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The news broke on television late in the evening – triggering an unprecedented reaction on social media. At 10:35 p.m., the reaction peaked at 8,868 tweets per second.

But the trigger wasn’t a surprise address by President Obama about the demise of Osama bin Laden. It was the August 28 surprise announcement by pop star Beyonce, on MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs). She unsnapped her jacket and rubbed her belly, revealing she was pregnant.

The record-setting social-media response was widely reported – but what insights did it hold for programmers, advertisers, or TV viewers?

This is the question that companies like Trendrr.TV, Socialguide, and Bluefin Labs–who we profile in this feature article–are trying to answer.

Trendrr.TV, for example, assembled this infographic showing the source of the VMA comments and providing a sense of the positive/negative and gender sentiment breakdown. Socialguide and other services help you find shows people are talking about. Bluefin Labs tracks response to shows and ads, and finds affinities among the commenters.

Bluefin estimated that the VMAs produced the highest social media response ever, with about 1.25 million people making about 2.5 million comments (most, but not all, of them are Tweets). As you might expect, Beyonce led the pack in the “word cloud” – the top 50 words and terms used in social media when people talked about the awards.

But the news for advertisers was more mixed. The VMA’s had ten sponsors. Because it also tracks advertisements on TV and which ones people are commenting on, Bluefin was able to determine that those VMA commenters who also commented about ads did so in widely varying proportions, as follows:

1. Taco Bell: 39%

2. Kia Motors: 32%

3. Red Bull: 8%

4. PacSun: 7%

5. State Farm: 5%

6. Wrigley’s 5 Gum: 3%

7. Sharpie: 3%

8. CoverGirl: 2%

9. Verizon Wireless: 1%

10. Dove: Less than 1%

This sort of data might carry a take-home lesson for Cover Girl and Dove to make catchier ads that will make people talk about the brand on social media. (Bluefin was also able to come up with a list of shows that VMAs commenters had most commented on in the past.) These simple insights are start toward making social media analytics more sophisticated, predictive, and insightful on a range of subjects, like politics.

More than 300 million social media comments made publicly every day, and the number keeps rising. With the tools getting sharper, hopefully Beyonce’s baby will grow up to see them used only for good.

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