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Why Politicians can’t ignore Twitter & Social Metrics

Guest post by Adrian Petrescu (@apetresc) Co-Founder & CTO at TwitSprout in response to Can Social Media Predict Obama’s Town Hall Answers


Adrian From TwitSprout

Adrian from TwitSprout

We had a great time doing this Twitter Town Hall experiment, and we learnt a lot while “live-coding” before, during, and after Obama spoke. The response has been amazing, far beyond our wildest expectations, and we can’t wait to do something like this again (perhaps during the upcoming Republican Twitter Debate…)


President Obama's Twitter Town Hall

Picture source: http://blog.heritage.org


For now, we’re going to be focusing our efforts on our core product with renewed energy and enthusiasm. We can’t wait to bring the same level of insight and appeal to people’s own social media accounts as we did to #AskObama!The entire project was based around the premise that The White House would choose questions based on social influence and metrics. There’s no real reason why this had to be the case — real life town halls are open to anyone, and the loudest person usually gets heard — but otherwise the whole concept of using Twitter seems like a gimmick. Was our premise correct? Did Obama answer the questions we predicted using metrics like Klout and total number of impressions? As usual in politics, the answer is — sort of.

Obama’s (@BarackObama) third tweet:

Tech and knowledge industries are thriving, yet jobs discussion always centers on manufacturing. Why not be realistic about jobs?

Obama Answers David Meerman Scott #AskObama Question

Obama Answers David Meerman Scott Question

Definitely fits the bill. It had 226 retweets and (more importantly) those came from very influential people.

@ Yeah, I was very surprised @ answered my question. I wasn't even watching live!
David Meerman Scott


The original author, @dmscott, had 69 Klout when he wrote it, and @Kim, one of its retweeters, had an astronomical 79. Is that why the White House chose it? We’ll never know.


President 0bama's Klout Score

President Obama's Klout Score as of 9/7/2011


There’s little reason for the President to care about Klout. Even if we believe in its shaky status as an accurate indicator of the movers and shakers on Twitter, Obama isn’t trying to impress Twitter users, he’s trying to talk to an entire country full of people, most of whom have never heard of a retweet. On the other hand, the appearance of being genuine is key, and tweets by high-Klout users are tweets a lot of people will remember and recognize when it’s being answered. Whatever their reasons, this was a successful choice.

The other clear winner was his 8th:

Mr. President, In several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this?

That was the 14th most-retweeted question overall according to our data, so it’s easy for the President to argue that it represents a pressing concern for Americans. No complaints.

Things go steeply downhill from there, though. Many of the chosen tweets had been posted for only a few minutes, with no time to generate any sort of buzz, and by users with almost no Twitter presence whatsoever. Nor were their questions somehow representative of widespread concerns — of all 70,000+ #AskObama tweets we’d gathered, only 129 of them were related to the space program, but the President still addressed that for over 2 minutes.


Yes We Cannabis Tee Legalized Apparel

No we can't! (Tee by Legalized Apparel)


What’s gotten the most attention, though, isn’t the things he did choose to address, but what he chose to ignore. Our statistics (as well as those of several other groups tracking this) indicated that the topic of marijuana legalization was the most popular, by a wide margin. Twitter provided the White House with the tools to know exactly what the voters care about the most — what should be a political strategist’s dream — only to be resoundingly ignored. When the White House later published their own statistical breakdown of the top 4 tweet categories, marijuana was completely omitted. This is not a failure of social metrics. The data was there, easy to see for anyone who cared to look, and it should have been a valuable insight. The failure is on the part of the curators for passing up an excellent opportunity.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this. In a perfect world, everyone’s voice should be heard, no matter who’s it is or what it’s saying, and politicians avoiding controversial topics is nothing new. But if we’re going to make this a Twitter Town Hall, why not use the metrics it provides to decide what’s important?

If you just want random questions from ordinary Americans, there’s much more efficient ways you can get those. The unique strength of Twitter is the ability it gives you to collect and organize information about what (and who) is most important to address. Unfortunately, it seems the White House didn’t fully embrace that.

It’s a good first step, though, and it’s becoming clear that up-and-coming politicians can’t ignore Twitter and online media any more than Kennedy and Nixon could avoid television in the 60s. Inevitably the ones who use it (and its data) best will be the ones who succeed.


Famous 1960's Nixon versus Kennedy TV Debate

Nixon versus Kennedy TV Debate


Obama’s Twitter Town Hall has at least shown us all how much potential is there to be exploited.


Make sure to check out the #AskObama results Infographic

Create your own one page Twitter Dashboard at http://twitsprout.com

Previous guest post  “Can Social Media Predict Obama’s Town Hall Answers” by Dan Holowack (@dHolowack) Co-Founder at TwitSprout in response

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11 Responses to “Why Politicians can’t ignore Twitter & Social Metrics”

  1. On July 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm David Meerman Scott responded with... #

    This is a fascinating analysis. I wondered the same thing about my question and the others.

    I am quite sure that the timing of my tweet question was important. I tweeted when the Twitter Town Hall was announced – on july 2. That day there were only a few hundred questions asked. The number of questions per day grew and by the day of the event was tens of thousands.

    It just makes sense that the curators would have seen my question the first day. That is likely to have gotten them interested early. It’s sort of like sending a resume as soon as a job is posted. Or in the case of my daughter, applying to college very early in the game – well before the deadline. (She got into her first choice – Columbia – and will be attending there in September).

    Keep up the good work. At some point I’d like to know more about what you do.


    • On July 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm Adrian Petrescu responded with... #

      Hi David — thanks for the kind feedback. This is Adrian, one of the guys behind TwitSprout and the author of the post above.

      You’re right, we definitely missed an opportunity in the infographic to show the *times* of the tweets that were chosen; that would have been an interesting measure. Luckily, we do have that data even though we didn’t display it. I took a look, and actually it’s backwards from what you predict! In fact, only two of the chosen questions had been first asked before July 6th — yours and @pmglynn’s. The other 18 were all made on the day of the Town Hall: 9 of them before it started, and 9 of them after it started. It seems they really wanted to play up the “live” aspect of it. I guess your tweet was just so influential it could not be ignored 🙂

      It’ll be interesting to see if the Republican Twitter debate next next week is going to follow the same pattern.

      Thanks for your feedback (and congratulations to your daughter!)

      • On July 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm David Meerman Scott responded with... #

        Thanks for the update Adrian!

      • On July 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm @kim responded with... #

        Hi Adrian! Thank you for the namecheck.

        Your research is really interesting and the fact that President Obama met with Jack Dorsey this week tells me we’re on a worthwhile path in creating these types of open communication systems.

        Yes, I probably have a certain Klout score, but the reason I have influence is because a bunch of people have worked hard to create a climate where people are valued for their ideas and not their age, gender, religious beliefs, race, nationality, social status, education level, or political affiliation. It’s a remarkable thing.

        Well, I just wanted to mention that because I can’t really take credit for something when I’m just a small part of the way the overall system works. Hats off to Jack Dorsey for inventing Twitter and to David Meerman Scott for putting forward a great question for America’s president.

        If I may add just one point, it would be to encourage people to do whatever they can to contribute where technology jobs and education are concerned. Some of these problems are too widespread and complex to simply rely on any government(s). Let’s figure out whatever small actions we can take personally or professionally to help out—even if it’s just a retweet.

        Warm regards,

        -Kim Sherrell

  2. On July 9, 2011 at 6:56 pm Creative Slave (@fluffylinks) (@fluffylinks) responded with... #

    Hey Kim, thanks for stoping by Fluffy Links & leaving such a great comment regarding your Question Obama answered http://t.co/Tg39qR4 @kim

  3. On July 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm Kim Sherrell (@kim) responded with... #

    Politicians can’t ignore Twitter and Social Media | http://bit.ly/oBDYTa **Thanks @flufflylinks for the namecheck & all who RT’d #AskObama!

  4. On July 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm Creative Slave responded with... #

    Thanks for the comments @78fe8df21d7ee8fcce983577c9b826f9:disqus @9b197571b0eb5e2fbfaf2cee5afabc8a:disqus @a0ee9d2f9b89b38afa79fc4e78e1f5e9:disqus

    I’m too fluffy to know about politics but I’m very interesting in social influence and how this is measured.

    Have you tried out the new Chrome Klout extension? This is an interesting development as it allows you to see peoples Klout score while using twitter. What do you think the future holds for services such as Klout? Have they the potential to become the social webs equivalent to page rank or is it to early to tell? 

    • On July 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm Dan Holowack responded with... #

      Love the new Disqus setup, Creative Slave!
      I’ve been using the Klout Chrome extension from the past few weeks and really like it. Quick access to the scores on Twitter.com can be useful.
      Cheers! -dan


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