This summer, Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us captured the imagination of Facebook users. Over 2.1MM people self-reported they were going, with another 1.5MM interested. The event was shared over 233K times, spawning hundreds of thousands of social media conversations. Arby’s announced plans for a food truck, Budweiser issued a special-edition beer, and local residents prepared for a national emergency.
This weekend, alien-seekers converged on Area 51, for the most part peacefully; just a handful of people were arrested. By most accounts, there were somewhere between several hundred and a couple thousand people in attendance. There was no national emergency, and definitely no storming of Area 51.
We decided to take a quick look at foot traffic patterns in the area to see what location intelligence could tell us about what happened.
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Using mobile location data to estimate event visits, about 1,510 people (traveling from places as varied as Pittsburgh, Nashville, Los Angeles and Portland) were in the Rachel, NV area for the event – numbers inline with those reported in the media. Another 340 visited the Storm Area 51 Basecamp just down the road in Hiko, NV.
Area 51 itself may remain a mystery, but the Storm Area 51 phenomenon proves that online activity often doesn’t equate to offline action. While Arby’s and Budweiser surely weren’t relying on Area 51 sales to make their Q3 numbers, marketers should proceed with caution when using social media signals in campaign planning. In the case of Storm Area 51, a whole lot of social media activity amounted to not much at all.
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