Each day, new trending topics emerge on social media. Whether it be on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., any topic or post has the potential to gain virality, whether it be for good or bad reasons.
On January 26, 2020, the legendary Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant, and his 13-year-old-daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, suddenly died in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
Immediately, Bryant and his daughter’s death became a trending topic online, especially on Twitter, where users were able to react to the news of his passing in real-time and empathize with one another as fans, grieving the loss of a basketball icon and a young girl.
Using the online social media analytics tool Sysomos, we are able to gather data on the impact that Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s deaths left on Twitter during the timeframe of January 23, 2020 through January 30, 2020.
In order to find accurate data reflecting this trend on Twitter, it is important to indicate specific keywords in the search query. For the purpose of this analysis, the terms “Kobe,” “Kobe Bryant,” “Gigi Bryant,” “Gianna Bryant,” “Vanessa Bryant,” and “Black Mamba.” Using the OR Boolean operator, Sysomos retrieved mentions that consisted of at least one of the search terms. All of the aforementioned keywords are potential terms related to the topic of the Bryants’ deaths that could have been used in tweets and could increase the accuracy of the data found.
Sysomos’ “latest activity” feature allows users to see just how many times the searched keywords were mentioned online, specifically on Twitter in the case of this query.
For this search, the Latest Activity feature shows that from January 23 to January 25, the keywords were collectively used in tweets under 1 million times per day. More specifically, they were found 33,631 times on January 23, 32,425 times on January 24, and 171,758 times on January 25. The reason for the minor surge in the mention of these keywords on January 25 is likely due to the fact that on this day, the night before Kobe Bryant and his daughter died, Lebron James beat Bryant’s all-time scoring record.
However, on January 26, the numbers spiked greatly as a result of the news of the Bryants’ deaths breaking online. The keywords were found to have been used 21,491,900 times, which is 271x the average amount of times the keywords were used the prior 3 days.
Despite this spike in numbers, the usage of these terms saw a decline on Twitter in the following days. For example, these numbers progressively declined to 12,656,130 on January 27, 5,614,305 on January 28, 3,266,057 on January 29, and 1,945,704 on January 30. In other words, as the shock decreased regarding Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s deaths, so did the mentions on Twitter. New trends emerged online in the days following this tragedy, taking over the platform instead of the discussion of this event.
Most Retweeted Tweet:
Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 26, 2020
The most retweeted tweet came from former U.S. president, Barack Obama, with over 690,000 retweets.
As news broke of the Bryants’ deaths, aside from the reactions of fans on Twitter, many celebrities and well-known figures also paid their respects on the platform.
Though one can say that it would be expected for the average celebrity to post a tweet about the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, seeing a major political figure in this country like Barack Obama recognize these deaths shows the magnitude of the loss of Kobe and Gianna. To many people, Kobe Bryant was more than a great basketball player. He was a legend who had earned the respect of an entire nation, and evidently, former presidents as well.
Additionally, President Barack Obama has a large following on Twitter, with a whopping total of 113.3 million followers. It makes sense that his tweet would generate more retweets than other users in regards to Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant’s death coming from accounts with less followers.
The highest percentage of tweets came from the United States at 64.8%. This is likely due to the fact that Kobe Bryant was a basketball player for the United States team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Being on this team, Kobe Bryant was an icon to many Americans, even those who were not necessarily devoted basketball fans. As a result of this, it makes sense that the majority of tweets about this tragedy would come from the United States where he played.
Despite this, Bryant was such a legend in the world of basketball that his legacy has also spread to other countries around the world, as evidenced by this graph. For example, the United Kingdom is credited with 4.1% of tweets about the event, France with 3.1%, Spain, Brazil, and Canada with 2.1%, and Portugal, Nigeria, Philippines, and Kenya with over 1%. In total, 35.2% of tweets regarding the Bryants’ deaths were posted from users outside of the United States, demonstrating Kobe’s impact on a global scale.
Though specific keywords were used to find results for this query, this word cloud allows users to find other common words that were also repeatedly used in tweets about Kobe and Gianna Bryants’ deaths.
The largest words include “Kobe Bryant,” “Kobe,” and “Bryant” which are all keywords used in the Sysomos search. The next layer of words, in blue, represent the spike in the activity trend during and following Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s death. The words “helicopter,” “crash,” “rip,” “daughter,” “nba,” and “legend” stand out and identify the event and provide background information. For example, this tragedy was the product of a “helicopter crash,” which resulted in the loss of a basketball “legend” and his “daughter.” Thus, it makes sense why these words would also commonly be used and found in the word cloud as they pertain to the main details of the trend.
The green words in the word cloud represent media coverage such as “news” and “tmz” and feelings towards the event such as “peace” and “love,” all secondary pieces of information in regards to the details of this trend. For example, TMZ is mentioned as this was the news website that broke the news of the tragedy, but many on Twitter were angered that the website broke the news before the deceased’s family members were informed. TMZ became a large part of the online conversation around this trend.
The last layer of words identify details. Overall, the word cloud encompasses the story of Bryant’s death and emphasizes the importance of a basketball legend to Americans on Twitter.
A buzz graph visually places information into a summary of the most used words in a search query related to a certain topic, theme, or searched idea. In this case, Twitter words used in relation to the passing of Kobe and Gianna Bryant have been compiled. The association between the words are seen by the solid lines, dotted lines and bolded lines. Those words that are strongly associated with each other are seen with a bolded line while those that aren’t as strongly correlated are connected with a thinner or dotted line. Therefore, it shows “the buzz” around those words and which words appeared together more frequently compared to others in a search query.
Similar to the word cloud, the buzz graph had many of the same words. For instance, “kobe,” “helicopter crash,” “tmz,” “died,” “daughter,” “rip,” “gianna,” “don,” etc. are words that appeared in both the word cloud and buzz graph as they were all related to this topic. This shows that many Twitter users used the same words to express their gratitude and grief towards the passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
Most of the buzzwords that were closer in the graph correlated around the helicopter crash and the legacy of Kobe Bryant’s basketball career with terms like “nba,” “tribute,” “mamba,” “legend,” “don,” “basketball,” “lakers,” as well as “crash,” “news,” “death,” “gigi,” “kobe bryant,” “bryant,” and “helicopter crash.” Overall, it is very evident that Bryant left a mark on the world and shocked everyone with this tragic news.
Each trend analysis identifies the shock across Twitter in the United States when Kobe and Gianna Bryant tragically died. The spike in activity is evident from the “Latest Activity,” while the “Word Cloud” and “Buzzgraph” told the story of the event. By analyzing social media trends, you can conclude that Americans felt a loss during this time and utilized Twitter to create a community to express their grievances.
Analysis conducted by:
Madison Ahera, Danielle Holm, Zachara Ornsby, William DeMuria