Monday, May 3, 2010

The UK election - a measured perspective: Part 2

In my last post I looked at how the three parties websites were tracked, and how their Twitter social media campaigns were running.

To recap, there was little evidence of anything other than implementing the vanilla tags for Google Analytics, with no custom tracking of any sort to be seen. The three parties all had Twitter accounts, and the numbers depicted quite different levels of advancement. The Tories had the largest number of followers and also the most engaged followers according to Twitalyzer, with 100% clout and the highest influence and impact ratings of the three. The Lib Dems whilst (only just) having the smallest number of followers, had a more engaged following than Labour, with higher clout, impact and influence metrics than the governing party. Furthermore, these metrics were all still rising, indicating an campaign that is being optimised. The Labour campaign was flat-lining for impact and influence, and whilst rising for clout, was still way behind the other two parties.

The last post looked at the 30 days of data in Twitalyzer up to April 16th, effectively looking at the first half of the official campaign. This time around we look at the data in the run up to the election. This should show us how the campaigns have faired since then, and possibly give an idea of who has run the best online campaign, and how offline events have affected the online campaigns. Who knows, I may even inspire you to bet on the actual outcome should you fancy a flutter.

This time around, we look at the 30 days of data in Twitalyzer up to May 2nd, 4 days before the election. Twitalyzer uses a 30 day moving average, with the score for an account changing every 7 days. Rather than look at the levels for each week, I shall look solely at the moving average for this time period versus the last. Note also that the diagrams below use change indicators that refer to the 7 day time period just mentioned rather than that the being used for this analysis.

Before we look at the Twitalyzer numbers in detail, we'll take a quick peek at the number of followers each of the accounts has to give a very rough indication of how the parties are faring. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have seen steady growth in their follower counts, with the Conservatives growing by 11% to just shy of 30k, and Labour by 10% to 16k. The Lib Dems saw a large 38% jump in followers, taking them to almost 19k followers, and easily taking second place off Labour. This reflects the surge in popularity that Nick Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems, has seen following his successful appearances on the Leaders Debates. Another sketchy indicator of the quality of the campaigns of each of the parties is the ratio of followers to following. Last time around both Labour and the Conservatives had fewer followers than those they followed - unrequited love? This time around things were different, with only Labour having fewer followers than those they followed. On this measure the Conservatives were the most successful, now having 7% more followers than those they followed, with the Lib Dems slipping from 5% to 1%.

To recap, in terms of Twitter followers the Conservatives remain firmly in the lead, with the massive surge in popularity for Nick Clegg not really affecting them. It has, however, propelled the Lib Dems into second place.

Turning now to the Twitalyzer numbers it can be seen that whilst there has been some change to the performance of the campaigns based on the five metrics, as with the follower data the Conservatives remain in control.

Their impact has fallen to 38.6% from the previous analysis's 40.3%, which given their increase in followers since that time period suggests this is caused by factors that have caused the influence metric to fall down to 54.1% from 58%. As you may recall, influence takes references and retweets into account, whereas clout only looks at references - given that the Tories clout score has remained at 100%, this indicates a fall in the number of retweets the Conservatives account has been receiving - whilst people are happy to mention the account, they're not so keen on spreading what the Tories have to say. However, the generosity metric for the Tories has also risen dramatically since the last analysis, to stand at 34.7%, up from 3.7%! This suggests that as well as having engaged followers (although not possibly as engaged as they were a fortnight ago) the Conservative Twitter account is now engaging better with them too, with a nearly ten times increase in the share of its tweets that reference other accounts. Inspection of the actual account reveals that this is actually retweets of accounts affiliated with the Tory campaign, so is less engagement with followers, and more spreading the message.

The Labour party have been having a poor campaign offline, and this appears to be the case online as well. With the exception of generosity, all their metrics fell between the two time periods. Given that this presumably takes into account the 10% growth in followers, this indicates a marked fall in follower engagement, and suggests that the message that the Labour account is delivering isn't inspiring people enough to spread it. As with the previous period, all the follower engagement metrics for the Labour account are lower than both the Tory and Lib Dem accounts, and are now becoming more so. It is hard to determine the effect of Gordon Brown's gaffe late last week where he accused a member of the public of being "bigoted" on the Twitter account performance, given the seven day time periods used by Twitalyzer and the dates used here for the Twitter follower count, but it is improbable that this is the main cause of the downturn in their performance as this began before the gaffe. Although it can't be proved, it does appear that this specific event has not had the large negative effect on Labour's Twitter campaign that Nick Clegg's positive performance had on his party's campaign. This one-way relationship (if it exists) could give us some limited insight into the type of follower the social media campaigns have - being more positively affected by the campaign it suggests that party account followers are more affiliated with their party than the typical member of the public (as one would expect).

The Lib Dem Twitter account has seen a slight increase in impact, rising to 32.6% from 30.5% a fortnight ago. This reflects the large increase in followers, and will have been held back by the smaller increase in its follower engagement, represented here by the influence metric which only rose from 45.9% to 47.1%. The clout metric actually fell between the two periods, from 97.7% to 92.5%. This indicates an increase in the number of retweets, but a fall in references, suggesting that the new followers that the account has received (probably off the back of Nick Clegg's TV performances) are happy to retweet its message, but less likely to engage directly with the account.

It would appear then that the Labour account has deteriorated since the last analysis, when it wasn't performing well anyway, and is clearly behind the other two parties. The Lib Dems, whilst seeing a large increase in followers, and improvements in its influence, engagement and impact metrics, has seen a fall in its generosity and clout metrics, indicating an increase in the number of retweets as well as other accounts that it references, but fall in references by others. Whilst the Tory campaign has deteriorated since the last analysis, with both the impact and influence metrics falling, indicating a fall in their tweets being retweeted, they are still spreading their message more effectively than the other parties. Traditionally the Tories have had a stronger online presence than the other main parties, primarily in the blogosphere, and this goes some way to explaining the strength of their social media campaign.

Of course, this has only a slight correlation with the outcome of the election on Thursday, but it does show that the Conservative party have managed to generate a solid social media campaign (for Twitter) in the run up to the election, engaging better with their (larger number of) followers. Obviously, the numbers involved here are small relative to the size of the electorate, and to a certain extent their campaigns are preaching to the converted. This election will be won by convincing swing voters to vote for a party in key constituencies, and it will take more than Twitter or Facebook campaigns to do this.

Oh, and my prediction for the result? The Tories to take the largest share of the votes with a hung parliament overall. And the whole thing to begin again in under a year.

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