Bigger Than X Factor (Not)

You’d expect me to be a rabid pro-BBC Question Time nutter. Well, I am.

But I hope not averse to facts.

I’d like BBC Question Time to be the most popular thing on Twitter – certainly. But I’d only claim it if I thought it were true.

The BBC PR machine did make this claim and I think it’s false. I have commented before about the BBC Question Time PR machine. I think it’s flippant, light-headed and manipulative. (see previous posts on how it leaks “gossip” before it’s broadcast).

At first, I ignored the latest PR overstatement, but now I’m having to comment.

The latest PR travesty is David Dimblebobble’s comment on last week’s show that Question Time was bigger on Twitter than the X Factor.

At 24:04 minutes in (iPlayer) he said: “we’re now as popular as The X Factor, which is nice to know”.

I thought it was a slip of the tongue – no way, I thought.

But then The Guardian ( ran a story which said:

Here it is:

I commented on their website saying it was a nonsense. [But comments on websites are silly – there is no reaction, no dialogue, no response].

Then the Technology Editor of The Guardian, @charlesarthur, tweeted on 21st November: “How Question Time got as big as The X Factor on Twitter” with a link to the article (sorry, I can’t find the original tweet).

My response to him on Twitter was to say that the only source which The Guardian had used was the website What The Hashtag and that was not reliable. (I’ve used it regularly – its data is total nonsense and any rudimentary testing would have spotted that). I also added a few expletives along the line of “this is a disgrace” “total screwup” etc etc.

Some tweets below (the @GabrielleNYC tweet is just an example of a retweet of @charlesarthur’s original):

But as you can see, @charlesarthur suggested I right the wrong.

I must admit to being a bit miffed.

But on reflection, it was clear to me that I had to “muck in” and try and set the record straight.

So here it is: this is NOT a scientific study, I am NOT offering FACTS. The reason is that “measuring Twitter” accurately is impossible – there is very little reliable data and repeatable analysis. And I did it quick-and-dirty in a rush to get off down the pub. But you can get enough “finger in the air” and “rough” data to get the gist of what’s happening here.

The gist is that Dimbleby was wrong, The Guardian was wrong and @charlesarthur was wrong.

All three parties propagated a mistruth. And they did it with conviction and they resented being challenged.

There are many terms about the use of hashtags and Twitter to measure (like “influence” and “amplification” ha ha) – most of them snakeoil and bogus – but the vast majority seem to indicate that The X Factor is significantly more popular than Question Time:

It’s also worth refuting a different point. The Guardian says that Twitter has given Question Time “a new lease of life” and it sings the praises of a BBC journalist by the name of Alex Hudson or @aj_hudson. His work with @bbcquestiontime is, apparently “a great example of how to involve the audience beyond those in the studio”.

And he is also quoted in The Guardian article as saying “we thought Twitter would work really well as it gives people, if nothing else, facts and debate topics to tweet around”.

He also says that on Twitter he is “really trying to push people into agreeing or disagreeing with other people”.

And of course, “he is genuinely proud of how successful our Twitter operation has become”.

This is all very grand self promotion and self congratulation. PR. It’s not really the truth.

To believe that the BBC spotted this opportunity and has driven it to success is not true. The BBC has responded, with some considerable delay, to what people on Twitter have been doing. The debate, the argument, the [beloved] hashtag, the growth, the stimulus, the the music, the dancing, the competitions, the @DIMBLEBOT, the playlists, the bbcqtbingo, pubqt, even the Facebook Page dedicated to a member of the audience with an interesting moustache – and other inventions (lots on this post) and the momentum all came from PEOPLE on Twitter. Not the BBC.

We have even asked them to do more – considerably more – with the Twitterers Manifesto for example).

For them to assume that degree of influence is not right.

What broadcasters and newspapers are slowly realising is that PEOPLE can actually now get on with quite a lot on their own – we love our telly and we can do more with it. You don’t need to control us. Just help us. We can take lots more from here.

The BBC’s use of Twitter around Question Time is growing and hugely welcome, but it is still tentative and immature: the @bbcquestiontime ID does precious little: not active for most of the time, sends out “interesting” one-off comments from the panel or audience and retweets what some viewers says.

In no way can you class the BBC’s use of Twitter around Question Time as either leading edge or bigger than The X Factor.


I think the upshot is this:

  • Twitter analytics are very unreliable
  • Journalists at the BBC should know better than to rely on single-source unreliable numbers to make grand claims like being “more popular than the X Factor”
  • The Guardian should know better too
  • The BBC and The Guardian and @charlesarthur should put the record straight
  • I think it was all a big hoot for the mates at the BBC and their mates at The Guardian
  • Broadcasters (well, all of us actually) shouldn’t be too self important
  • I should drink more Guinness and Jaegermeister and not take things too seriously
POST POST – WRITTEN 23rd June 2011
Someone had added a new section to the Question Time entry in Wikipedia:
“The show’s presenter claimed on 18th November that “we’re now as popular [on Twitter] as The X Factor”. As well as repeating the Guardian’s claim and adding a highly personalised inference that “social networking can be as much a tool for serious discourse as it is for celebrity snarking”.
I deleted that paragraph. I think the Wikidemons will put it back. Remember the Wikipedia mantra: “The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth” (their bold, not mine). And there’s no way (is there?) that my bloggette ranks as near “verifiable” as The Guardian.

So, I am expecting to be overruled by Wikidemons. I also expect my frail blog to be trampled by the credibility of the “reliable source” or the “reliable, published source” which they say is so important to the Wik. Anyway, we’ll see. I may be wrong.


2 responses to “Bigger Than X Factor (Not)

  1. I didn’t and don’t “resent being challenged”. You interpret it that way – wrongly – but I’m perfectly happy to have better sources pointed out to me.

    It’s good to have some more sources than the original ones, though these are all flaky in their own particular ways – without being able to hook directly into Twitter’s raw feed and analyse that it’s going to be impossible to get the exact picture. But you’re right, it looks like BBCQT overstated its case.

    Have you considered a tweet at the BBC journo who does so much on it, and perhaps an email to the Guardian writer who did the TV piece?

    Journalists like to have good, fast sources of information. It’s a real misinterpretation – which edges towards cynicism about the human condition – to attach that long list of bad intentions to people. Journalism is often done under extreme time pressure, with few reliable sources, to an unforgiving audience. Sometimes it’s not perfect. This isn’t, however, because journalists start out with the intention of getting things wrong. Quite the opposite.

    Equally, though, simply saying “no, that’s wrong” isn’t what anyone calls a well-constructed argument, so you shouldn’t be surprised if people respond by saying “well, show us how it’s wrong then”. That’s not an obstinate refusal to face facts. It’s asking for evidence. Scientists do the same. If you claim the world is run by giant purple lizards, I’ll tend to ask for evidence first, because it would make a helluva story if it’s true. If you decline to provide any, though, I’m going to conclude you’re just a crackpot.

    Also as to “I think it was all a big hoot for the mates at the BBC and their mates at The Guardian”, as you’ve got an iPlayer/YT link up there, it’s hardly as though they kept it a secret, now is it. And that sentence of yours also betrays another mistaken belief – that journalists all just collaborate to write nonsense. You’re confusing the BBC and Guardian with the Daily Star and Katie Price, I’m afraid.

    If I were going to nitpick, I’d say that you could include links to those searches above – I had to redo them all myself, which got a bit boring, but did confirm most of your findings. (For me, Tweetreach said #bbcqt reached 23,654 people with exposure of 36,419, while for #xfactor its figures were 19,476 people with exposure of 24,921 – clearly miles off the reality, since I can reach nearly that many people with a single tweet, and I’m not even close to being an #xfactor “hub”.)

    Thanks for contributing though.

    • I guess we all have a duty of care on what we write – sometimes we’re all rushed. I really hope @bbcquestiontime grabs this whole thing and takes it further – there’s so much more to do.

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