TIME Person of the Year 2014: Who was the winner on social media?

TIME Person of the Year 2014: Who was the winner on social media?

TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year has become a global institution since it first began in 1927. That year the winner was Charles Lindbergh, the legendary aviator and since then the likes of Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Adolf Hitler (1938) Queen Elizabeth II (1952), The Computer (1982) and Mark Zuckerberg (2010) have all had their photo featured on TIME’s iconic person of the year cover.

In the word’s of TIME themselves, “The title is bestowed to those who have, for good or for ill, most influenced the news and our lives in the past year.”

Although the person, thing or idea featured on the cover is always chosen by TIME’s editors, since 1998, TIME have also run an online poll to get the views of the general public.

This year, TIME’s editors chose those involved in the fight against Ebola, or the “Ebola fighters” as the Person of the Year whilst the winner of the online poll was Narendra Modi, India’s new Prime Minister. But here at Talkwalker the question we wanted to answer was who was the most discussed on social media?

We decided to analyse TIME’s hashtag for the event #timepoy and the term “TIME Person of the Year” to see what insights we could draw from the information. We started tracking mentions from November 19th (the day the online poll started) until just after the announcement. The candidate with the most social media mentions will receive a perhaps even more prestigious award: The Talkwalker TIME PoY Social Media Champion Award (or the TTPSMCA).

And the social media winner is…

Before we announce the winner, a couple of caveats. Although the TIME online poll finished on Saturday evening (Dec. 6th), our analysis of the candidates continued beyond this point as the conversation doesn’t just stop once voting has finished. We also took a look at the effects of the official announcement on December 10th.

Secondly, Beyonce has been excluding from the results due to what I will call the Beyonce hijack – more on that later!

Now without further ado the social media winner for the 2014 TIME Person of the Year is…Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi!

Modi, who became India’s new Prime Minister this year, came out on top in terms of social mentions with around 33,000, over 10,000 more than his closest competitor, the Ferguson Protestors. Interestingly, despite the high number of mentions for Modi on social media, mentions for the Ferguson protestors drove more engagement suggesting that there was more of an actual discussion about the protestors.

The bronze medal went to another new world leader, Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, who has been described by some as the people’s President, due in part to his relatively humble upbringing.

time person of the year

How about the winner, the Ebola Fighters and the other top nominees?

Before the announcement was made, the Ebola fighters were 11th in overall mentions with 1276 but they leapt up the rankings after they were announced as the winner, going all the way up to 4th place.

ebola jump statistics

The Ferguson Protestors were second on TIME’s shortlist and were second also in both the TIME online poll and in discussions on social media, a testament to the wide impact they have had, particularly in the US. Russian President Vladimir Putin was second on TIME’s shortlist and was fourth in social mentions pre-announcement but was bumped down a spot after the announcement was made.

Activists strong in online polling

time online poll


time social media winner

As you can see, the first two positions of the online poll match the Talkwalker mentions ranking but after that the two lists diverge. Third place in social media mentions goes to Indonesian PM Joko Widodo whilst third place in the online poll went to Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong. In fact, world leaders performed much better in terms of social media mentions than they did in online voting. This suggests that although they generated plenty of discussion, when it came to actually voting, the online public chose activists like Joshua Wong and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Mention Nationalism

One noticeable aspect of the mentions of certain candidates including PM Modi is that they appeared to cluster around certain countries. Although this may not be surprising in and of itself, the fact that the degree to which this occurred changed depending on the nation is more interesting.

talkwalker statistics time world map

As the map shows, mentions for Modi and Widodo dominated in India and Indonesia respectively. In Hong Kong, protest leader Joshua Wong generated the most mentions whilst in Russia mentions of President Putin far outstripped anybody else. In the US however, mentions of PM Modi exceeded those of President Obama whilst in Germany there were only 205 mentions of any of the above candidates and even most of those were not about German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The high level of total mentions in India and Indonesia therefore seem to show that this award meant more to some countries than others.

Overall: World leaders dominate the discussion but activists inspire voters

Overall world leaders tended to dominate the social media discussion but when it came to voting online, activists had the edge. Interestingly, celebrities were a fair way down the pecking order (Taylor Swift was the highest ranked celebrity at #10) suggesting that despite their vast hordes of social media followers, celebrities weren’t really discussed in conjunction with the Person of the Year. And speaking of celebrities…

The Beyonce Hijack

Beyonce at the grammys

Credit: Getty Images

Unfortunately, Beyonce had to be disqualified from Talkwalker’s mention tracking as somebody or perhaps several people decided to hijack the #timepoy hashtag and use it together with Beyonce’s name.

As a result, Beyonce generated well over 300,000 mentions in relation to TIME’s Person of the Year, more than the rest of the candidates combined.

Although this incident created a bit of a problem in terms of judging social media mentions it was an interesting example of how hashtags for major competitions can be systematically hijacked by fans or pranksters. It should be noted that Beyonce only came 12th in TIME’s online poll.