Steve Jobs (1955-2011). More Inspiring Dead Than When Alive?

Steve Jobs died October 5, 2011. Although the trespass was somehow expected as people and media knew that Apple Inc co-founder was suffering the last stages of a metastatic tumor, the news of his trespass provoked a shock and a massive global media coverage and social media conversation.

This is for instance the Associated Press message published in Twitter shortly after the decease.

Apple published an official press release:

We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.

Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.

His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts

Apple Press Info, October 5 2011

Shortly after Apple main web site page showed the following Steve Jobs’ portrait and message

Media reaction and social media conversation was quite in line with the storyline of the official statement: visionary, creative, genious, inspiring where clearly the leading defining words used to refer to Jobs impact and legacy.

One of the documents about Steve Jobs most widely shared in the social media just after Jobs decease was the Youtube video recording of his 2005 speech for the Stanford University commencement ceremony. Traditional media also referred to this video, sometimes showing it in their on-line editions.

This is a 15 minutes speech that is praised by many, and well known before his death. It is considered as a highly inspirational message.

You can watch it in the annex section of this post.

Youtube metrics analysis

We have used Youtube metrics in some of our previous reputation cases. We obtained for instance relevant information about a very controversial social media ad campaign run by Spanish based luxury firm Loewe (see Loewe case). We also quantified the contagion effect in social media crisis like the one experienced by FedEx (see FedEx case). We also evaluated the impact of the risky ad by T-Mobile making spoof of the British Royal Family (see T-Mobile case).

Analysis of the quantitative information gathered from Youtube is again the core ingredient of this present post. We will use this platform for gauging a rather evanescent issue: how the inspiring messages by Steve Jobs have been affected by his death.

Inspiring Steve Jobs: before and after his death

It is a common perception that many public personalities are unanimously praised only at the moment of her/his death. Not before this moment. Also, in some cases, this strange positive unanimity tends to be short lived, and negative views about the personage emerge some days/weeks/months after the person is buried.

We want to explore the ‘dynamics of praising’ defunct people using Steve Jobs case, based in Youtube quantitative analysis.

There are of course many different videos about the speech given by Steve Jobs in front of some thousands students from the prestigious Stanford University. As it was a very successful video and highly recommended by viewers, new versions of it appeared, offering it to new audiences for instance by adding subtitles in different languages.

The one we have included in the annex is the main reference in Youtube. It corresponds to the official version provided by the Stanford University Youtube channel. It was uploaded by March 2008.

By October 2012 it counts with more than 15 million views. As you may guess, it is the most popular video of the Stanford Youtube channel. Second most viewed video is the 2008 Commencement Speech given by Oprah Winfrey, with slightly more than 1 million visits.

There is no public statistics available about the time evolution of viewing, comments and liking clicks.

As we at MRI Universidad de Navarra were interested in learning from the massive social impact provoked by his death, we decided to monitor the evolution of the figures of this video and of some other videos in other international languages.

Our first measurement of date about the video viewing and reacting was made some 15 hours after the death was publicly announced. So, we missed the movements in between and how the situation was just before the decease. It’s a pity because we don’t count with a perfect before-after measure. This is somehow mitigated by the fact that first 10 hours were night time in the US. We can expect that the rush for viewing again the inspirational video started few hours before our first measurement. But it is true that we have to apply some correction to our ‘before the decease’ measure.

Short term reaction: October 2011

Fist measure we show refers to interest in Steve Jobs message. It exploded.

As said, our first measure had some 6.5 million views (October 6, 8am PT). One day later it jumped to 9 million views. This also means that initial records before Jobs trespass was probably around 5 million views. Those 5 million views were reached in 3 years and a half. It almost doubled in a couple of days. Additional number of views were strong in the following days, but moving in the range 100.000-200.000 per day (we will show de detailed daily data later). By the end of October the video broke the 12 million mark.

We have thus a massive and concentrated increase of interest for Steve Jobs message just after the decease. Interest in viewing the video slowed after first couple of days, but the number of visits was still well beyond the rate during living days of the entrepreneur.

Our first measure looks into interest for the person and his message. It increases sharply. This reaction, highly predictable, does not yet answer our question concerning the value given by viewers to the inspirational message, and the eventual different perception before and after death.

We provide a couple of complementary measures before moving to the qualitative analysis about ‘loving Steve Jobs message’. We present the measures concerning the time evolution of the reaction of viewers. They are both related. They show how viewers are questioned by watching the video and are moved to react either by clicking the ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ button, or by posting a comment. Values are presented in a per thousand basis. Figures correspond to daily values, not to accumulated rates.

Initial records start at 8 points for Reaction Rate (voting like/dislike) and 2.1 for Participation Rate (commenting). These initial values show basically pre-decease rates (plus the impact of very initial reaction). Comparing them to post-decease values during the first days and all October 2011 we observe a smooth decreasing trend (5-6 points for the Reaction Rate, 1-1.5 points for Participation Rate). There are some peaks in between, with a big short increase around 24-26 October 2011. The official biography of Apple co-founder was publicly available by 24 October 2011.

We turn now to the measures concerning how people judged his message.

We use for this purpose the most direct measure: the like votes over all votes, in percentage (like/(like+dislike)*100). As explained before, the data corresponds to our own monitoring, as statistics about the video are not publicly available. Results refer to daily values of the Liking rate.

Initial rate by Octoer 6 2011 was an astounding 98.7 level. Just 1.3% voting people selected the dislike button. This corresponds to the reaction of the 6.5 million viewers during the initial 3 years and a half, before Jobs death.

What about the emotional impact of the news of his decease, that moved all these new millions of people to watch the video?

We find that even if the initial rates were extremely positive, there was still room to improve the global perception of it, as the Liking Rate jumped to 99.4% by October 7. This corresponds to an amazing rate of one negative vote for each 175 positive votes. Daily values stayed over 99% level till October 13.

We observe a decrease of fervor among people watching the video in the following weeks, with a decreasing path towards the bottom level of 97% by October 28. This is few days after the release of the biography. We observe a sudden increase at the end of the month.

Our empirical results are telling us that the immediate reaction to Steve Jobs was to sharply increase the praise for his words and message and his profile as inspiring hero. Some may argue that this movement is made by arch-fans of Steve Jobs, and that this auto-selection does not reflect the global sentiment. But for the same reason it could be argued that the people watching the Commencement Address when he was alive are also Steve Jobs fanatics and they do not represent global sentiment.

The second result we obtain is that this strong increase of emotional fervor pushing people to appreciate the message more positively than when he was alive is quite short-lived, as in a matter of one week the level of the Liking Rate returns to pre-decease levels.

We observe that the decreasing trend goes even beyond pre-decease levels. But as we have some upward reversals, the final trend is unclear.

It is thus wise to expand the time span, and look at mid-term reaction to how people perceive Steve Jobs message one year after his death.

Mid-term reaction: From October 2011 to October 2012

We present in this section the evolution of the same Rates presented in the previous section, but now we cover the period October 6 2011 (which contains the information of views since March 2008) and October 2 2012.

First results are about number of views. We have shown that the number of views jumped from 6.5 by October 6 2011 to 12 million three weeks after. Now, one year later, the number of views reaches the 15.3 million mark. The video has added 3 million of new viewers in eleven months. Some information of the trend followed is presented in the next figure.

As for the Reaction and Participation rates, we find a sustained decrease of Reaction Rates during year 2011 (from 8 to 4 points), while it recovers slightly for year 2012 viewers, to 5.8 points. The Participation rate also suffers from constant decreases, which stabilize around the 1 point value. Steve Jobs message prompts clearly lower levels of viewers’ reaction one year after his death than when he was alive.

What about our critical variable, the Liking Rate?

Our results tell us that Steve Jobs has lost some attractiveness as inspiring hero, one year after his death. Liking rate moved in average always above pre-death levels (98.5%) in the short term (October 2011). But the disaffection trend that we observed within October observations is confirmed in following months, as December 2011 values dropped to 96.7%. Average Liking Rate during year 2012 is 97.4%. Even if this corresponds to an extraordinary positive reaction to Jobs speech, it corresponds nevertheless to lower rates than obtained when he was alive. This decrease of attractiveness of Steve Jobs as role model may be affected by some grey areas of his personal and professional behavior shown in his biography.


Like in many of our previous analysis in this blog, easy and public metrics produced in the social media allow us to provide new information and knowledge concerning personal reputation, that go well beyong intuitions and personal feelings.

The anonymous reaction of millions of people watching the video gathered thanks to Youtube participation tools are a powerful source of information helping us to explore new areas relevant for marketing, branding, public relations and reputation experts.



2005 Stanford Commencement Address by Steve Jobs