How the social media scene saw the General Election campaigns
At the start of the election campaign, pundits were claiming this was going to be the UK’s first “social media” election – so were they right? Meriden-based Infegy Europe eavesdropped on billions of online interactions to understand how the campaign played out across Twitter, blogs and forum postings.
An election is no longer about taking pen to the old-fashioned medium of paper and putting a cross in your candidate’s box – this time round, applying fingers to keyboard and digitally sharing your opinions has come into its own.
And conveniently, ample fuel for discussion has been supplied by the launch of televised leadership debates, as well as wall-to-wall coverage of the post-election landscape as it develops, giving bloggers, Twitterers and forum frequenters something to get their teeth into.
Although we may be no better off in terms of understanding who will run the country, digital tracking software can give us a better idea of what people are talking about when it comes to the election.
Using its Social Radar technology, Infegy Europe has indexed over 4.5 billion blogs, feeds and forums to take a snapshot of how social media users responded to the debates, polls and general PR disasters like Gordon Brown’s unfortunate outburst after a meeting with a pensioner in Rochdale.
The trend chart – which tracks how overall volumes in social media activity respond to events in the real world – shows the three election debates caused a significant spike in comments and chatter on April 15, 22 and 29.
But it didn’t have to be big stage-managed events that captured the interest of an online audience - the combination of Nick Clegg being labelled “as popular as Winston Churchill,” the foreign secretaries debate and also the general preamble to the live debate coming up created a peak in interest on April 19.
Not surprisingly “Bigotgate” also caused a bit of a stir – causing a jump in activity which then fed into the general clamour around the third debate held in Birmingham on April 29.
Online chatter reached fever pitch around the first debate on April 15, where 45,306 conversations were recorded, compared to an average of 15,937 throughout the campaign.
And even if everyone already knew that Twitter users and bloggers were more likely to be young and left-leaning, the sentiment they expressed towards each of the three leaders bore this out.
Despite “old” media led by papers like The Sun attempting to rouse intense anti-Gordon Brown feeling online the picture looked less definitive.
According to Social Radar, analysis of comments over the period of the election campaign showed pretty evenly divided opinion about Mr Brown – with 50 per cent positivity and 45 per cent negativity when he was mentioned.
Only five per cent seemed be undecided about how they felt towards him.
Still, overall David Cameron scored better on the sentiment front, achieving 53 per cent overall positivity. But online, as elsewhere in the run up to the election, it was Nick Clegg who was the golden boy – scoring a 57 per cent positivity rating, and just 38 per cent negative comments.
Social media’s reaction to the third leadership debate in Birmingham provided an example of how people using networking sites differ in their opinions from the general population.
While polls declared that David Cameron won the debate at the University of Birmingham, online Nick Clegg had nearly double the approval rating, with 64 per cent positive feedback according to Social Radar - compared to 32 per cent in a YouGov poll.
Infegy Europe managing director Gray Dudek, who compiled the report alongside head of consultancy Dave Reed, said the use of social media was an exciting development, both for politicians as well as companies who could exploit it to boost their brands - but only if they do it in the right way.
“The view on the election and the live debates we have gained here from social media via Social Radar would not have been possible in this detail, nor would it have been as potentially powerful in persuading voters in the last general elections,” he said.
“People were just not using the channels like we all do today, which is truly exciting. However, a concern for brands and governments is that the public have the power back once again and moreover understand the channels better than those trying to communicate broadly across them.
“The social media channels will continue to grow in volume and also the number of people using the various platforms will grow too.
“So there will be even more places to engage and more people to engage with. That said, it will also continue to be a completely self-organising channel-set that has rules, boundaries and etiquette like all social settings. Abide by these soft agreements as a communicator and you will be credited.”