The implosion of a brand: A Twitter timeline of the Volkswagen emissions scandal

Now that you’ve heard about our all-new Union Metrics Echo, we wanted to tell you more about what you can do with it. So we’ll be sharing a series of brand lessons learned from tapping into the full Twitter archive with Union Metrics Echo. If you’re interested in learning more about Echo, including how you can access it through your Union Metrics account, read more here.


When a crisis breaks, brands first need to asses the extent of the damage. How big is the conversation about it? Who’s talking about it? Sometimes news hasn’t spread very far yet, and the impact can be contained. But sometimes, like in Volkswagen’s case, news spreads far and fast.

On September 18, 2015, the EPA announced that Volkswagen was using a defeat device to circumvent emissions tests. One of the first tweets to break the news was posted at 8:49 a.m. PDT by @davidshepardson, Detroit News DC Bureau Chief. That was followed quickly by others like these at 8:54 and 8:59, and then it spread rapidly over the following hours and days.

Before this news broke, there were on average 10k tweets posted every day about Volkswagen. That number jumped to more than 100k daily tweets during the peak of the crisis in late September. Those numbers are still elevated now, a month later, generating 2-4x more Twitter VW conversation than occurred pre-crisis.

volkswagen tweets

There were more than 53k tweets about Volkswagen on September 18. Since that was a Friday, news stayed fairly quiet over the weekend, and then exploded on Monday, September 21, generating more than 1.3 million tweets over the next week and averaging more than 8,000 new tweets per hour about the news. At that same time, Volkswagen’s stock price dropped from a high of 169 to a low of 95. As the tweets increased, the stock price decreased.

volkswagen stock price compared to tweet volumes

When a crisis happens, brands need to react quickly. With Union Metrics Echo, a brand can instantly understand the impact of a conversation about anything on Twitter, whether or not they had real-time Twitter monitoring already in place. This is invaluable for brands managing a crisis, like Volkswagen was in September. By tapping into the Twitter archive easily and efficiently, brands can quickly learn how wide news is spreading, identify the topics their customers think are important, monitor new stories about the news, and report back to relevant stakeholders on potential impact. This allows brands to adjust their content and information strategies accordingly, and adapt in real time as the crisis evolves.