Over the past week, social media monitoring software has really come into its own as a serious tool for the media and political analysis. For the first time, lots of people were monitoring instantaneous changes in public reaction from the speeches, looking at metrics like tweets-per-minute through real-time charting tools like this one from Flowics.
The sheer amount of information that comes from these tools is a godsend, but without context they can fall short. A read on social media sentiment associated with Mitt Romney throughout the convention may not tell us very much. And touting the fact that @BarackObama’s “This seat’s taken” tweet was the second most retweeted in Twitter history doesn’t tell us very much about how those not on Twitter reacted to Clint Eastwood’s speech.
So, we decided to do a little bit more digging to see if we could find something more meaningful and actionable.
We wanted to quantify online reaction to each of the major RNC speakers in a way that might reflect the offline audience response. So, we avoided looking at general commentary on Romney or the convention — but rather at which speech content. Chances are if you’ve tweeted a line from a speech, you strongly approve of it or think it was significant. We wanted to see which speech lines “tested” the best based on social mentions, leaving the deepest impressions with audiences online and off.
We’ve collected the results in a treemap visualization that’s broken down along three dimensions: The most-mentioned speech lines grouped by speaker, total mentions of the speaker, and mentions of the speaker with the word “awesome.” All numbers reflect activity on the day of the speech.
The results are interesting, and defy conventional wisdom in places. Despite the political elite’s queasy reaction to Clint Eastwood’s offbeat appearance, he delivered the buzziest line of the Convention, “We own this country,” followed by “Politicians are employees of ours.” Among those expressing an opinion, reaction to this passage was about three-fourths favorable. Eastwood’s other top lines hailed from the parts of his speech that were well received in the hall, and saw virtually no negative reaction online. And Eastwood led all speakers in eliciting a reaction of “Awesome” from social media users.
Here are the ten most memorable lines we found from the 2012 GOP convention, ranked by social media mentions provided by Topsy:
“I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen. Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we — we own this country.” – Clint Eastwood, 6947 mentions
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.” – Mitt Romney, 5890 mentions
“The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.” – Paul Ryan, 5,363 mentions
“Real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.” – Chris Christie, 5259 mentions
“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.” – Paul Ryan, 4,395 mentions
“Politicians are employees of ours.” – Clint Eastwood, 3,657 mentions
“When the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American.” – Mitt Romney, 3,386 mentions
“They believe in teacher’s unions. We believe in teachers.” – Chris Christie, 3,045 mentions
“Let’s get this done.” – Paul Ryan, 2,744 mentions
“I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there is 23 million unemployed people in this country.” – Clint Eastwood, 2,673 mentions
Watch this space this week for a similar analysis of the Democratic Convention in Charlotte!
Folks are abuzz about how the candidates are rollin’ and Tumbloggin’ around the Internet, trying to become more Pinteresting. Most of the discussion this year seems to center around what folks in the Web world call the front-end — turning GIFs, (now old-fashioned) web videos, and CSS and HTML5 effects into weapons of mass political destruction. Beyond its head-turning message, an underappreciated fact about the Obama campaign’s “Life of Julia” is that it was the first parallax slider-based campaign attack in American history.
But while the media and the pundits focus on how visual media is reshaping the debate, something else is going on. The Guardian reports this week that the Obama campaign’s long-awaited grassroots toolkit, with the minimalist name of “Dashboard,” is almost ready for public release:
The Dashboard project is being led by Michael Slaby, one of Obama’s digital gurus, along with Joe Rospars and Teddy Goff and Obama’s director of field organizing Jeremy Bird. Collectively, they have been quietly reinventing traditional presidential races for the wired age.
They have put together a team of more than 100 statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organisers at the Obama For America headquarters in downtown Chicago, which has been labouring since its start to craft a new generation of digital campaign tools.
They are keeping specific details about Dashboard heavily under wraps for fear that they might lose the substantial advantage they now enjoy over their rivals in the Romney campaign.
They have also been keen not to reveal the tool until it has undergone substantial testing by staff. All that the Obama team will say is that it represents a major step forward that could “make a huge difference in how we organise for 2012″.
Dashboard, they add, will allow any volunteer for the first time “to join, connect with and build your neighbourhood team online”.
One intriguing fact about Dashboard is how late its’ introduction comes compared to 2008. That year, My.BarackObama.com was launched on the first day of the campaign, in February 2007. By this measure, Dashboard is 15 months late. But there’s good reason for it: Unlike the out-of-the-box Blue State Digital tools that formed the core of MyBO in 2008, Dashboard was rebuilt from the ground-up, using in-house developers, some of them recruited from Facebook and Google. (The person overseeing it all, Obama campaign CTO Harper Reed, is himself a startup veteran recruited from Threadless.)
We’ll have to wait for the formal launch — it’s apparently been in use by field staff for months, and I’m not on the early invite list for these things — but from all appearances, Dashboard represents an admirable commitment by the Obama campaign to rethinking older (and successful) ways of doing things. And doing so in a way that elevates raw engineering talent in a way they didn’t in 2008.
Dashboard should also spark a renewed debate about what’s important in digital campaigns.
At the end of the day, anyone can build a Facebook page with millions of likes. Anyone can set up a Tumblr in 5 minutes and anyone with a decent sense of humor can spin up GIFs and QuickMemes, and push them to Reddit, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. The hard stuff — the interesting stuff — is marshaling an army of engineers and data geeks to translate online energy into better and more effective offline voter contact. The meme war might be more interesting, but it’s playing out almost exclusively among political operatives and the media elite. In a close race, ground game matters, and candidates who don’t prioritize putting their ground game online will find themselves playing catchup. We learned this in 2010, when even with the political winds at their back, Republicans faced an organizational deficit and fell short in a number of key Senate races.
Winning online takes more than a Twitter account and a WordPress plugin. It takes serious engineering resources to build sophisticated grassroots and microtargeting tools like the Obama campaign is doing, and data scientists to optimize the vote. In recent years, “custom” has become a four letter word in the world of web development, but the proliferation of programming frameworks from Ruby on Rails to CakePHP to CodeIgniter mean that developers no longer have to spend time reinventing the wheel. Basic functional components you would see on most websites (like user registration modules, or formulas to calculate distances and directions) come pre-built, so that engineers can spend time on the things that add value. Coding itself is becoming more like building a site in WordPress or Drupal.
Communicators and social media experts are a dime-a-dozen. They’re important, but it takes a lot to stand out from the pack. Good engineers are harder to come by, and the Obama campaign has invested in them in spades. As I argued at a recent panel at the CampaignTech conference, this starts with campaigns and political groups working with and valuing engineers and data scientists in the same way that they currently work with and value video producers, print designers, and press people.
With the general election in full swing, it will be interesting to see the level of game the GOP brings to the battle of the engineers.
With the average American spending more time online and on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, the amount of time spent watching TV is leveling off and more of that viewing is time-shifted through DVRs. For advertisers across all industries, this means capturing eyeballs online and on mobile as well as through TV.
The lessons learned by the Romney campaign have consequences for all “down ballot” races as well. A recent SAY: media report [PDF] found that nearly a third of all likely voters aren’t watching “live TV.” The same study also notes that 88% of DVR owners are regularly skipping commercials on the TV content they do watch.
And it’s not just young people who are watching more video content with DVRs or via the Web. 15% of likely voters age 45 and older report watching less “live TV.” The same age group is using their DVR 12% more and watching video online 13% more over last year alone.
For campaigns, this means you can no longer rely on TV alone to reach voters with your message. Any TV buy must be complemented with a digital campaign reinforcing a similar message. This also means you have to think of online ads as more than just direct response campaigns.
In the new “two screen” advertising campaigns — where targeted audiences see messaging on both their mobile device and their TV — persuasion is the name of the game. As I’ve mentioned before, determining the overall goal for an advertising campaign is a critical first step in determining how you’ll measure success.
Persuading voters is all about capturing their attention in the right places and enough times to establish the message. This means your advertising has to follow the eyeballs and with less attention paid to TV advertising, online and mobile ads have to become part of your overall strategy.
However, the number of people talking about a given candidate isn’t the most interesting number.
What we really wanted to get at was the number of people who might hear this buzz. Mashing up the “Talking About Number” with another recent feature release in Facebook Pages, we’ve been able to come up with an estimate, and have updated our daily tracking spreadsheet accordingly.
The number is staggering: recently, an estimated 230 million impressions of posts from someone’s friend mentioning Barack Obama or a Republican Presidential candidate in news feeds: 140.5 million for Obama, and 89.9 million for the GOP field combined. This includes 24.1 million for Ron Paul, 22.7 million for Herman Cain, and 19.1 million for Mitt Romney.
How did we come up with this number?
The recent upgrade to Facebook Insights for pages includes a telling stat: the number of people who are friends with your fans. Since we administer quite a number of pages for political figures, we decided to figure out how many average friends a politically plugged in Facebook might have. The average was over 350 friends across numerous pages (it was never less than 300 for any page). We think this is also representative of the people who would share content about a Presidential candidate.
If you want to know why everyone seems to know about the Herman Cain smoking ad, viral distribution on social media is a big piece of the puzzle, because the multiplier effect of even a single person sharing it is huge: hundreds of people are now aware that it exists.
Of course, these numbers don’t tell us how many unique people saw the buzz: some friends may overlap, some people may not log into Facebook daily, and some may have stories hidden from the news feed. Even if the real number is half this, that’s more people than voted in the last Presidential election — and we’re just talking about Facebook users.
And, at a very minimum, this research suggests that’s highly likely that the average American Facebook user has seen something about the Presidential candidates from one of their friends in the news feed — and given that a personal endorsement from a friend is one of the most important driver of voting, that’s significant.
This also highlights the tremendous opportunity for candidates to effectively use Facebook and other social media platforms as leverage to gain mindshare among average voters. Ron Paul was able to push up his numbers in recent days through extensive social media sharing of his recent moneybomb. Through the Multiply platform here at Engage, we’ve been working on ways to create structured Facebook sharing calls to action that can generate hundreds of thousands of news feed impressions with just a few hundred people taking action.
As you can tell, we’re very excited about this upgrade to our Facebook tracking, and hope you’ll check it out daily.
At Engage, we (heart) data. We think that Big Data harnessed from the social web can oftentimes better tell us what’s happening in real time than a traditional opinion poll. There’s no better test of this than the Republican presidential primary, which seems to yield a new frontrunner every week. Wouldn’t it be great to tell in real time, that day, who’s up and who’s down, based on the world’s biggest platforms for real-time conversation?
Last week, Facebook announced the release of its “People Talking About” metric. For any Facebook page or topic, Facebook will tell you how many people are talking about that topic across the entire site — and that’s regardless of whether these people like the given page. In your news feed, you may have seen stories aggregating your friends’ conversation around hot topics like Steve Jobs or the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The results for the Republican candidates for President are revealing, and we plan to track them in this public Google Spreadsheet every day through the primaries. We’ll periodically post our analysis of what the numbers mean to Twitter and Facebook.
Right now, Herman Cain far and away leads the field in Facebook buzz, with nearly 80,000 people talking about him daily. He’s followed by Mitt Romney, who’s also been on the rise — especially with his endorsement by Chris Christie.
A quick note: Any measure of Internet buzz — be it tweets, Facebook posts, or searches — will reward the most controversial and talked about public figures, and these aren’t always the highest vote getters. That’s probably why Cain, with his 9-9-9 plan and his recent surge in the polls, leads, and why Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul place strongly. We think that the best way to draw useful conclusions from this is to look at trends as well as the absolute numbers — and these trends will become more evident over time. If Cain were to fall below his previous performance while other candidates gained, that would be a sign of trouble. Former frontrunner Rick Perry languishing at around one seventh of Herman Cain’s current buzz is already not a great sign for his campaign.
And Facebook buzz surrounding the entire field of candidates seems to be slowly but surely picking up, but it has a ways to go before it rivals the guy they’re going after: Barack Obama, with a total of 443,882 Facebook users talking about him currently, combined with 199,034 for the Republican field in total.