Social media has helped people connect with people, and so it seems fitting that one of its largest social networks is helping pollsters make those connections, too.
The 2012 election is certainly a leap from 2008 when considering the use of social media and its measurement capabilities. Notable are new solutions launched expressly to assess voter sentiment. Backed by two polling firms and Twitter, for example, Twindex issues ratings based on Twitter messages about President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, The Washington Post relies on a media tracker, Mention Machine, to monitor candidate mention.
With all this focus on tweets, is Twitter the best data source for predicting polling results? My vote is "Yes." And with a platform on social media history, I can tell you why you should vote the Twitter ticket as a terrific way to canvass for electoral predictions.
First, Twitter has been savvy in addressing its development into a real-time information source. Steady refinement of its uses, coupled with growing acclimation of people's online behavior, provides pollsters and analysts with a wellspring of relevant data. Twitter has struck a balance between providing useful feature updates that people adopt -- countering Facebook's woes with privacy -- and a lack of development -- countering the potential reason for Google+'s initial slow growth.
In a May post, New York Times blogger Nick Bilton noted a key outcome from Twitter's efforts -- Federal Trade Commission endorsement of Twitter's privacy measures. News like this encourages people to participate on Twitter openly, and makes the resulting data that much more valuable to analyze.
Second, already having learned to manage lean online launches and learning quickly from beta periods, organizations have acquired a wealth of material that can improve assumptions applied to online measurement tools development. Tools have improved accuracy regarding assumptions about how people speak in Twitter. Twindex, for example, accounts for social colloquialisms based on past Twitter history.
All of these Twitter-related improvements are leading to outstanding discoveries on what social media influence truly means. At Voxsup, a social media analytics platform vendor whose name stands for "voice of the people," founder Alok Choundary has developed an influence analysis tool based on social media big-data research. Choundary, who is an engineering and business professor at Northwestern University, suggested that Twitter users with a small following can be highly influential because their followers appreciate seemingly honest comments. Having a large following is not a prerequisite to being influential. (Watch Choundary's recent Social Media Week presentation in Chicago here.)
For Twitter measurement, this means pollsters can potentially identify relevant segments that best reflect true sentiment toward a topic. Followers gravitate toward those whom they feel are making genuine expressions, sharing a reply or retweeting the original message.
Finally, Twitter structure for public commentary posted at the occurrence of the event increases the relevancy of the comments and sentimental accuracy about the event. The 140-character format trains people to state their intent quickly, while the widespread use of mobile phones makes that response complimentary to offline events. Newscasts display tweets as an indicator of what is going on. I recall a New York newscast showing an entire TweetDeck screen to highlight hashtag sentiments efficiently.
Obama's first presidential campaign set a standard for galvanizing a political base with social media. It was inevitable that 2012 would further heighten social media's political use. There are nuances to what is being discovered this election, but as eMarketer noted last week, more people are learning about candidates via social media. The unprecedented success of 2008 makes it understandable that political pundits and the experts begin to measure social media political influence. The analytics community should note that Twitter certainly has a strong lead.
Do you trust Twitter presidential predictions? Read Marshall Sponder's Counterpoint, take our quick poll at right, and share your thoughts on the message boards.