Where do Americans Turn for Breaking News?

May 8, 2011

The death of Osama Bin Laden has rightfully captured a majority of our national discourse since the announcement on the evening of May 1.  But what does the announcement demonstrate about our new media paradigm?  In the moment of breaking national news, how is information circulated?  What channels to Americans leverage to find news?

SocialFlow, a social media optimization company, analyzed Twitter on May 1 from 9:46 p.m. EST, when the White House sent a news alert regarding a pending press conference, to 11:30 p.m. EST, when the President took to the podium.

Following the news alert at 9:46 p.m., the Internet lit up with speculation regarding what Obama was going to address.  By 10:24 p.m. EST the mystery was leaked through a lone tweet.  Keith Urbahn, chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield, sent this tweet to his followers:

Moments later, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter retweeted Urbahn’s tweet to his more than 50,000 followers.  After that, the news spread rapidly through Twitter, the blogosphere, and eventually to national news.

The image above demonstrates how exponentially information can travel through Twitter.  As people read an important tweet, they are likely to spread it by retweeting or creating an original tweet, building a cumulative Web of information.  SocialFlow notes:

Twitter has proven time and time again its value in tracking events as they unfold in realtime, accelerating the flow and spread of information across the globe. Twitter has become the dominant mechanism to get timely updates about events that are taking place regardless of geography, topic or even language.[i]

On May 2 people jumped to the Internet for news, analysis, and developments of the astonishing story.  This chart by Eric Savitz shows website visits for top online news sites on Monday, May 2 versus Monday, April 25:

As Felix Salmon, a financial reporter for Reuters astutely acknowledges, the increase in visitors for TV news organizations such as MSNBC, CNN, and ABC increased at a larger rate than more traditional print-only organizations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.  Yahoo! News was the glaring exception, with nearly twice as many visitors as any other news site.  Salmon determines that despite our increased usage of the Internet, when breaking news hits, Americans still run to their television sets for real-time coverage.

While Americans still leverage their television sets to follow breaking news, its influence is waning.  The amount of Americans with televisions is decreasing and Felix Salmon notes the news on Osama Bin Laden’s death was reported via Twitter before any traditional news organization.  In addition, it is important to realize many people turning on a television and jumping online for news on May 1 or 2, were directed to a particular station or URL via social media – ultimately demonstrating the median’s growing significance in our culture and on our flow of information.



State of the Union Multimedia

January 29, 2011

The State of the Union address is always an exciting time for political junkies.  The proliferation of technology has continuously changed the address and created ample opportunities for the President’s supporters and opponents to express their opinions.  No longer do Members of Congress have to file into Statutory Hall in the hopes of garnering a 15 second sound byte on the national news, although many still do.  Politicians can now take command of their message and ensure it reaches their core audience.

Instead of delving into the policies presented in the speech, which many pundits already have, we are going to examine the ways in which Members of Congress leveraged the Web to ensure their voices were heard during the important occasion.

Following the Congressional Twitter stream on www.c-span.org, two Representatives stood out as the most active during the speech.  Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) was the most outspoken critic of the President’s address.  It was revealed on national news the next day that the Congressman watched the address from his office instead of the House floor.  During the speech he presented many critiques such as “Obama’s policies kill free-enterprise.” Ultimately, the Congressman’s efforts were rewarded as national news programs, such as Hardball with Chris Matthews, publicized Broun’s activities, giving the Georgia Representative more publicity than virtually all of his colleagues.

Congressman Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) was the most prolific Democratic Twitter user during the speech.  The third term Congressman expressed elation and consternation at many of the President’s policy positions.  The Congressman now has nearly 10,000 Twitter followers, a very strong number for a Representative.  Organizing for America also tweeted live during the speech, repeating many of the President’s key phrases and policy positions.

After the speech concluded, many Members expressed their initial reactions via social media.  Some Congressman took it a step further, delivering their initial remarks with video.  While Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was delivering the official Republican response to the State of the Union, leading House GOP members including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) responded to supporter questions received via Twitter on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s YouTube page.  In addition, Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) streamed his response live via UStream.

The White House joined in on the most wired State of the Union address in history.  WhiteHouse.gov streamed the address live and had policy advisors answer questions from Americans following the President’s speech.  In addition, the website had a seating chart identifying who was sitting with the First Lady.

Technology’s affect on the State of the Union is truly remarkable.  The President even joked, as he was walking toward the podium, that the address had already been leaked for hours and there was no purpose for him to read it.  Technology will play an even greater role in the years to come.  More people will watch the speech leveraging a mobile device and Members of Congress will become more creative in expressing their views.

Lastly, as a side note, will a staffer please buy Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN) a DVR or Tivo.  This is 2011, the technology is available to watch two things at once.

 


Moving from Social Media 1.0 to 2.0

January 25, 2011

We have seemingly reached the point where social media is accepted in all crevices of Capitol Hill.  A vast majority of members from both parties have twitter and/or Facebook pages, and are updating them regularly with posts highlighting legislative achievements and local news appearances.  So now what?

While a majority of politicians have social media pages, they are still not leveraging their full capabilities.  It is not enough to tweet and post on Facebook, the true power in social media is its ability to inspire action.  Matt Lira, new media director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said in a recent Politico article that social media’s “real potential lies in organizing government itself and how it functions.”[1]

There is no formal definition of social media 1.0 and 2.0, but here is my vision.  Social media 1.0 is what you currently see coming from most Member offices.  It involves basic posting on Facebook and Twitter and floor speech recordings on YouTube.  Its goal is to supplement traditional media coverage and draw attention to a Member’s legislative achievements.

Social media 2.0 is a planned and clearly orchestrated attempt to inspire action among its followers.  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube posts are coordinated to present a central theme and encourage followers to express their feelings through replies or definitive action.  All social media postings are integrated to ensure a consistent message.  In addition, new forms of technology – such as mobile – are leveraged to enhance exposure.

A recent Roll Call article discussing radio’s influence on Congress included a quote from Rachel Maddow noting that “comparatively speaking, messaging on the left is much more ad hoc, much less disciplined and repetitive, and much less wide-reaching.”[2] The fact is Republican social media has been much more coordinated, with many more GOP members leveraging Web channels, as noted in our past article “Enthusiasm or Emphasis?“.  While social media is not the only reason for greater Republican messaging coordination, it is an important one.

Need a lesson on the power of social media 2.0?  Look to private business or entertainment.  Watch television commercials and see how the advertisements are encouraging you to log online or visit a Facebook page for more information.  Congressional communications in the digital age is about salesmanship as much as it is about substance.  And Members of Congress that harness a coordinated message supplemented by next generation social media tactics will be the ones to prevail.



Enthusiasm or Emphasis?

October 24, 2010

Recent studies have found Republicans capturing a decided advantage over Democrats in the social media sphere. A September study by OhMyGov finds Republican Members of Congress outdistancing their Democratic counterparts on Facebook by more than 2-to-1. The gap is also widening, with the Republican Facebook following increasing by 35 percent from May 1 to August 31, compared to 22 percent by Democrats. A recent Burston-Marsteller report found similar numbers for Twitter. Republican campaign-focused Twitter accounts average 4,820 followers versus 2,972 for Democrats. Of the top ten most followed Twitter accounts, eight are Republicans.

According to the OhMyGov report, on Election Day in 2008, President Obama’s Facebook page had more than 112,000 fans compared to Senator McCain’s 4,600. The Democrats’ social media dominance seemed as firmly entrenched as their Congressional majorities. But in a span of two years – just as they are on the cusp of flipping the makeup of Congress –­ Republicans have captured the social media market. The question is how? Is it firmly the result of voter enthusiasm? Or have the Republicans placed a greater emphasis on social media and used it to ignite an anti-Democratic fervor?

Accounting for official Congressional social media pages, Republicans Members of Congress have 133 Twitter pages (61%) and 206 Facebook pages (96%), according to www.govsm.com. Democratic Members of Congress total 99 Twitter pages (32%) and 238 Facebook pages (76%). These numbers demonstrate that Republicans place a greater emphasis on digital communications than their Democratic counterparts.

Heading into the 2010 midterm elections, no constituency has shown more enthusiasm than the Tea Party. A recent CNN poll finds that 73 percent of Tea Party supporters are “very enthusiastic” about voting in November. Consequently only 43 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republican say the same. And these numbers are reflective in campaign social media statistics. According to a recent study by headcount.org, four of the top seven Senate campaign social media followings – when combining Facebook and Twitter followers – are Tea Party backed candidates. These politicians include Jim Demint, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Sharron Angle.

While far from being statistically significant, these numbers prove that both enthusiasm and emphasis are necessary to build a social media following. In 2010, the Republican Party has both – its base is much more engaged and party leaders are effectively capitalizing on that fervor through multimedia means – reminiscent of President Obama’s campaign in 2008.

 


To Follow or Not to Follow

September 15, 2010

Should politicians follow their supporters on Twitter?

To follow or not to follow, that is the question. I am not misquoting Shakespeare, but referring to whether or not politicians should follow their supporters on Twitter.

Allow me to elaborate. Some politicians, including Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Senator Jim Demint (R-SC), automatically follow Twitter users that follow them. On the other side of the aisle, the Democrat’s Twitter aficionado, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), refuses to follow her Twitter supporters and has gone out of her way to explain her position. So should politicians follow or not? Let’s explore.

Congressman Issa is Congress’ third most active Twitter user with approximately four tweets per day according to tweetcongress.org. Issa has more than 13,000 Twitter followers and follows more than 11,000 Twitter users.  Less than one day after following Issa on Twitter, a user is followed by the Congressman and receives a direct message. The message reads:

Do you want a government that saves more than it spends? I’m working in Washington towards that goal and want to hear what you think about.

Senator McCaskill is the leading Democratic Twitter user with more than 40,000 followers. Yet, McCaskill does not follow a single Twitter account.  The Senator is adamant that all her tweets come directly from her, or are approved by her. As such, she refuses to follow others since it is impossible for her to respond to their messages directly. She explains her decision in detail here.

By automatically following other Twitter accounts, politicians open a new channel of communication with their constituents.  Tools such as TweetDeck or Socialoomph allow Twitter users to automatically follow people who follow them, and send a welcome message similar to Congressman Issa’s. In addition, by following other Twitter users politicians can grow their account quicker and send direct messages to their supporters.

But it is impossible for a Member of Congress to respond to hundreds, if not thousands, of Twitter messages per day. Which means invariably their staff will be the ones directly responding to constituents. This is no different than other forms of communication such as form letters or e-mail, but it reduces the personal affects of Twitter and Social Media. Senator McCaskill may not maximize her following but she can ensure her Twitter account is personal and authentic.

Ultimately, politicians looking to increase their Twitter following as quickly as possible are best served to setup an automated following apparatus.  Some of their followers will be spammers and advertisers but it will increase their numbers and give their account more credibility to the media and ordinary citizens. Politicians looking for substance over quantity are best served with the more personal approach of Senator McCaskill.  It may limit their Twitter following, but that following will be more faithful and enjoy the personal connection.