Social media in 2012 US Presidential elections process was a fully developed element in the political conversation. This was not just a discovery, as it happened in 2008 elections. This time all professionals and experts dealing with the electoral process knew that social media channels would be a new framework not only affecting the political dynamics, but rather shaping it.
Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Web Sites and Blogs of experts played each one its own role, even if all of them are interconnected and interdependent.
We open a series of entries in our web site about the US Presidential election based on Twitter content analysis.
Like in all other analysis that we propose in our blog, our main goal is to show how we propose specific metrics for different issues linked with reputation. We systematically escape from the theoretical foundations, models and relevant scientific literature in the field, in all studies that we propose in this blog. A basic reason for behaving like this is simply that we do not pretend to be or become experts of each single domain that we explore as raw material for our empirical studies. We move from politics to sports, corporations and institutions, and we cover a wide array of issues: women, human rights, corruption, scandals, city branding, natural disasters…
The main reason explaining why we do not support our analysis on theoretical basis is already said: because our purpose is not to provide confirmation or contrast of theories, but just to show how do we apply measurement and metrics to different relevant reputation related issues.
This means in this present case that we will not provide or look for any consideration or analysis concerning American politics.
This also means that we will not develop a theoretical analysis about the role of Twitter in the political process and in the social media conversation. We will skip all these aspects. They are necessary in the context of an study designed to be published in a scientific journal, but they are distracting and many times irrelevant for readers mainly interested in reputation metrics, who are the main target of readers we would like to serve.
We consider nevertheless that this lack of theoretical motivation and justification in our analysis will not be too embarrassing for the readers for whom the main interest is focused in American Politics or in the role of social media and Twitter in the political process. We hope that every expert in these fields come with her own theoretical framework allowing her to provide a meaningful interpretation of our empirical results.
So, we will rather try to show some elements of how Twitter has entered and influenced the political discourse and even the storyline of the Presidential elections.
Looking for measures of influence in Twitter
Twitter may be used in many different ways by all active people interested in the outcome of the elections. Twitter is a channel to communicate and disseminate political messages supporting a candidate or attacking rival positions. Being a 140 character message does not entail any rhetoric and influential power of this medium. This constraint forces the need for very concise, appealing, stimulating or shocking messages. This is suitable for ‘selling’ concentrated spin ideas. It is also the perfect field for comedians and satirical content. If the message succeds in capturing attention, its impact may not be reduced to the immediate impression, as it may serve to drive attention to other longer texts and documents as tweets allow for including links to any external source in the internet.
Whatever the theoretical attractiveness of Twitter for diffusing political ideas and interests, its true usefulness is directly linked to actually reaching the potential gigantic audience navigating, reading and writing-chatting inside the open Twitter community. The ones who actually succeed in reaching a wide range of Twitter users may exert a new pivotal role in the dynamics of politics communication.
One may consider that a wise way to check the impact of influential Twitter users is to set up a list of those influential accounts in Twitter and then monitor their conversation in order to find the existence of political messages related with the Republican and Democrat candidates and camps. The most natural measure of influence is the number of followers. Precisely, one of the candidates, President Barack Obama, is one of the leading users worldwide in terms of people following his Twitter account. They were some 16 million of them by May 2012 and overcome the 21 million mark just before the elections. By sharp contrast, the number of people following the Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s account did not reach the 2 million mark. This tremendous disequilibrium shows by the way the notorious social media advantage that the incumbent candidate has against the newcomer political rival.
Watching carefully after the political oriented content of top Twitter users, as measured by number for followers is, with no doubt, an excellent way to monitor the contribution of the social conversation generated inside Twitter to all political and electoral conversation.
The main limitation of a measure of political influence based in the number of followers is precisely… that they are followers. If someone is following someone other in Twitter is because both share some common interests. This make that Twitter followers use to be very homogeneous at least concerning the points in common with the Twitter star. If the public personality shows a clear and notorious political position by choosing one of two political camps Democrat-Republican, then it will probably happen that followers tend to share similar political opinions. The most clear example is Twitter mega-star Barack Obama. It could be expected that many of the American citizens among his 21.3 million followers vote Democrat. This means that Barack Obama message is read first by his convinced political (and Twitter) followers. But it is not sure that he is able to reach the highly political valuable segment of non partisan and undecided voters.
We should thus prefer a measure of public reach in Twitter that breaks the linkage to direct followers. It is worthy to find the way to capture the Twitter messages that are able to reach all audiences. This way exists.
It consists in monitoring the leading tweets about Barack Obama. This refers to a very precise measure of influence. Twitter applies its own algorithm to compute which are the most relevant tweets chatting about every single object. The selected relevant tweets appear in the list of tweets (timeline or ‘TL’ from now on) responding to any searched item. Of course, our search term is ‘Obama’. They appear if the ‘Top’ tweets list is chosen. They are shown by inverse time-order of publication. Like this, by scrolling down the TL, it can be observed the content, tone and evolution of the conversation by reading what the most influential tweets have been written about. This also means that as time goes on, new tweets are added in the beginning of the TL, and older tweets do downside in the list.
Top Tweet in Twitter Top Tweets Timeline
There is one exception to this time-ordering of the tweets. Twitter chooses one single tweet that becomes for a while the main reference on the topic, as it is fixed as the top message of the list, whenever the moment of its publication, as far as it keeps its category as the most influential tweet. This means that a tweet may stay for hours and sometimes during a couple of days or more as the top tweet in the topic-TL. It is replaced by another tweet when Twitter algorithms identify it as getting more current influence than the replaced one. We will not discuss here about the technicalities nor the accuracy and representitiveness of the calculation procedures followed by Twitter. The fact is that this process is applied, and this is enough for our purposes and analysis.
Becoming the top tweet of a topic in Twitter provides potentially a degree of influence that goes well beyond the zone of influence of the followers of this Twitter account. This is because the message will be read unavoidably by all people interested in the topic (here the term ‘Obama’), which typically corresponds to people pertaining all political segments. Partisan and rivals of Barack Obama want to know what is being talking about Obama in Twitter, in order to seize the social mood and to gauge the visibility of new emergent issues about him.
Top Daily Tweets about Barack Obama, from May to October 2012
We have been monitoring since the beginning of May 2012 which have been every day the top tweet about Barack Obama, his direct rival, Mitt Romney, his vice-president Joe Biden and, later on, when he was nominated, the candidate as Republican vice-president, Paul Ryan.
We count like this with some 150 different tweets about Barack Obama that have reached a very special status in Twitter, as they have received massive attention and visibility, because they appeared as the first result of the search ‘Obama’ for many hours.
We will provide in a series of post in this web site the results we have concerning their content, their source, the issues covered and how positive or negative were for Barack Obama interests.
In this introductory post we present some results concerning the overall impact and profile of these most influential tweets.
How influential are the Twitter users of top tweets about Barack Obama
We move on the empirical results about our analysis.
First result concern the measure of the actual relevance and previous influence of Twitter users being able to have their messages selected by Twitter as the top tweet in the top tweets list about Obama.
All data in this section has been elaborated using median values instead of average values. Median values is more adequate for a list of observations that present a wide variability, as it is in our case. Mean values show more representative results concerning the global properties of our sample.
According to our analysis, the mean number of followers neeed to have in order to get a message chosen as the most influential in Twitter is some 1,6 million followers. This corresponds to high levels of influence in Twitter, as the 1 million mark is reached only by a selected number of celebrities, public personalities or sources of news and information.
We have disaggregated our analysis by months. We find that the value moved between 1 and 1.5 million followers between May and August. July values dropped to a low of some 65.000 followers as median value. This would be produced by the impact of Summer vacations and decrease of political intensity of the debate, or simply provoked by special arrangements made by Twitter during these weeks.
As approaching to the critical voting days, the degree of influence needed to have the chance to become the leading tweets increased. It moved up to 2 million followers by september, and more than 3 million in October.
There are just a dozen of Twitter users with less than 10.000 followers that were able to reach the daily top position. The user with fewer followers was @dobrock. He is he only one having less than 1.000 followers (965) to get the leading position, with the following tweet.
In the opposite side, Twitter users with more followers are Barack Obama, whose messages became actually top daily tweet many times, as we will present in detail in a next blog entry. The other top influential user in the list is Lady Gaga. She had some 24 million followers when she published a tweet about Obama and gay issues.
How experienced are Top Influencing Twitter Users
We have shown that only very powerful Twitter users are able to get their tweet reaching the status of top daily tweet about Barack Obama.
A related information we can obtain from our sample is how strong is their activity in Twitter before they are able to become influential in key issues.
Of course, number of published tweets is connected with number of followers, but the relationship is not direct. Some public personalities can reach quickly this 1 million followers mark but presenting a low profile of activity in Twitter.
Our analysis show that influencers in Obama issues are heavy Twitter users. They present a media value for all period of more than 6300 messages posted. If we restrict the analysis to July-October 2012, we see that the level of activity increases to more than 7.000 tweets.
There are few cases of Twitter users with less than 1.000 tweets being able to become the daily top tweet about Obama. The single top tweet with the lowest number of tweets published was published by @SuburbanLifee. The tweet we present below was the reference around Halloween. This was just the tweet number 14. He had at that time almost 40.000 followers.
Two other Twitter users were able to take a top tweet before they published 250 tweets: Vice President Joe Biden, with just 111 tweets when he published this:
There was also @oldmansearch, a Twitter account simulating an 82 years old guy using Twitter. His post
(more content coming)