What the Baden-Clay saga tells us about sharing

Allison Baden-Clay

Allison Baden-Clay was reported missing on April 20.

Gerard Baden-Clay was charged with murdering his wife, Allison, after a canoeist found the dead woman next to a creek in Brisbane’s west 10 days on from her mysterious disappearance in April last year.

The great-grandson of Scouts founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell reported his wife missing on April 20, telling police she had never returned from a walk the night before. Within days, the media was reporting him as a person of interest.

Baden-Clay then hired a lawyer after detectives searched his home and questioned his colleagues at Century 21 real estate. His lawyer told reporters Baden-Clay was dedicating himself to caring for the couple’s three young daughters and appealed for privacy “during this difficult time”.

When police finally arrested the 41-year-old, it capped off months of intense public speculation about his role in his wife’s death. And our data shows Australians were compelled to share the news of this crucial development.

Recently we outlined how the death of a star, such as football great Jim Stynes, could drive social media sharing. A stunning development in a crime saga appears to trigger a similar response. Both are planks of a sharing category we call Marking the Moment, in which news consumers feel compelled to recognise a major development in a narrative for which they have been primed. They do this by sharing the news on social networks.Marking_moment_breakdown_new

Baden-Clay sharers had been primed by front-page coverage of the mystery during a relatively short period: two months.  At the other end of the scale, the June decision by a Northern Territory coroner that Azaria Chamberlain had been taken by a dingo closed a crime saga spanning three decades.

During this same data collection period (March-June 2012), a faster-burning saga popped up on the sharing radar when fugitive Malcolm Naden was caught near Gloucester, NSW, after almost five years on the run. A story suggesting Schapelle Corby was close to being repatriated to Australia was the other stand-out example of Newsbreaking>Marking the Moment>Crime saga during our capture period.

Our analysis shows that Crime Saga stories constitute about five per cent of total Facebook news shares. The charts below show how the data breaks down from the top categorisation (Norming | Sharing | Newsbreaking). We’ve included the hard sharing numbers in the first chart for reference and percentages from there.

Total_share_breakdown   Newsbreaking_breakdown Crime_saga   Star - Mortality

So what?

Journalists need to make decisions on the fly. Software such as the Share Wars Likeable Engine (that we used to capture our data) can alert editors to nascent virality of stories in real time. For those who don’t have the analytics, there are some lessons from our Marking the Moment analysis that can help. Tune in next week for more.

It is also worth noting it’s not just crime sagas and dying stars that compel readers to mark the moment. A stunning development in on-going non-crime story saga will also provoke sharing. For example, if Kevin Rudd were to roll Julia Gillard before the election, an avalanche of marking the moment would ensue. We’ll check the Likeable Engine and report back if Rudd does manage a Lazarus-with-a-triple-bypass act.

Following is a list of story links for each of the subjects in the Marking the Moment category from our capture period. We’ve listed the most-shared example of each story, except in the case of those from ninemsn, which has some links inaccessible because the site has been redesigned. News.com.au indexes highly on this list.

Crime saga

Star – Mortality


This is a manual analysis of the top 500 shared stories on Facebook March 20-June 20 2012 from 13 Australian news sites including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, ABC, ninemsn, news.com.au and Yahoo!7.

We have developed our categorisation by analysing the motivations of social media sharers. This has involved reading each story of the top 500 as well as comments on those stories. We’ve also done related web searches, had discussions with journalists, used ratios (eg. likes:total shares) and some guesswork in assembling our framework.

During our capture period, we also tracked every article published on the homepages of another 105 news sites across the globe (118 in total). We tracked the articles’ share counts at regular intervals over a 24-hour period – on Facebook, Twitter and a few other social networks. In total we captured 1.4 million articles and their individual “sharing curves”. Hal will discuss the differences between Australian and US sharing in future posts.


Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

Andrew Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Microsoft's MSN. Twitter: @Huntzie

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