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Will social media votes count in #Election2012?

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
CEO
6 November 2012

Later today, November 6th 2012,  we will finally find out if social media has predicted the outcome of the 2012 US Presidential election, dubbed by many the ‘Twitter election’.  Obama had a much trumpeted social media presence back in his 2008 election campaign, but this is the first election where both candidates have had very active presences, and a clear strategy, to reach the 88% of adult social media users that are registered US voters.

But it isn’t just Americans that care about the result of this election; the entire globe is following it closely online. According to Ebuzzing, the equivalent of $16 million in media value has been ‘spent’ on social platforms during the campaign, comprising 925,000 tweets, 159,000 forum posts, 75,000 articles and 6,600 blog posts. Everyone, not just in America, with access to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube is using the internet to tell the world who should be the next US President.

Of course, both Obama and Romney are already claiming victory in the social media battle ground, with the signs so far being that Obama has done the better job online. Obama is currently estimated to have 57% share of online voice over Romney. The @BarackObama Twitter account has 21,791,422 followers, whereas @MittRomney has only 1,701,204. And on Twitter, negative statements about Obama outweighed positive by less than 2-to-1, whereas Romney has racked-up close to 4-to-1. Over on Facebook Romney has 12,017,171 likes, with 2,442,749 people talking about him, versus Obama with a whopping 31,896,728 likes, and 2,401,788 people talking about him. And roughly 62% of Romney Facebook posts versus 53% of Obama Facebook posts are negative. But the online margins held by Obama may count for nothing when the electorate has to tear themselves away from their laptops and mobiles and actually get out and vote. Will talking about the election translate into voting?

Will we see after today that there has been a clear relationship shown between social media ‘wins’ and votes?  A relationship that every brand with a social media strategy will be looking at closely. Well, media owners and platforms have all competed to find a way of making sense of all the social media election activity and translating it into poll predictions. MPG media have created a widget that analyses interactions across the social networks and ranks them depending on how people interact with them, it then compares key words used, to find commonality between them, and an algorithm works out how positive or negative these are, and how they might translate into votes. Twitter has also made tools that show the social media activity around the campaigns. Facebook and CNN have also teamed up to create a widget that tracks conversation on the election on Facebook.

Unlike the simplicity of the ‘x’ on the ballot paper however, there is still huge debate between pundits over which social media metrics matter: Counting follower numbers is largely discredited because they can be artificially inflated and they don’t look at community engagement. Engagement on its own doesn’t consider positive or negative sentiment. And sentiment is a difficult metric to make sense of in isolation without factoring in engagement, volume, demographic and geography.

So, compared to the absolute certainty of counting the votes, calling a social media victory now is still more of an art than a science, and one that still requires skilled interpretation: “Measurement is a mess,” Sam Arbesman, a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, said during a discussion on the topic, and added ” as a result of the confusion, both sides are claiming social media victory. On the bright side, at least this dispute will stay out of Florida Supreme Court…”

Whatever the social media activity, there’s no doubt that this is the most tightly fought US Presidential Election in decades. Maybe with the benefit of hindsight we will be able to see a bit more clearly if the signposts for the eventual winner were seen in the social media trends leading up today?

Hashtags to watch are #USElection and #Election2012.

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