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Quick Note: A Little March Madness Social Buzz

March 18, 2012

The 2012 Super Bowl was kind of a coming of age moment for social media activity about sporting events. It saw specialized apps, huge Twitter traffic with organized hashtag usage, and even a Social Media Command Center. This month’s NCAA Basketball Tournament seems to be continuing the trend. There are doubtless dozens of interesting examples of social media activity around the tournament, but this Note is about one that tries to measure that activity.

Mashable.com reported recently on the March Madness Leaderboard, supported by mRank. The Leaderboard tabulates “the amount of buzz (on a 1-100 scale) a particular term has on the social web by analyzing conversations across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.” [italicized text is quoted directly from the Leaderboard web page / post.]

What is mRank? mRank is a keyword meter that evaluates several internet content streams to try to measure the amount of traffic different topics are generating. Mashable tells us:

Think of mRank as an uber-social version of the golfer leaderboard on the PGA tour, but mRank tells you what’s buzzing (which topics) and where it’s trending (Twitter, Facebook or the blogosphere). It’s the kind of thing you can look at and instantly understand how the conversation on the social web is ebbing and flowing at any given instant, and then look back a little later, and see how things have changed. And, we’re proud to say, that mRank is presented by Samsung, as part of a year-long partnership.

Here are the key ingredients of mRank:

  1. Data, data and more data: Our partner, PeopleBrowsr, eats the Twitter firehose for breakfast, then moves on to Facebook for lunch, with a dinner made up of the blogosphere. PeopleBrowsr knows data.
  2. Then it’s our turn: At Mashable, we put on our swimsuits and dive headfirst into that data, identifying trends and tracking them on a myriad of topics.

Over the next year, we’ll release a series of other mRank leaderboards on topics that we’re passionate about, on subjects that we know are near and dear to you as well. So stay tuned for more.

In this case, Mashable seems to be monitoring for school and mascot names, or some combination of each. There is no explanation of what specific terms are linked to each school, and it seems like certain terms could be biased or ambiguous. For example, does “Go Blue” apply to any of the 64 schools other than Kentucky? What about State? Indiana fans tend to use the #IUBB hashtag, and does Mashable apply that? What about Kansas’ trademark “rock chalk” and all its variations. It’s not clear how easy it is to measure these things, but it is interesting to try!

In the current mRank standings, Missouri seems to maintain a healthy lead, despite (or perhaps because of) an early Round 1 exit. Interestingly, Duke’s equally dismal Round 1 exit only has them at a 9 point (our of 100) ranking, compared to Mizzou’s score of 100. That anomalous difference is interesting.

Similarly interesting is the fact that perennial powerhouse hoops schools Indiana, North Carolina and Kentucky (the prohibitive favorite this year) come in at numbers 10, 11 and 13, respectively on the ranking list. That suggests that having a compelling story drives higher rankings than having an army of rabid basketball fans. The presence of Norfolk State, Marquette and VCU in the top 4 seems to support that theory. Baylor coming in at number 6 would seem to be perplexing, but I have a theory about that. I monitored the twitter hashtag #MarchMadness during much of the first weekend, and saw no fewer than three dozen tweets that poked fun at Baylor’s dayglo yellow jerseys. The fact that they played an exciting game against an underdog Colorado didn’t hurt. For that matter, many of the top 10 were involved in tight games that generated lots of internet traffic.

I don’t know how well Mashable’s mRank is really measuring references to each school, given the many ways fans have of referencing their own schools, fight songs, mascots and sayings. But at first glance, it is a reasonable try. Much like other social media metric concepts, like Klout.com‘s infamous personal internet credibility metric, measuring these things is inherently hard. It is important to to take these attempts too seriously. But the attempts make important advances in the march to bring some sense out of the enormous river of data being created by social internet content. The attempt to quantify NCAA Tournament social activity around each team is interesting, but more importantly, it’s fun! Like the communications around the Super Bowl, they add an interesting and engaging dimension to March Madness. Take a few minutes to look at Mashable’s mRank and see what it says to you.

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