Big Social Media Data: 2012 Election Edition

Facebook Candidate AdsThere’s no doubt that social media played a role in reaching the American public during the 2008 presidential election, and that the Obama campaign leveraged it’s existence in the space to their full advantage to reach that new breed of voters – the young and the tech savvy.

In 2008, there were three million Twitter accounts, surely an influential audience that Obama captured and engaged.

In 2012, both the Obama and Romney camps took the same view on their social media outreach – they made it a priority. With an increase to over 70 million users on Twitter and a billion on Facebook, social media was a space they could not ignore and they had to craft an effective strategy to promote their views and persuade voters (sources: twitter.com; facebook.com).

From Facebook ads to direct messages on Twitter and advocacy groups pushing their own messages, the social media efforts of the candidates could not be avoided (just like those pesky TV ads we all love to hate).

As much as some hate to admit, the role of social media was so popular in this election that most of the major news networks had a “social media correspondent” who was monitoring the sentiment and mentions to report back on the “raw” social media feedback that was instantly flowing in. At one point, there were a recorded 358 million tweets per minute mentioning the election and the top trending topics were all politically-driven (ABC News).

So as Obama and Romney waited in their respective hotel rooms, they surely asked their staff to listen in on the social media conversation and find out what was being said. This was consistent with what they had to do throughout the entire campaign as they carefully crafted and adjusted the messages they were blasting into the social sphere.

…and this demonstrates the ongoing need of evaluation of social media big data – the massive amounts of user generated data being collected from as many social resources as possible. Through the campaign season, from an evaluation of Twitter user sentiment, Obama had 98 million mentions with 45 percent of those being positive. Romney had a lesser 85 million mentions, with 49 percent positive (source: ABC News).

A further look into Twitter demographics as of August 31, 2012, shows that 55 percent of users are 35 or older (average age is 37.3) with a 40/60 percent split men to women respectively (source: pingdom.com article). Interesting way to look at unsolicited feedback and attribute the sentiment.

Another source of information was Facebook. What was interesting to review was the way each campaign used the outlet. The Obama for America Facebook page has 32 million likes with approximately 3 million, or 10 percent of those likes chatting it up in the space. The page was used throughout the campaign to feature persuasive images of Obama supporting his presidential image – a politician, a hard worker with America’s best interest at heart, and of course, a family man. President Obama’s paid Facebook ads on the day of the election were more about encouraging Americans to vote, rather than discussing the issues.

Mitt Romney’s Facebook page had approximately 12 million likes with 3 million talking about him, approximately 25 percent of his audience. The Romney page also featured images reinforcing his reputation as a smart businessman, strong leader, and devoted husband. Although a little stiffer and less engaging, the images were visual and strong and garnered audience interaction. Election day campaign ads from the Romney campaign were more issue-driven and provided a last push on what Romney will do when elected as the nation’s president.

Questions about the strongest influences on this election have included, “Who had the better celebrity supporters?” and, “Who had more money to push out ads and get media attention?” What about, “Who had the best social media coordinator?” Social media will only continue to grow its presence and importance in influential and historical events of the world. The importance of tapping into and analyzing real-time big data as these events are happening will becoming increasingly important and this will not go away anytime soon.

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