The Higgs boson: treated like a rock star

On 4 July, excited physicists and journalists crowded the CERN site, while around the world thousands tuned in to the webcast, all wanting news of the elusive Higgs boson. News of the Higgs-like boson spread instantaneously via live blogging, news feeds, Twitter, Facebook and other channels. The global media coverage opened doors for CERN to reach new audiences, some of which were quite unexpected…


Poster in the window of the CERN kiosk the day after the Higgs update event. Photo by Kate Kahle.

#CMS: "we have observed a new boson with a mass of 125.3 ± 0.6 GeV at 4.9 sigma significance." Thunderous applause. #Higgs  #ICHEP2012”. This was the “tweet” sent from the CERN Twitter account that flew around the world at, some would say, almost the speed of light. Sent out as part of the live Twitter feed from the Main Auditorium, it reached news desks before the official press release. It was retweeted more than 4,000 times, reaching a potential audience of more than 5 million Twitter users. The social media platform reflected the frenzy for news on the Higgs boson – in its live monitoring of topics “trending” on Twitter during the seminar, 8 out of 10 were related to CERN.

More and more people began to turn their attention to CERN and started to follow what was being said. As the Le Matin newspaper noted, the Higgs boson was being treated like a rock star (see photo). Unexpected celebrities began to retweet CERN tweets. The American rapper MC Hammer told his 2 million followers that the CERN press conference recording was now online. Will-i-am from American band Black Eyed Peas told his audience of 4 million people: “@iamwill Happy 4th of July to all Americans...& happy "god particle" day to science enthusiasts...congrats to all the scientists at CERN...#willpower‬‬”‬.

But Twitter wasn’t the only social media platform on which CERN information spread: on the CERNTV YouTube channel each Higgs-related video had more than 14,000 views in one day, with John Ellis’s “What is the Higgs Boson” top of the list with more than 116,000 views on 4 July alone. The French version had more than 30,000 views in one day, a record for a French-language CERN video. John’s reaction: “Move over Lady Gaga”!

Higgs humour began to take hold, from cartoons such as the Angry Birds' Piggs boson to jokes including questions for the Higgs boson itself. Possibly the most surprising audience reached by the 4 July announcement was the 7 million readers of the UK’s most popular newspaper The Sun, whose page 3 glamour model reflected on the significance of the Higgs boson.

What was clear from 4 July and the days that followed was the influence of social media on the way the news spread. Given this, the CERN communications team is now focusing more on social media as part of overall communications – more to come in the coming months.


Media statistics from 4 July

At CERN on the day: 88 journalists representing 55 media; 11 worldwide news agencies including Reuters, AP and AFP; 21 print press representatives; 4 photographers and 20 TV companies.

Video footage was used by 1,034 TV stations and 5,016 news programmes, compared to 550 TV stations and 3,500 news programmes in 2008, for the inauguration of the LHC.

The webcast of the Higgs seminar had almost 500,000 single IP connections  – with a record 60,500 IPs connected at once. CERN also provided 150 scientific institutes – with an estimated audience of 10,000 people – with a special HD connection to the webcast, and a video conference connection to the 700 physicists present in Melbourne for the ICHEP conference.


by Kate Kahle, on behalf of the CERN Communication Group