We here at Share Rocket have a soft spot in our hearts for a good rocket launch. Last Tuesday was no exception, as we sat in awe watching SpaceX’s massive Falcon Heavy rocket lift off from the Kennedy Space Center and blast into the stratosphere.
Apparently, we weren’t alone. The launch was a big hit on social media, racking up video views and engagements on every platform. However, Facebook video was the clear winner in terms of driving engagement. Our analysis showed once again that compelling Facebook video posts, whether they are Live or native, are the best way to capture a highly-engaged audience when there is a breaking news event.
We analyzed the social data for all of the local TV stations we track to determine who had the top posts for the even on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The top posts on Facebook generated tens of thousands engagements, while the top posts on Instagram had engagements in the low thousands and the top posts on Twitter had engagements in the hundreds.
In total, we found 1,937 social posts by local TV news stations or journalists associated with the launch. 1,070 of those were Facebook posts, 801 were tweets, and 66 were Instagram posts. The average Facebook post generated 429 engagements per post, while the average Instagram post generated 180 engagements and the average tweet averaged just seven engagements.
The top post from a national news source was this live stream from Fox News, which generated more than 58,000 engagements on its own. But for our platform-by-platform top posts below, we focused on posts by local news stations or journalists. In all, we recorded 476,978 engagements from Falcon Heavy social media posts when we pulled the data, which was Thursday morning.
Let’s look at the top three posts on each platform:
The top three Falcon Heavy posts on Facebook shared one thing in common: they were all video posts. However, each of them focused on a different aspect of the launch.
KSAZ, the Fox station in Phoenix, had the top overall post among local news stations with nearly 34,000 engagements on its live stream of the countdown and launch of the rocket. The stream was a long one, lasting three hours and 53 minutes, just shy of Facebook’s four-hour limit for live streams. The post was also shared nearly 11,000 times the day it was published, which helped it build a large audience and ensured a big spike in engagement when the launch began. KSAZ’s Facebook Live post was the top social post in the Phoenix market that day by a wide margin – it generated about 27,000 more engagements than the No. 2 post.
The second overall post on social media came from WESH, the NBC affiliate in the Orlando-Daytona Beach market. The Orlando market is also the closest major media market to the Kennedy Space Center, which may explain why two of the top three social posts were from Orlando stations. Instead of the launch itself, WESH’s top post was native video of the rocket’s two flanking boosters returning to earth. The post generated more than 14,000 engagements the day of the launch, and had racked up more than 30,000 when we pulled the data on Thursday morning. More than 8,500 of the post’s engagements that first day were shares, which likely helped to give the post an extra lift over the next day, as it was not actually the top post in the market on the day of the launch.
The top post in Orlando the day of the launch, and the third overall post on social media when we pulled the data was from WKMG, the CBS station in the market. On the day of the launch, it generated more than 17,000 engagements and when we pulled the data, it had more than 22,000. WKMG’s post focused on a fun aspect of the launch, the rocket’s payload of a Tesla Roadster taking a test drive through outer space. WKMG’s post was a live stream from SpaceX from the cameras mounted to the vehicle as it orbited the earth. The stream lasted about 53 minutes and was shared more than 6,000 times the day it was published.
Compared to Facebook, the other social platforms Share Rocket tracks did not see anywhere close to the same level of impact from the Falcon Heavy launch. However, Instagram once again proved to be a better platform than Twitter when it comes to driving engagement. All three of the top posts came from the country’s two largest markets, which suggests that overall audience size was a factor in the top Instagram posts.
The top Instagram post among local TV news sources was from KABC, the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles. It was a video clip from SpaceX of the successful launch, along with a tease to see more on the station’s mobile app. The post had just shy of 2,500 engagements when we pulled the data on Thursday.
The No. 2 post on Instagram was from KTLA, the CW affiliate in Los Angeles. They went with a still image of the rocket sitting on the pad as onlookers stared at the massive craft. KTLA added a link to its coverage in its Instagram bio and also encouraged followers to visit their website for a full replay of the launch. It had generated about 1,500 engagements to date when we pulled the data.
The third top-performing Insta post from local stations came from the opposite side of the country, WABC in New York City. The ABC affiliate shared a video from the other side of the waterway surrounding the launch pad as the Falcon Heavy took off and began making its way out of our atmosphere. The post generated more than 1,300 engagements for the station.
For local TV newsers, it appears Twitter was the place to go to discuss the Falcon Heavy launch, but that didn’t translate into high levels of engagement for all but a few accounts. It is worth noting that two of the top three posts on Twitter came from individuals as opposed to station accounts, which made it unique among the three platforms we’ve looked at.
The top post may have been a case of the early bird getting the worm. It was still dark outside when Ryan Elijah, an anchor for WOFL in Orlando, tweeted out pictures of the Kennedy Space Center ahead of the historic launch. That gave the tweet a lot of time to rack up engagements and it had 423 when we pulled the data. He was the top individual for the station overall on the day of the launch after he generated more than 1,500 engagements in total on social media.
There was a large drop-off in engagement between first and second place on Twitter. The No. 2 post came from Jeremy Jojola, an investigative reporter for KUSA, the NBC affiliate in Denver. His post was a little bit of snark directed at flat-earthers. “Hey look,” he wrote. “The earth isn’t flat. How about that. #spacex #falconheavy” The tweet had generated 137 engagements at the time we pulled the data.
The third best-performing tweet came from the main station account of KCBS, the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. It was a 90-second video of the rocket’s launch, making it the only video post in the top three. At the time the data was pulled, it had generated 130 engagements. While that figure was strong for the platform, it shows why Facebook (and even Instagram) are the top platforms for multimedia content on social. Twitter’s (mostly) chronological order of posts are great for experiencing something in the moment, but are not a great way to generate lots of engagement on any one particular post. Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, reward engaging content by putting it in front of larger audiences, but lack the real-time camaraderie of Twitter.
The Falcon Heavy launch may not have provided many new lessons for local broadcasters, but it certainly served to underscore some points we’ve made in the past about each of the social networks Share Rocket tracks.
Namely, Facebook is a broadcaster’s best bet when it comes to having content consumed and engaged with by a large audience. In every metric, it is the top social media platform. Unless an Instagram post or a tweet goes viral, it has the biggest impact on Share Rocket scores of any platform in every market. That all of the top three Facebook posts were video-based (and two of the three were Facebook Live videos), it is also clear that the company is focused on that content and will reward it accordingly.
Second, Instagram is a useful platform for multimedia posts and continues to grow quickly, but it is not a natural driver of web traffic which may limit its appeal for broadcasters somewhat. With Facebook’s branded content policies now expanded to include Instagram, branded content and sponsored posts may become a better way to generate revenue through the platform as audience continue to grow as opposed to redirecting them to a station website.
Third, Twitter is a useful platform for journalists and a necessary space for broadcasters to have a presence. However, in terms of boosting social performance by Share Rocket’s metrics, it is clearly third among platforms due to the relatively low levels of engagement generated by content hosted on the platform. Even with a big event like the Falcon Heavy launch and good multimedia content relating to it, most posts did not generate more than double-digit engagements. Twitter is often where news breaks and is disseminated, but the chronological content feed that makes it great place to chat about breaking news also limits the ability of individual Twitter posts to reach audiences on the level that Facebook and Instagram do.
Finally, this analysis underscores the value of social media (and particularly Facebook) when it comes to big “tentpole” national media events. In large part thanks to their Falcon Heavy Facebook post, KSAZ increased its Share in the Phoenix TV social media market by +40% compared to the previous day. It was responsible for 39% of the engagement generated by the main KSAZ social accounts combined on the day it was published. These numbers illustrate how important it is for local TV stations to have a plan around events like the launch to reach not only niche audiences, like space fans, but the larger global audience when the event goes viral.