Tech Labs Report antitrust header image

Welcome to the Tech Labs Report from Zignal Labs, your latest dive into the issues currently driving conversations in tech. For today’s report, we used Zignal’s Narrative Intelligence Cloud to explore one of those most attention-grabbing stories in tech last week: the news of an antitrust lawsuit brought against Facebook.

Keep reading as we dive into questions like:

  1. What impact did the antitrust story have on conversations across media?
  2. What are the different perspectives on the story among the public?
  3. What lessons are there for brand managers and communications professionals?

Book a meeting to see how brand managers and communications professionals use narrative intelligence from Zignal to stay ahead of important stories for their brands.

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How Big of a Media Splash Does a 48-Plaintiff Lawsuit Make?

The antitrust actions against Facebook aren’t exactly a case of David versus Goliath. The social media giant is up against the Federal Trade Commission, together with 46 states and the District of Columbia. This comes on the heels of rumblings, earlier this year, of tech-focused antitrust action, and against a backdrop of swelling distrust of Big Tech among regulators and the public. When news of the lawsuit dropped on December 9, it occupied a margin-to-margin banner headline on The New York Times home page.

What else is going on in the world of social media? Vox cited Zignal data in a report on the rise of Parler. Read the article here.

But what did the public think? How much conversation did the story actually inspire across social and digital media? As it turns out, our analysis suggests the news may not have impacted conversation about the tech industry as much as one might think. Even when we narrowed our analysis to a three-day span covering the announcement of the lawsuit, we see that mentions related to “antitrust” only accounted for 6% of all mentions related to the tech industry. 

Your instinct might tell you that a major news story related to your industry calls for a strong communications or PR response, but what makes it onto the front page doesn’t always overlap with what your audience cares about.

6% isn’t insignificant, but considering the gravity of the story – a breakup of Facebook would be the first breakup of a major corporation in the United States since AT&T in 1984 – one might have expected it to be more of a show-stopper. And while the topic of Facebook, in general, occupied the lion’s share of mentions relative to other tech-related issues (47%), that’s only a 1% increase over the share it occupied during the week before the antitrust suit was announced.

Pie chart with mentions of Antitrust Litigation, Dec 8 - 10

Mentions of Antitrust Litigation among all tech-related mentions, Dec. 8 – Dec. 10.

Pie chart with mentions of Facebook, Nov 30 - Dec 7

Mentions of Facebook among all tech-related mentions, Nov. 30 – Dec 7.

For communications professionals, this deviation from expectations speaks to the importance of differentiating a big news story from a big conversation topic. Your instinct might tell you that a major news story related to your industry calls for a strong communications or PR response, but what makes it onto the front page doesn’t always overlap with what your audience cares about.

Making this distinction is a lot easier with robust narrative intelligence resources. Read our guide to learn how to find the narrative intelligence solution that’s right for you.

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A Conversational Flash in the Pan

While the story didn’t get past 6% of mentions in tech-related conversations, it did cause a bump – but even that bump didn’t last. Mentions of “Facebook Antitrust” spiked midday on Wednesday, December 9, the day the lawsuit was announced. But by the next day, it was only slightly elevated from where it was before the news broke. (Interestingly, after it dropped off, mentions of the technology industry in general saw a big surge, perhaps indicating that conversations across media were extrapolating the antitrust issue and applying it speculatively to other big tech firms. A cursory investigation shows there were indeed several mentions of a Congressional bill to break up Big Tech, but we didn’t thoroughly explore this question for this report.)

Line graph showing mentions within the Facebook Antitrust profile

Mentions per hour of the litigation (the purple line) spiked briefly on Dec. 9 before dropping off. Interestingly, mentions of the tech industry at large (the blue line) surged the following day.

This is a stark reminder of the need for speed when it comes to mounting a communications response to a news event. In today’s rapid-fire online ecosystem, even the most newsworthy topics don’t stay at the forefront for long. They may fade, or they may turn into something too big for you to authoritatively comment on. If you do decide that a story warrants a response, you need to mount your response quickly. 

Not every story that’s important to your brand is going to come with an in-your-face headline. Sometimes it takes sharp narrative intelligence resources to uncover key stories before they disappear.

Narrative intelligence is an essential component of your ability to do this. The Facebook antitrust story was huge – even casual consumers of news would have had a hard time missing it – but not every story that’s important to your brand is going to come with an in-your-face headline. Sometimes it takes sharp narrative intelligence resources to uncover key stories before they disappear.

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Recap: What Does This Mean for Comms?

Two main lessons, which we’ve discussed in this report, seem to emerge from our analysis:

  1. A big headline doesn’t always overlap with what’s important to your audience. Don’t assume a news bomb will resonate with your audience from a communications perspective – you might end up wasting time and effort. Confirm or refute your instincts with narrative intelligence.
  2. Even big stories pass quickly. If you do respond, make sure you get on it fast. Do you have the narrative intelligence resources necessary to make sure you’re alerted to response-worthy stories?

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Methodology

This analysis was conducted using Zignal’s “Technology Industry 2020” environment. We filtered using keywords and hashtags related to Facebook, antitrust, and monopolies to analyze the impact of last week’s antitrust announcement on conversations related to the tech industry.