Ronaldo returns to United and breaks social media records

Article by Dr. Alex Fenton and Dr. Wasim Ahmed

CR7, Ronaldo has returned to Manchester United. To any football fan, this is big news. The continued global growth of smartphones and social media fans the flames of this news around the world. For those that don’t know – CR7 is not only the most followed sports person on social media in the world, but also outstrips all other sporting clubs and brands. He has accumulated a colossal 588,372.589 followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Chinese platform Weibo. Footballers Messi and Neymar are second and third respectively, followed by Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Messi’s new club Paris Saint Germain.

CR7’s previous move from Real Madrid to Juventus, Real lost over a million social media followers overnight.

Most followed football brands and players – KPMG football benchmark

The return of Ronaldo breaks the Internet

With 335 million Instagram followers, CR7’s announcement that he was making a return gained an incredible impact. One day after CR7’s announcement on Instagram, his post became the most “liked” ever on social media. It had 19 million likes in 6 days. It is also the most liked and retweeted post on Twitter. Manchester United immediately gained a million new Instagram followers in 2 hours.

Ronaldo to United was also the most talked about transfer ever on Twitter as it beat Lionel Messi to PSG by 700k mentions in the first day. Manchester United, player and fans posted a series of social media posts announcing the return. They used words such as home, family, belonging, receiving many millions of reactions from around the world. It is this connection to players, clubs and tradition that fans love. The social capital built by Ronaldo in his successful previous stint at the club, combined with his stellar achievements with Portugal and Real Madrid make this a match made in heaven. It also coincides with Ronaldo breaking the all time international men’s player scoring record. 

Messi’s recent move to PSG, whilst creating a large social media buzz, did not reach the heights of the CR7 transfer. Aside from that fact that Ronaldo is more followed on social media, the connection to his old club and old manager, the legendary Alex Ferguson. This means that the move created much more intrigue and impact on social media. It was well documented that Messi wanted to stay at Barcelona, but they simply couldn’t afford to keep him. 

Likewise, Ronaldo was linked at one point, with United’s local (and title) rivals Manchester City, who were once dubbed by Alex Ferguson as United’s “noisy neighbours”. The fact that United were able to sign him instead, combined with the history, love and excitement between player, club and fans all combined creates a much greater global social media impact.

 The graphic below provides a visual representation of the ‘virtual crowd’ that gathered to discuss, report and celebrate the signing. It shows how Twitter users all around the world conversed and a number of key influencers (highlighted in yellow) were particularly impactful. The shock-factor of the transfer may have particularly played a role in the vast amounts of activity that was generated.

NodeXL – Social network Analysis of Ronaldo’s transfer, network on Twitter.

Global fans follow the players more than the club on social media

Social media allows a global following of fans who are often following the player rather than the club that they play for. Whilst there is skepticism about the value of tens of millions of social media followers, it is clear that there is huge commercial potential. Clubs and players’ social media followings are often taken into account for valuations and it is clear that the most followed and active sporting brands obtain the most valuable partnerships and sponsorships.

CR7’s record breaking Instagram announcement

 When the news broke on social media there were many people sharing the news from all around the world. Fans all around the world conversed and a number of key influencers were particularly impactful. The shock-factor of the transfer may have particularly played a role in the vast amounts of activity that was generated. One thing is certain, the importance of a world star’s social media presence will only continue to grow.

What do you think of this move by CR7 and United? Will Ronaldo be a success on the pitch or is this simply good publicity? Let us know. You can also see Alex and Wasim discussing this topic recently on BBC Sport.

Originally published on:

The ability to critically interrogate social media data is an important skillset for today’s students

The Social Media Research Foundation recently hosted a week-long summer school on using social network analysis and NodeXL to analyse social media datasets. The summer school touched on important research areas such as disinformation, the current state of social media research, and the current state of computational social science more generally. The event was immensely popular and a repeat event is scheduled for January 2022.

The need to gain insights into social media has grown in importance with the increasing popularity of social networking websites and their influence on society and business. More and more people are increasingly participating in online communities for social, commercial, and civic interaction, new methods are needed to study these phenomena.

Students across a range of disciplines and departments will benefit from having knowledge of how to dig in deeper to conversations taking place across social media. Students may be tasked with growing their organisations social media presence, managing crisis events unfolding on social media, and/or be directly responsible for the management of their organisation’s platforms. Students working in public health may be interested in examining disinformation networks and campaigns.

NodeXL Pro, used in various classes and businesses around the world, offers the ability to import and analyse social media data drawing upon methods such as social network analysis. It is provided as an ad-on to the familiar Microsoft Excel application, and it was recently used to identify disinformation around COVID-19.

NodeXL Pro can tap into a number of platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia among others. It can also allow users to import their own data into the application. It has many thousands of academic citations and is a more affordable alternative to many expensive tools.

Moreover, a key differentiating feature to NodeXL Pro is the ability to interrogate the data behind the visuals and analytics as opposed to only viewing the resulting metrics, as is the case with some tools. The figure below provides an example of a visualised Twitter community. It shows the Twitter account of the World Health Organisation visualised in NodeXL Pro. Alongside the network a vast number of metrics are also produced.

Figure 1. The WHO Twitter network

Interested in learning more about introducing NodeXL Pro in your classes? Be sure to complete this form ( to receive free information and example syllabuses that are using NodeXL Pro with the option to speak with an instructor!

Social Media Research Foundation’s Summer School Recap

Over a week towards the end of July the Social Media Research Foundation hosted a Summer School. The format of the event included 3-full days followed by two one to one meetings with participants. Below you can see some of the members of the Social Media Research Foundation.

What content was being taught?

The summer school covered a variety of topics around researching social media datasets with a special focus on using social network analysis for gaining insight into collections of connections from social media platforms. Participants were provided with trial licenses to NodeXL Pro and were taken trough walkthroughs of how to analyse data.

The summer school covered important topical research areas such as disinformation, the current state of social media research, and the current state of computational social science among others. The Summer school also contained a number of talks on other tools and methods to analyse social media datasets, and we were lucky to have a number of excellent guest speakers. Below you can see an overview of the speakers at the event.

Our collaborations and competitions in the run up to the event

The summer school also offered a number of scholarships and collaborated with the Women in Network Science (WiNS) society to award fee waivers based on our competition on developing a research study using social media datasets. Below you can see some of our students during the final day of the event

What feedback did the Summer School receive?

Below you can read some of the quotes we received from attendees

“The NodeXL Summer School provides relevant practical lessons for starting your social media data analysis journey and the instructors are keen on adapting on your specific interests and research needs”

“NodeXL is super easy to use and offers great insights into social networks.”

“Big data analysis and visualization of social media data are simply beautiful with #NodeXL”

“An extremely dedicated team of experts who are determined to share and teach you how to do SNA!”

“If you love social media and understand its perks and value, the course allow you to star the path to become an expert of social media analysis.”

How can you get involved?

Don’t worry if you missed out this time! There is a Winter 2022 School and you can join a wait-list here. The content is likely to remain similar with potential further additions.

Want more information?

Be sure to check out this video overview of the event:

3-Day Social Media Research Summer School! Student scholarships available via competition!


Student FEE WAIVER competition:

Join us for 3 class sessions and two one-on-one meetings with our instructors.

This intensive week long event connects students, scholars and analysts with the NodeXL Team to learn to collect, analyze, visualize, report and present insights into collections of connections, like social media.

Day 1: July 27 – Introduction to networks, social networks, and social media networks!

Day 2: July 29 – Intermediate network analysis – automation, YouTube, Wikis, and more!

Day 3 : August 3 – Student project and discussion

If you can make a pie chart, you can now make a network chart!

Gain insights into collections of annotated connections.

Discover the key people leading each topic discussed in social media. Identify groups, factions, divisions and market segments in a discussion stream.

All students receive a free trial NodeXL Pro desktop user license for 60 days past the day of the class.

Learn to “Think Link” and gain insights into collections of connections found in social media and beyond!

About this Event

This event will introduce the importance of social media research & provide an overview of NodeXL Pro for the analysis of social media data.

*This event is capped with only a limited amount of discounted academic and student tickets…act to secure your ticket*

NodeXL provides easy access to social media network data streams, advanced network metrics, text and sentiment analysis, and powerful report generation with just a few clicks.

This session will be led by Dr. Marc Smith from the Social Media Research Foundation with guest speakers who will demonstrate network methods for research insights.

The event will be delivered online via Zoom. You will receive a meeting link 7-days before the workshop. The event will be recorded.

Organized by the Social Media Research Foundation.

Learn tips and tricks for downloading and social media data for your project!

No previous knowledge required.

By attending, you’ll gain a digital certificate and a 2 month trial access to NodeXL.



The need to gain insights into social media has grown in importance with the increasing popularity of social networking websites in particular (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram etc.) and social computing in general. As people increasingly participate in online communities for social, commercial, and civic interaction, new methods are needed to study these phenomena.

The event will focus on providing an overview of NodeXL and Social Network Analysis and will guide delegates on all the steps required to be able to use the tool to download and analyze social media data.

On completion, delegates will be emailed a certificate of attendance (PDF) and the skills that have been gained.

Learning Outcomes:

• Learn the required theories and concepts of networks and social networks

• Learn how to prepare your data for network analysis

• Learn the basics of the NodeXL Pro application

• Learn how to do automated analysis in NodeXL Pro

• Learn to identify key people and groups on social networks

• Learn how to run content analysis to create a vector of words, hashtags and URLs for each users, group, and population

• To understand how to interpret the network metrics

• To install and run NodeXL Pro

• To know the best practices on customizing network analysis to adapt to different data sources

• To learn how to build a network based strategy in your own organization

Who will benefit from this course?

This event will benefit a wide range of people including, but not limited to:

* Academics/ Researchers

* Masters and PhD students

* Research Support Staff and Managers

* Library and Information Professional

* Communications and Marketing Professionals

* Finance/Banking Professionals

* Entrepreneurs


• Installing NodeXL Pro

• Data preparation and cleaning methods – “think link”!

• Data about relationships, entities, and groups

• Content analysis

• Introduction to network structures: power laws, preferential attachment and the 1-9-90 law

• Identification of influential contributors (thought leaders)

• Network centrality and clustering algorithms

• Data visualization: drawing collections of connections

• Descriptive Statistics for Networks

• Exploratory analysis of networks

• Reporting and presenting network insights


Student FEE WAIVER competition:

Twitter Users Exhibited Positive Coping Behaviours during the COVID-19 Lockdown

Our recent study on the social media platform Twitter found that users were exhibiting positive coping behaviours during the initial lockdown period. Moreover, our sentiment analysis (see Figure 1) showed that from 3/22/2020 to 4/6/2020 positive tweets outnumbered negative tweets. Our study also identified a number of key themes and discussions that were taking place on Twitter during the initial lockdown period.

Figure 1 – Results of Sentiment Analysis

Below you can find our abstract and an author accepted copy of the paper is available on ResearchGate.


Purpose: Using data from Twitter, the purpose of this paper is to assess the coping behaviour and reactions of social media users in response to the initial days of the COVID-19-related lockdown in different parts of the world.

Design/methodology/approach: This study follows the quasi-inductive approach which allows the development of pre-categories from other theories before the sampling and coding processes begin, for use in those processes. Data was extracted using relevant keywords from Twitter, and a sample was drawn from the Twitter data set to ensure the data is more manageable from a qualitative research standpoint and that meaningful interpretations can be drawn from the data analysis results. The data analysis is discussed in two parts: extraction and classification of data from Twitter using automated sentiment analysis; and qualitative data analysis of a smaller Twitter data sample.

Findings: This study found that during the lockdown the majority of users on Twitter shared positive opinions towards the lockdown. The results also found that people are keeping themselves engaged and entertained. Governments around the world have also gained support from Twitter users. This is despite the hardships being faced by citizens. The authors also found a number of users expressing negative sentiments. The results also found that several users on Twitter were fence-sitters and their opinions and emotions could swing either way depending on how the pandemic progresses and what action is taken by governments around the world.

Research limitations/implications: The authors add to the body of literature that has examined Twitter discussions around H1N1 using in-depth qualitative methods and conspiracy theories around COVID-19. In the long run, the government can help citizens develop routines that help the community adapt to a new dangerous environment – this has very effectively been shown in the context of wildfires in the context of disaster management. In the context of this research, the dominance of the positive themes within tweets is promising for policymakers and governments around the world. However, sentiments may wish to be monitored going forward as large-spikes in negative sentiment may highlight lockdown-fatigue. Social implications The psychology of humans during a pandemic can have a profound impact on how COVID-19 shapes up, and this shall also include how people behave with other people and with the larger environment. Lockdowns are the opposite of what societies strive to achieve, i.e. socializing.

Originality/value: This study is based on original Twitter data collected during the initial days of the COVID-19-induced lockdown. The topic of “lockdowns” and the “COVID-19” pandemic have not been studied together thus far. This study is highly topical.

New output: Twitter dialogue: an analysis of Pakistani politicians’ information sharing

person holding gray video camera near green leaf plant during daytime
Image Credit and Original Source Here

Social media became a great platform for people to interact with their friends and family. Politicians have also been using social media as a way to connect with voters which has helped many citizens stay interested in what is happening in government. It also helps major political parties engage directly with the people, without high cost barriers.

Politicians can now speak to the people who their policies affect the most. Politicians are able to engage directly with constituents and followers. This allows politicians more freedom to address issues that arise regularly on social media. They also allow politicians to keep in touch with their followers and supporters, which is very important for any politician in the 21st century.

Although there has been a burst of research conducted on social media usage by political parties and figures in developed countries there has been a lack of empirical research that has examined developing countries.

We recently published a study which aimed to “explore the information-sharing patterns of Pakistani politicians through Twitter accounts during the pre-election campaign of 2018”.

You can find the full abstract below as well as a link to the paper on ResearchGate.

Purpose: The use of Twitter by political parties and politicians has been well studied in developed countries. However, there is a lack of empirical work, which has examined the use of Twitter in developing countries. This study aims to explore the information-sharing patterns of Pakistani politicians through Twitter accounts during the pre-election campaign of 2018.

Design/methodology/approach: Data of three weeks of the official party accounts and the politicians running for prime minister were analysed. The mixed-methods approach has been used to analyse quantitative and qualitative data retrieved through Twitonomy.

Findings: It was found that the most active Twitter account belonged to the winning party. The prominent Twitter account functions were a call to vote, promotional Tweets, promises and Tweeting about party developments. The present study provides evidence that there is a difference between the Tweeting behaviour of established and emerging parties. The emerging party heavily posted about changing traditional norms/culture/practices.

Practical implications: The study contributed to existing knowledge and has practical implications for politicians, citizens and social media planners.

Originality/value: The present study was designed carefully and based on empirical research. The study is unique in its nature to fill the research and knowledge gap by adding a variety of Twitter functions used by politicians.

Be sure to check out the full paper here:’_information_sharing

Full reference:

Batool, S. H., Ahmed, W., Mahmood, K., & Saeed, H. (2021). Twitter dialogue: an analysis of Pakistani politicians’ information sharing. Information Discovery and Delivery.

Who are the key users and what are the key topics on Twitter related to wearing masks during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Our paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health examined discussions related to masks on Twitter from 27 June 2020 to 4 July 2020. You can view our paper here.

Check out more about our study below:


Background: High compliance in wearing a mask is a crucial factor for stopping the transmission of COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, social media has been a key communication channel for citizens. This study focused on analyzing content from Twitter related to masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Twitter data were collected using the keyword “mask” from 27 June 2020 to 4 July 2020. The total number of tweets gathered were n = 452,430. A systematic random sample of 1% (n = 4525) of tweets was analyzed using social network analysis. NodeXL (Social Media Research Foundation, California, CA, USA) was used to identify users ranked influential by betweenness centrality and was used to identify key hashtags and content.

Results: The overall shape of the network resembled a community network because there was a range of users conversing amongst each other in different clusters. It was found that a range of accounts were influential and/or mentioned within the network. These ranged from ordinary citizens, politicians, and popular culture figures. The most common theme and popular hashtags to emerge from the data encouraged the public to wear masks.

Conclusion: Towards the end of June 2020, Twitter was utilized by the public to encourage others to wear masks and discussions around masks included a wide range of users

You can view the full paper here:

Disaster relief in China: what’s the public’s awareness of insurance and willingness to participate in disaster relief efforts?

Our latest research published in the journal Natural Hazards examined disaster relief in China, the paper can be accessed here.

Below you can find an overview of our study and results.


Meteorological disasters frequently occur in China and around the world. These natural hazards can cause huge economic losses and threaten the personal safety of citizens. The public’s willingness to engage with disaster relief efforts and the degree of participation is critical to reduce the impact of such disasters.

This study conducted a survey with 62,903 respondents from China. The study utilized statistical analysis and correlation analysis in order to understand the differences and similarities of the public’s willingness to take part in disaster relief across gender and age.

The study found that:

(1) the public’s awareness of insurance and willingness to make donations during climate disasters is low, and that more than half of the public are only willing to insure for very less money;

(2) although the public has very high enthusiasm to participate in disaster relief, they are less willing to learn the basic skills of reducing disasters and for participating in training for disaster reduction as volunteers. This was especially the case for elderly citizens and females;

(3) the willingness of the public to prevent and reduce disasters is high, and this was the case across various gender and age groups. Finally, the study puts forward several measures to improve the uptake of disaster relief and disaster prevention among citizens.

Be sure to check out our paper here:

COVID-19 Misinformation: Research Collection

There has been a lot of false and malicious information shared related to COVID-19.

We have been conducting research related to a number of different conspiracies. Below you can find an overview of some of the work we’ve done around COVID-19 misinformation.

COVID-19 and the 5G Conspiracy Theory: Social Network Analysis of Twitter Data

Four experts investigate how the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory began

COVID-19 and the “Film Your Hospital” Conspiracy Theory: Social Network Analysis of Twitter Data

‘Film Your Hospital’ – the anatomy of a COVID-19 conspiracy theory