On Thursday last week, Rupert Murdoch’s News International announced the closure of the world’s no.1 English language newspaper, the News of the World.

Now, whatever you think of the revelations about the paper's conduct leading up to the closure, or whether you view the closure as a cynical ploy, there can be no doubt that brands pulling out of advertising with the News of the World brought the situation to a head, and we think that social media was a major cause of that.

Last week, social media was on fire with people commenting on the wrongdoings of the News of the World.

NOTW vs super-injunction volumes

As you can see, the protest about the News of the World was much bigger than the kerfuffle around the super-injunction saga just two months ago, the only comparable recent UK political social media event (which was of such a scale that it actually drove significant adoption of Twitter).

What was interesting, alongside the sheer scale of the outpouring of almost universally negative feeling (which we can assume was merely reflective of that of society as a whole and of conversations going on in their millions in pubs and cafés all over the country), was how brands were dragged into the affair.

On Tuesday last week several disparate and unconnected groups of people emerged independently, coming up with the idea of targeting brands who advertised in the News of the World and getting people to ask them to stop. This spread like wildfire through social media. Both Rory Cellan-Jones and Gordon MacMillan, have done a good job of trying to chronicle this grass roots uprising, which ranged from a forum thread on Mumsnet that linked to pre-written tweets targeted at individual brands, to left wing blogs encouraging their readers to take action.

We've looked at the conversations on Twitter about News of the World which included mention of one of the targeted brands and come up with this picture of the situation:

Brands & NOTW volumes

In fact on the 5th and 6th July, over 25% of conversations on Twitter mentioning NOTW keywords also mentioned one of the targeted brands.

Brands' NOTW share of voice

What this meant was that brands were being bombarded in protest – most of whom will have been unused to such a spike in negative attention. This was not just happening on Twitter, with targeted brands' Facebook pages becoming venues for significant protest too.

Targeted brands

Volumes of tweets containing targeted brands & NOTW keywords on the 5th and 6th July

Every brand involved was dealing with its own social media crisis last week. The sheer volume of this protest will have been a shock for many brands and drowned out any normal marketing activity. This cannot have failed to influence their decisions about whether to pull advertising from the News of the World.

The protest was fascinating in that there was no one single pressure group behind it - the same idea sprung up several times in different parts of social media. It was a mass outpouring of public opinion which hit at the right time and had its desired affect. We can expect this sort of thing can happen again, now that people have learnt about the collective power they can wield in social media...