carling’s intentions seems sound, especially when looking back on other events which unify Twitter users in conversation. As I’m writing this on Sunday night, preparations are under way for tonight’s Academy Awards in the US, which will drive network conversation from the Red Carpet, through the event, to post analysis with the winners and losers on Monday morning. Previous events like the Super Bowl, Ashes, the BCS National Championship Game and the Winter Olympics have all also shown that Twitter activity is rather reactive to large scale viewing events. However, in the case of the Carling Cup, harnessing network interest in the event is harder, due to the lower engagement level of the game. If you supported the two teams involved, then the game was probably pretty big for you, but Carling faced a challenge in not only interesting those without a stake in the final, but also organizing the attention of the already interested fans for engagement. In declaring the game to be the “first digital final”, it seems they hoped to generate a meta-story around the match which could possibly multiply interest. While many aspects of the campaign are hard to independently look back and analyze, Twitter activity can stand as an interesting proxy for campaign interest. With this aim in mind, looking back and judging the effectiveness of the Twitter campaign requires answering a few core questions:

1.)    Did the brand manage to engage with those already conversing about the final, as well as those who were neutral?
2.)    Did those who conversed about the game do so more frequently because of the brand’s efforts?

Twitter Analysis

      To gain some insight on the brand’s Twitter efforts, data collection was set to gather figures on both the specific hashtag for the game (“#ccf10”) and overall mentions of the event (i.e. “Carling Cup”, “Carling”, etc.). Analyzing the data was focused specifically on the time directly before, during and after the Carling Cup to see if the brand was able to foster reactive user activity.

     Top line figures indicate that the volume of messages was overwhelmingly towards “Carling” or “Carling Cup” related tweets instead of specifically tagged #CCF10 messages. In fact, between 14:00 and 18:59 on gameday, only 8% of messages (388 out of the total 4,798) utilized the promoted hashtag. Conversation about the match can be assumed to have progressed as it normally would have, with non-specific instances of “Carling” or “Carling Cup” being the dominant form of expression (4,410 messages).

    The activity itself seems to show a rather continuous increase during the game, peaking after its conclusion. However, when the data is broken down by minute and charted against game events, as shown below, it becomes clear that the prolonged reactive growth shown in other events such as the Super Bowl wasn’t clearly found in the Carling Cup Final. The continuous growth implied in the above chart, is actually a rather varied mix of quick reactions in traffic.

     Minute by minute activity for the game builds quickly before kickoff and reacts to scoring from both teams, though the activity shows little carry over and dies off quickly.  Anticipatory conversation about the game during the pre-game and half-time periods wanes in a similar manner, with the conversation spike after the conclusion of the match dwarfing any pre-game or game activity. Such spikes usually indicate a boost in relevant network traffic from blogs/news sites syndicating links to articles through Twitter (in this case about Manchester United winning the Carling Cup). However, discounting syndicated tweets, it becomes clear that even post-match commentary didn’t utilize the specific “#ccf10” hashtag, with tagged activity dying off to nearly nothing after 30 minutes post match.

      Considering the first question about the Twitter campaign’s performance, the data seems to show that the “ccf10” hashtag failed to catch the attention of those already conversing about the game (through general brand terms). The difference between post game and during game activity also seems to indicate that users who reacted to the final’s outcome didn’t engage on Twitter during the game, implying that neutral or uninterested users weren’t encouraged to interact with the brand’s efforts effectively.

      Within users that did converse about the game, the majority did so sparingly. Analyzing user message frequency during the match afternoon shows that 82% of the 3,054 unique users talking about the game only did so once.  Of the 18% of repeat mentioning users, 2% could be considered heavy conversers, with more than 5 mentions. The heavy conversing users represented the best opportunity for the brand, as they were the most inclined towards the efforts.

     Within the ‘heavy mentions’ segment  19 users mentioned relevant phrases 10 or more times, while 2 did so more than 30 times and 1 did so in 61 tweets. Although adoption of the “#ccf10” hashtag was low overall, 100% of the messages from the two heaviest users (92 tweets in total) used the tag. Overall 38.5% of game related tweets from heavy users utilized the “ccf10” hashtag , versus 3.91% of messages from the rest of the analyzed users.

      Though the heavy mentioning segment may small relative to the overall sample of users who mentioned the Carling Cup, they did exhibit the most consistent conversational behaviour over time. As shown below, heavy mentioning users maintain a steady level of activity throughout the match, surprisingly peaking in activity after its conclusion and during the activity decline of other segments.

    Heavy Carling Cup mentioning users represent a relative bright spot for the brand within its Twitter efforts. Overall, they showed a consistent conversational behaviour throughout the match and adopted the hashtag at a rate well above other Twitter users.  The relatively small size of this segment means that the brand’s efforts didn’t shift the overall frequency of user conversation much, but insights about the depth of engagement for heavy users may indicate points of opportunity to grow this segment in future efforts.


    While the Carling Cup’s “#ccf10” hashtag and related Twitter efforts may have underperformed relative to the assertion of the world’s first “digital final”, several key learnings emerge from analyzing the effort.  With respect to the initial questions to rate the effort’s performance, it seems that Twitter users neither increased their frequency or depth of interaction with the brand due to Carling’s promotion.

     Carling faced a challenge in expanding the audience interested in the match beyond the fan bases of two teams. The Carling Cup Twitter data seems to show that the existing prominence of an event has a strong impact on how it influences network activity. Events such as the Super bowl are large enough that Twitter users discuss them simply because of their scale. The multifaceted draw of such events (Ads, Halftime show and the game for the Super Bowl or the Red Carpet, Comedy and Winners of the Academy Awards) mean that topics of related conversation are broad and open to multiple audiences. Small to mid level events such as the Carling Cup face the challenge of being singularly focused and small in scale. It seems that while Twitter can help to connect communities such as Man. U or Aston Villa fans, if such interaction doesn’t offer any new real depth of engagement, then overcoming a lack of scale is difficult. Without these smaller fan bases converting their close ties into high frequencies of interaction, related network activity remains low and no increased network prominence is gained for branded promotions.

     The difficulty of smaller events to gain interest on Twitter doesn’t mean that attractive small to medium scale brand events are impossible to create. The singular focus of such events may serve to limit initial interest beyond existing communities, but it also means that less clutter is present around branded communications. Those who discussed Carling on Twitter during the game tended to stay focused on discussing the teams involved, the game itself and Carling. If wider audiences had discussed the game, the clarity of the brand’s message stood a good chance of remaining evident.

     While the overall campaign seemed to feature various promotional draws, the Twitter campaign seems to stand rather independent of other parts. While the Carling website offered various Twitter based content (from analytics to page backgrounds supporting the teams), it doesn’t seem like any direct call to action existed. Using the hashtag allowed Carling to generate dynamic crowd sourced game commentary from the network, but this doesn’t seem like it was enough to drive user behaviour. Tighter integration with other aspects (such as the digital signage) is hard to do and rather risky, but could have created a more dynamic and salient feel to Twitter interaction with the event. The conversation about the game and the conversation about the game’s digital efforts never seemed to mesh together in the activity data, smothering any chance for the brand to foster network activity.

     One should note that overall, I really liked the idea of this campaign and that Carling was innovative to attempt to add digital depth to their final. Talking about underwhelming activity in the Twitter parts of the campaign in no way denotes that the overall efforts weren’t impressive. While the Twitter campaign activity may be considered a proxy for consumer interest, I imagine that those who interacted with the efforts in the stadium or through other digital channels had the depth of their experience enhanced. Overall, I think the Twitter aspects of the effort highlight the challenges faced by brands in growing interest for smaller scale events on the micro-blogging service, rather than indicating an error by the brand. Finally, I think it shows that the unpredictable attitudinal nature of users is fickle and even those who do engage do so in unpredictable ways, as shown below. Carling may have put on the first “digital final”, but hopefully it won’t be their last, as they can apply what they’ve learned this time to future games.