After the popularity of last week's social media poll on Scott Brown vs. Martha Coakley  (Larry's prediction actually turned out to be right !), we thought it would be fun to see who's winning in the "race" between erstwhile Tonight Show host Jay Leno and his successor Conan O'Brien, who, it's all but certain, will leave NBC after the network proposed giving his show back to Leno and pushing him back to a later, less coveted slot.
A lot of very vocal Conan fans aren't too happy about the change, but ratings are what really matter to NBC, presumably, so there must be a lot of Leno fans out there too, right? We looked at some social media metrics to see who has the most supporters in the online sphere.
The results? Well, it's complicated. We couldn't use the exact same methodology that we used for Coakley vs. Brown, for several reasons:
- Neither Leno nor Conan has a branded YouTube channel (presumably because NBC wants to keep video views on its own network).
- Conan O'Brien doesn't have his own Twitter account; the home page for the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien  links to Aaron Bleyaert's page (@BigBley ), an undefined employee. The Jay Leno Show , on the other hand, includes the full @nbcjay  feed. For some reason you can't get to his actual Twitter page from the site (the "Follow the Jay Leno Show on Twitter!" icon links to Twitter.com. Fail.).
- Despite the fact that Conan himself isn't on Twitter, there is a popular Twitter account called Team Conan O'Brien . And both Leno and Conan have multiple relevant fan pages, making it difficult to compare fans and followers on a one-to-one basis.
There were a few more complications, which I'll address below.
Conan vs. Leno: Twitter Followers and Mentions
So who has the most Twitter followers? As noted above, it's not as easy to compare these figures one to one as we did with Coakley and Brown, so let's compared the three most relevant accounts:
Here Leno's single official account has more followers (at 24,250) than BigBley and Team Conan O'Brien's accounts combined (5137 and 5771 respectively).
What about mentions? Far more people are mentioning Jay Leno by his full name – 214,000 mentions to Conan O'Brien's 55,200.
Seems like Leno is winning, eh? Not so fast—this is fuzzy territory. Not many people refer to either star by full name in casual conversation, much less casual tweeting, where every character counts. What if we look at the count again using their more common single-name epithets, Leno and Conan? This time, Conan is in the lead, with 699,000 mentions to Leno's 409,000.
However, we can't discount the possibility that some of those tweeps are talking about Conan the Barbarian.
Also making the picture unclear is the fact that this whole nasty situation has given birth to several catchphrases. I've seen a lot of people claiming to be on Team Conan – is anyone claiming to be on Team Leno? Yes, but not nearly as many – Team Leno only has 746 mentions compared to Team Conan's 9640.
The other new catchphrase is emblazoned on a now-familiar "I'm with COCO" image created by Mike Mitchell . Who's with Leno? Er, well, 8 people, by my last count. "I'm with COCO" on the other hand has 5690 mentions.
Conan vs. Leno: Facebook Fans
Once again, the data here is unclear. There are four relevant Facebook fan pages, but what appears at first to be Jay Leno's fan page is slapped with the "I'm with COCO" image and a message that says "Team Coco now controls Jay Lenos [sic] Facebook page and wont [sic] relinquish it until Conan has The Tonight Show back." Wha?? Is that possible? Anyway, here are the numbers:
Whether or not "Jay Leno's" fans (48,411) are really his fans, the Jay Leno  page and the Jay Leno Show  page (with 16,604 fans) have way fewer fans than the combined forces of Late Night with Conan O'Brien  (38,661) and I'm with COCO  (390,226!).
Conan vs. Leno: Compete.com
Similar to Alexa, Compete is a site that allows you to compare multiple websites' reach (an estimate of the percentage of Internet users that visit their respective sites on any given day), unique visitors, page views, bounce rate and other metrics. According to Compete, the Conan O'Brien site is currently beating Leno's in terms of reach—they were neck in neck until early January, at which point both sites' reach started trending upwards, but Conan's (the blue line) at a much steeper climb. (Click to enlarge.)
I looked at a few other metrics that may or may not be indicative. First up, blog mentions – who's getting talked about more in the blogosphere? Conan wins this battle with about 9,380,000 blog mentions versus Leno's 6,290,000.
And forums? Oddly, the reverse is true here—forums favor Leno (648,000 mentions versus Conan's 232,000); I would have thought blogs and forums would paint a similar picture.
Next up, Google Trends. I don't completely trust this data because I got different results for "conan o'brien," "conan obrien" and "conan o brien" – I don't know why Google isn't recognizing those as the same search. But going with "obrien" (which had the largest volume of the three), "jay leno" has a higher search volume in the past 30 days.
So what can we conclude, if anything, from this data? Frankly, neither Conan nor Leno is using social media to full effect. Otherwise they'd each have a more unified presence on Twitter and Facebook: one go-to, verified account in each space to serve as a community hub. Instead, their presence is scattered and fractured, making it more difficult for supporters to align with one or the other.
On the other hand, fans seem to be stepping up to do the job. I think Conan, like Scott Brown, is the underdog in this situation, which accounts for his more vocal and passionate fan base. This socially active fan base explains why "Team Conan" tweets and fans of the "I'm with COCO" Facebook page are so numerous. Leno's (questionably) higher search volume overall may point to his being technically more famous and established, but a more active community of supporters could mean that Conan's fame and popularity will soon surpass Leno's.
Our prediction? Another network is sure to pick up on all this buzz. Conan will leave NBC and take his show—and his legion of fans—elsewhere.