Chatter and hype about NFTs in online communities mirrored sales trends in March and April 2021, peaking in the second week of March and falling sharply thereafter.
46% of online discussions about NFTs were positive, compared to only 12% that were negative.
NBA Top Shot garnered the most total positive mentions in online NFT communities of any NFT-related platform, company, or person.
The Rise of the NFT
Since the first digital work of art was linked to a certificate of ownership back in 2014, the NFT (non-fungible token) market has experienced a huge boom, especially in the last year. In March 2021 alone, worldwide sales of NFTs amounted to a total of over $100 million, dwarfing sales in all previous years combined. An explosion of crypto-art-centered online communities accompanied by prolific media coverage gave distinction to this new platform for digital artists and creatives, but has the interest been sustained? Read on to see a breakdown of NFT hype over the past year.
A Brief History of the Non-Fungible Token
The term NFT entered popular usage in 2017. To put it simply, an NFT is a digital token that certifies an asset (whether it's a video, photo, or other form of digital material) to be unique, which makes the digital asset a collectible item. Even if the photo or video can be copied, the NFT validates ownership of the piece and verifies its authenticity. They are generally encoded with similar software used for cryptocurrencies and often bought and sold online using cryptos.
NFTs became more widely known to the general population in 2020. One of the biggest triggers of the public's sudden interest in NFTs was the launch of the NBA Top Shot collection at the end of 2020, which enabled fans to purchase and collect NBA moments featuring their favorite player or team, just like trading cards or other collectible sports items. On the NBA Top Shot trading platform, where fans can buy, sell, and trade these assets, some NFTs sell for over $250,000.
Musicians, such as Grimes, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and others, also contributed to the sharp rise of NFTs by putting various items up for sale. Grimes sold several pieces of digital art for a total of over $6 million.
Other artists and celebrities who recently offered NFTs for sale include top models Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, TV star Ellen DeGeneres, and skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, auctioned his first tweet on the social media platform from March 2006, and the highest bidder took it for $2.9 million in a highly publicized sale in March 2021.
The 2020-2021 NFT Popularity Boom
The popularity of NFTs grew steadily throughout 2020 and peaked in March 2021, when NFT sales experienced a huge surge worldwide.
The popularity of NFTs in online communities can easily be correlated to sales numbers for the same period. The previously mentioned peak in the second week of March 2021 was caused by a Christie's auction that saw the NFT of a piece by artist Beeple auctioned for $69 million.
During this same week, Reddit posts related to NFTs reached a volume of over 3,500. As NFT sales declined in the following week, so did the interest of online communities. However, the number of mentions since this drop is still much higher than it was at the end of 2020, showing that there has been increased interest in NFTs over the first half of 2021 overall.
How Do Online Communities Feel About NFTs?
This growing interest in NFTs is reflected by a generally positive sentiment toward them in online communities. Only 12% of posts expressed negative feelings toward NFTs, while 46% actively supported them.
NBA Top Shot receives a lot of mentions with one of the highest percentages for positive feedback. This very popular platform clearly contributes significantly to the public's interest and overall approval of NFTs.
OpenSea, the most mentioned platform on our chart, is one of the largest vendors of NFTs. The platform offers items in various categories such as music, art, and sport. Users can also sell their own NFTs, so OpenSea doubles as a marketplace – and a very popular one at that, with sales reaching $160 million in June 2021. Earlier in the year, musician Shawn Mendes used OpenSea to sell over $600,000 worth of digital clothing intended for users' avatars.
CryptoSwap Finance had the highest percentage of positive mentions with 81%. This recently launched platform does not sell NFTs like OpenSea but rather specializes in crypto-trade and exchange, as well as crypto-farming and staking.
NFTs in the Media
NFTs have also been increasingly featured in the headlines of major media outlets, and these articles play an important role in fueling the public's interest.
In recent months, renowned publications such as Forbes, Business Insider, and The Guardian helped to shine the spotlight on NFTs and bring them to the attention of a much larger audience. Media interest peaked toward the end of March 2021, a couple of weeks after the sharp increase of posts and mentions witnessed in online communities, as well as some of the biggest NFT sales.
Over the last year, hundreds of articles with headlines related to NFTs have been published. Headlines from notable publications include the following:
"Are NFT Purchases Real? The Dollars Are." (The New York Times)
"NFT Art Marketplace Sets New Records" (Forbes)
"NFT sales volume soared to $2.5 billion in the first half of 2021, as artists, celebrities and even Twitter and CNN joined the crypto craze" (Business Insider)
Media Sentiment Regarding NFTs
Looking at the wide coverage of NFTs over the last few months, the overall sentiment seems a little more mixed among journalists and media publications than the general public. An analysis of published articles in the last year shows that 31% were positive, 14% were negative, and the majority remaining neutral. The Street and Benzinga have offered the most extensive coverage, with around 400 articles on NFTs each over the past 12 months.
Forbes and Business Insider have also published plenty of NFT-related content, with Business Insider being the media outlet with the largest percentage of positive articles on the topic.
Looking at the type of publications that extensively cover NFTs, the topic clearly sparks interest first and foremost in the financial and business sectors. This is because NFTs are not collected solely for bragging rights or the buyer's enjoyment; they are often also purchased as an investment that will gain value over time. Several articles discuss NFTs from an investor's perspective, including this one from popular magazine Rolling Stone. However, with mainstream publications such as The New York Times and Billboard also writing regularly about NFTs, the subject is swiftly reaching a broader audience.
The Next Wave of NFTs
NFTs have seen a sharp rise in interest from both the general public and the media in the last year, thanks to significant signal-boosting from celebrities, news platforms, and respected artistic institutions. And although public interest may have waned somewhat from its March 2021 peak, sustained media coverage and community enthusiasm suggest that the crypto art market will continue to provide space for digital artists to thrive for years to come.
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Methodology and Limitations
To analyze buzz and hype about NFTs in online communities, we scraped five of the most popular NFT-related subreddits for posts between July 2020 and July 2021: r/NFT, r/NFTsMarketplace, r/NFTExchange, r/nbatopshot, and r/CryptoArt. For some of these communities, posts not tagged as discussion or posts tagged as sales listings or advertisements were excluded. Our sample included more than 31,000 posts. To evaluate media coverage of the topic, we analyzed over 3,000 headlines from 143 online publications for mentions of NFTs and NFT-related topics. Sentiment analysis for all posts and headlines was performed using VADER.
Posts on NFT-related subreddits were unavailable for the dates March 17–27th and April 9–14th of 2021. Sentiment analysis in this project is meant to convey the approximate attitude of the populations analyzed, not that of the general public or artists.
Fair Use Statement
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