Red Bull Stratos jumpOver the last 24 hours or so, there’s been a lot of talk about Neil Armstrong. The first man on the moon is getting a lot of mentions because we got another first man yesterday. The first man to break the sound barrier, on his own. When Felix Baumgartner stepped out of that capsule 128,000 feet above the earth he set all sorts of records. A record he probably wasn’t aiming at was recorded on social media. The Red Bull Stratos jump was the first event to receive 7 million live viewers on YouTube.

It represented a huge step forward for the video sharing social network and gave a great reminder of how integral to modern life social media engagement has become. It certainly had the feel of a landmark moment, a particular landmark moment in fact. Watching a man looking out over the earth, in full space suit and performing a World’s first event, certainly harked back to Neil Armstrong and the 1969 moon landing.

The fact that it probably won’t be as long remembered as the moon landing may also be the reason it was such an important event. The reason the moon landing was so special, besides the enormity of the feat, was that it was broadcast on television. A whole generation watched it happen. Another generation watched Felix Baumgartner fall to earth yesterday, but that generation will most likely continue to watch these events live. We’ll get so used to watching them live, that the enormity of the events may start to dwindle.

2012: The Social Media Year

One thing that won’t dwindle is the level of social media engagement that surrounds big events. This year has already shown that social media and news events of all kinds go hand in hand. We don’t just observe history anymore, we like it, we share it and we comment.

This summer saw two of the world’s most popular 4-yearly sporting events in Euro 2012 and the London Olympic Games. Both events generated unprecedented levels of social media engagement. During the final of Euro 2012 there were an amazing 15,358 tweets per second related to the game. The Olympic games followed closely on the heels of the Euros and it set social media engagement records on a near daily basis.

The games were hyped as the world’s first social Games and they lived up to the expectations. The opening and closing ceremonies generated over 5 million tweets between them, while the games averaged around 300k tweets per day. As social media has become second nature to most of us, we feel the need to comment on these events as they happen. Social media engagement makes people feel like they’re part of these big events and par of a wider social media community.

More than Just Comments

Social media engagement may even go further than that this year. Besides just commenting on the news, social media has begun to set the news agenda as well. This year alone, people have been arrested in the UK over Twitter comments. In the US, companies like Progressive Insurance and KitchenAid have found themselves in the news for the wrong reasons. These are just one off stories though. Social media may have a bigger news influence as we come towards the end of the year and the US Presidential election.

Both candidates have been using social media throughout the campaign. Social media engagement played a huge part in Barrack Obama’s 2008 campaign. But the real difference could be made, as we get closer to the election. Social media is far more widespread now than it was in 2008. Back then it was used by a subset of the community. In 2012 one seventh of the world’s population is on Facebook. Social media engagement is no longer a past time for the tech savvy or the young. It’s now an integral part of modern life.

This year, people like Usain Bolt and Felix Baumgartner made history with the world watching. By the end of the year Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will get their own moment of history. All the while, social media engagement will allow each of us to grab our own little pieces of history too.

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