Why Politicians can’t ignore Twitter & Social Metrics
Guest post by Adrian Petrescu (@apetresc)Â Co-Founder & CTO atÂ TwitSproutÂ in response toÂ “Can Social Media Predict Obamaâ€™s Town Hall Answers“
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…)
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 inÂ 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?”
Definitely fits the bill. It had 226 retweets and (more importantly) those came from very influential people.
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.
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 aÂ 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.
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 atÂ http://twitsprout.com
Previous guest post Â “Can Social Media Predict Obamaâ€™s Town Hall Answers” by Dan Holowack (@dHolowack) Co-FounderÂ atÂ TwitSproutÂ in response