Trends Explained: Get Trending at Edfringe 2019

Trends Image 1.jpg

An arts writer and a data scientist walk into a bar…

…and the result is Fringebiscuit Trends, your finger on the pulse of the Edfringe Twitter conversation. Here, our Trends editor (and resident data geek) Alasdair Sykes gives us the run-down on how Trends came about, how it works, and what you, a Fringe performer, can do to maximise your exposure.

What is the goal of Trends?

The Edinburgh Fringe is a really, really noisy place. Beautifully so, but it does make it tough for performers (particularly newcomers and those on a tight budget — i.e. the majority) to make themselves heard. With the usual filters and biases associated with the way we absorb information, it’s easy for audiences (and reviewers) to miss or ignore deserving shows simply because they haven’t noticed them against the raucous Edinburgh backdrop. Trends aims to be an antidote to that — a way of cutting through the noise, and noticing the emerging performers who don’t have money to spend on massive billboards or armies of flyerers.

How does it work?

Basically, we access Twitter’s built-in data store to regularly gather a very large sample of tweets. At this point, we’ll search for generic, Fringe-related keywords and hashtags (i.e. #edfringe) to make sure we get everything relevant. Then we’ll run a routine to match those tweets to specific shows using either the show’s official handle (as provided on that show’s page) or a hashtag of the show’s name. Once we know which tweets are about which show, we run what’s called a sentiment analysis on those tweets — this allows us to see which tweets are really saying good things, and which are more day-to-day conversation. Then we use all this information to make an informed judgement of which shows are really getting positive feedback on Twitter — including many that we might not previously have known about.

Is it perfect?

Of course not! It’d be far overreaching to claim it’s utterly objective or infallible. For a start, it’s only focused on one platform (Twitter) and while that’s the focal point of a big proportion of the Fringe conversation, it’s by no means all of it. There’s also a demographic issue there — I suspect shows with younger artists and audiences will generally have a more active presence there, whereas others will be under-represented. Taken with these inherent biases in mind though, I think it still gives a very useful insight.

One of the trickiest parts of the Trends algorithm is the sentiment analysis (i.e. figuring out programmatically which tweets are saying positive things), because the way that people converse is super complex and constantly changing. Fortunately, this is a really active research area within data science, and we’ve been able to step up our game from last year to incorporate some of this new research.

What can I do to improve my exposure on Trends?

There are two questions here; firstly, what are the important things to do to ensure that the Trends algorithm picks up on your Twitter activity? And secondly, what is the best way to maximise the show’s popularity on Twitter?

The first is the easy one, so we’ll start there. Your show needs something that can be used to identify it on Twitter — ideally a unique handle. If your handle is published on your show’s page, we already know it. Many performers use their personal handles, which is fine, so long as they’re not spread over multiple shows. If they are, then those tweets end up spread over multiple shows too, and their impact diminishes. Others use the venue or even the @edfringe handle, which is next to useless in identifying the show! If you also hashtag consistently throughout the run (i.e. using any hashtags that you want to associate with your show, like a name, caption or catchphrase), we’ll be able to pick up on this over time and link it to your show.

Once you’ve got that, it’s a matter of building up the Twitter conversation. Crucially, the positivity that Trends is looking for has to come from other people (not your own Twitter!), so you need to get people excited about your show and telling their friends! It takes two to tango though, so generally, we find that good shows with more active Twitter accounts (i.e. those that reply to and interact with their audience) get the biggest share of the Twitter lovin’. This is especially important if you’re an emerging performer, since social media is a real level playing field — when we first ran Trends in 2018, we were astonished to see some real underdogs (like free shows, and Fringe first-timers) heading up our analysis, and going on to do great things both during and after the Fringe.

Trends will be bringing you news and analysis from the front lines of the Edfringe Twitter-verse for the whole of Edfringe 2019. Check out the homepage here.