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Meet Space: social media data and the future of events

Two government bodies, Innovate UK and UK Trade & Investment, host an annual conference showcasing some of the best new ideas in tech from across the UK. Events like this are an important part of how governments support innovation. We analysed Twitter data from the recent 2015 conference to measure the event's global reach and networks between delegates. 

Imagine a future where our virtual selves network, shaking digital hands in cyberspace. The customary coffee and biscuits, mere simulations. But this is not the future, this is already happening (ok, not the food and drinks bit). We connect on LinkedIn rather than exchanging business cards. We can follow each other on Twitter without ever meeting face to face.

Nevertheless, face to face events continue to play a very important role in facilitating connections between people. They are more personal, resulting in closer relationships. They also perhaps allow a degree of serendipity that technology cannot yet offer- introducing us to people and topics we wouldn’t otherwise have come across. Though events continue to be mostly in person affairs, we see the increasing role of the online world in them. As we will show, conferences are playing out against a background of digital activity on social media. This digital footprint allows us to better understand these interactions.

Nesta has developed an approach to analysing the impact of events using the social media data generated at them, discussed in our report The Net Effect published last year (1). In this post, we use Twitter to understand the geographical distribution of people’s engagement with a major conference and measure the network of the social connections between delegates - illustrating how data and technology are likely to be increasingly central to the future of events.

To do this, we look at the UK’s Innovation and Trade agencies’ (Innovate UK and UKTI) annual conference, Innovate 2015, which showcases UK innovation. The conference took place November 9th and 10th in London’s Old Billingsgate fish market and brought together over 3000 delegates, ranging from foreign investors to government representatives to startup founders. The diversity of participants and topics covered, from agri-tech innovation to investing in Brazil, makes Innovate 2015 an interesting conference to analyse.

Mapping engagement: Putting all tweets on a map

Mapping the geographical locations of people who tweeted about Innovate 2015 can tell us a lot about the reach and influence of the conference. Are all tweeters London-based, in close geographical proximity to the conference venue, or do we see a wider audience- both within the UK and beyond?

We collected all tweets that used the conference’s official hashtag #innovate2015 in the days around and during the conference (2). This allowed us to capture Twitter users engaging with the event’s hashtag but who weren’t physically at the conference- engagements particularly indicative of impact and reach beyond the conference hall. We retrieved 6,795 tweets (3), of which 3,591 were retweets, created by 1,896 individual tweeters. Assessing how many of these individuals were actually present at the conference would involve comparing this list to a complete list of Twitter handles of registered participants. Because a full list of attendees’ Twitter handles was not available, we were unable to determine with certainty who was physically at the conference, and who wasn’t.

An analysis that could be done was looking at where those tweeting were based. The self-reported locations in the tweeters' profiles (see below for an example) were used as a proxy for geographical location. Though not all locations were usable - we filtered out results that were too generic (“Europe”), or not actual locations (“Hiding on the internet”) - we still obtained 348 different mappable locations, for 62 per cent of our tweets. This provided a much larger sample of location information than geo-tagged tweets (which record a user’s exact location at the time of tweeting) as very few people enable that feature (4).


The text in the red box shows a user’s self-reported location.

In the maps below, we have mapped all the Innovate UK conference tweets and retweets, aggregated by locations (e.g all tweets in a city or region), separating out the UK (which accounted for 75 per cent of tweets) from the rest of the world. The size of the bubbles for each location reflect the combined number of tweets and retweets (as total tweets) generated by people based there; the bigger the area of the bubble, the more tweets. Color shades similarly reflect the number of tweets: the darker pink the bubble, the more tweets generated in that location. Hovering over a bubble reveals the location’s name and the number of associated tweets. Areas with a particularly high density of bubbles can be magnified by hovering over.  

 Map of tweets generated in the UK                                                                                                                                                            


Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Principal researcher

Katja Bego is a Principal Researcher and data scientist in Nesta’s technology futures and explorations team.

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John Davies

John Davies

John Davies

Economic Research Fellow, Creative Economy & Data Analytics

John is a research fellow focusing on the digital and creative economy. He is interested in the interface of economics, digital technology and data.

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