Old Waconian (former Cheadle Hulme School pupil) Alexandra Severn, now working in digital PR at www.miss-market.co.uk, assesses the importance of social media in the 2012 US election cycle:
US ELECTION CONFIRMS SOCIAL MEDIA REVOLUTION
Social media transformed the US presidential election into one of the most instantaneously shared and documented events in history.
Barack Obama chose to announce his victory on social media tweeting a photograph of himself embracing his wife Michelle with the caption: “Four More Years.” In fewer than 140 characters, Obama showed just how profoundly the digital revolution had transformed the 2012 presidential election.
Posting the image at 0416 on Tuesday before he took to the stage and announced his victory over Mitt Romney, the tweet broke numerous records and became the most retweeted of all time. Since then, it has been retweeted nearly 700,000 times, broken the record for tweets per minute (327,452) and has also broken records on Facebook becoming the most ‘liked’ photo ever with 3.3 million users hitting the “like” button. Users are still liking the image at a rate of more than 100,000 an hour.
The unprecedented viral success of the post confirmed the role that social media has played. The “hug” photo was shared across continents and time zones, with congratulations pouring in from Namibia, Brazil, Denmark, Chile, Kenya, Italy, Albania, and numerous other nations. One Briton was keen to share in Obama’s victory. Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama.” Cameron’s message was re-tweeted a comparatively modest 1,500 times.
There were more than 31 million election-related tweets on Tuesday night, making election night “the most tweeted about event in U.S. political history,” Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz told Reuters. The 2008 contest for the White House has a lot to be thanked for. It is often referred to as the first social media election because of the influential role played by newcomers Facebook and Twitter, online services that either hadn’t existed or had barely existed four years earlier.
And just four years later, we can see how much has changed. Lee Rainine, director of the Pew Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project commented: “Now social media is deeply embedded in the rhythms of people’s lives.” Nearly 67 million people tuned in to watch network news coverage of the elections, ratings firm Nielsen reported. But social media was a bigger draw: 306 million people flocked to Facebook and more than 11 million turned to Twitter, according to research firm Experian Hitwise. Voters didn’t just curl up on the sofa and turn on the television, they turned on their laptops, tablets and smartphones.
But social media didn’t just play a big role on Election Day – it played a huge role in the run-up to the election. The election seemed to be causing big rifts between social media users with 47 per cent of those surveyed by Mashable, claiming to have unfriended someone on Facebook because of the election. Whilst the Deccan Chronicle lists its Top 10 US Social Media Comedy Moments including a parody of the Korean hit ‘Gangnam Style’ – a ‘Mitt Romney Style’ Youtube video courtesy of College Humour.
Social media was also used to predict the results of the election. The social listening widget developed by MPG media contacts, analysed interactions across a variety of social networks and ranked these messages based on how many people interacted with each of them. It then compared the keywords used in the messages to find commonality between them. An algorithm worked out how positive or negative these are for each candidate and how this might translate into votes.
So how did they do? The day before the election the widget predicted the victory to go to Obama with 299 Electoral College votes to Romney’s 239, with its prediction on election morning being Obama with 303 and Romney with 235. At the time of writing the actual results were Obama 303 Romney 206 with Florida still to declare who will receive its 29 Electoral College votes. You do the maths.
So whether you feel all tweeted out and exhausted by the election, or are still amazed by the role it has played, it will certainly be interesting to see how these events shape the future of political elections and we are excited to see how the social media landscape might look in the next UK General Election.