With only hours to go before America is forced to default on its loans, President Obama took to Twitter to try and get everyone to compromise. He put out well over a hundred tweets in the course of a few hours, all with a common theme:
Although each of these tweets were useful to a large number of people, all of them together were useful to absolutely nobody — and it showed. Within minutes of beginning this tweet barrage, people began unfollowing @BarackObama en masse:
The over 30,000 net lost followers is taken after counting the 20,000 followers that Obama would normally expect to gain on a Friday — that’s over 50,000 lost followers for Obama, and the first time in a very long time that he’s had a net loss over an entire day. To put thing in perspective, though, these 50,000 followers represent only 0.53% of his total follower base, so it’s not exactly time for a re-election just yet!
Adrian at TwitSprout
As we promised, there’s now a post-mortem page on our Obama Dashboard. The full analysis was in our last blog post, but the infographic breaks it down and provides many more details — plus we just think it’s a lot of fun! Take a look at the link above, or just feast your eyes below:
Thanks again for all the support — it’s been quite a ride!
Adrian at TwitSprout
Without a doubt, today has been an incredibly exciting day for TwitSprout. What began with our Obama Dashboard announcement this morning has evolved into a whirlwind of activity, tweets, and blog posts. We are, of course, incredibly grateful to all of our partners, users, and fans for their help and encouragement; it’s been a thrill.
With that said, our work here is not yet done. In our last entry, we made some predictions, and now it’s time to see how we (and the White House) performed!
What did everyone get right? We feel we matched the major categories of things Obama focused on — tax cuts, the debt ceiling, and job creation — but that wasn’t very difficult to do. More specifically, we nailed the third tweet Obama answered:
Tech and knowledge industries are thriving, yet jobs discussion always centers on manufacturing. Why not be realistic about jobs?
This one was right on our dashboard, and we had singled it out because @Kim, a very high-Klout user, was one of the many who put their weight behind it. The White House chose the earliest version of the tweet, by @dmscott (with slightly lower Klout), but the logic is clear — this tweet was chosen for the high-level support it received.
Another one we expected, but for a completely different reason, was Obama’s 8th:
Mr. President, In several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this?
According to our calculations, at the time of the Town Hall, this tweet had been mentioned, retweeted, or RT’ed over 182 times — making it the 4th-most active tweet in the Jobs category, and 14th overall. This is high enough to be on our list of likely predictions, although not high enough to earn one of the few spots on the Dashboard itself. Even though the tweeter, @pmglynn, is not very influential (with only around 100 followers), the question itself generated a lot of discussion and interest. It was an excellent candidate, and both TwitSprout and Obama appear to think so.
We definitely stand by all the predictions we made — there was solid reasoning behind each of them, and we’re confident they would have made excellent questions; however, there are a couple of predictions we didn’t make that, in hindsight, probably would have made sense.
The most obvious omission is @johnboehner's provocative tweet:
After embarking on a record spending binge that’s left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?
At the time of the Town Hall, this question had been propagated 79 times: a nontrivial amount, but only enough to place it in 10th place in the Jobs category, and much lower overall. There are two things that should have tipped us off about it, however:
- Even though @johnboehner’s Klout is only 69, his influence on President Obama is considerably higher. His position as Speaker of the House undoubtedly played a role in Mass Relevance’s decision. Of course, there’s no automated tools that would detect this. We simply should have thought of it.
- Even though the full form of the tweet had only 79 propagations, the snappier version “Where are the jobs?" by itself had 341 of them — enough to place it in 2nd place in the Jobs category, and 6th place overall, which would certainly have gotten our attention — except that this tweet didn’t make sense to us, since we didn’t see it in context with Boehner’s tweet (they were far apart in our rankings). Of course, we had algorithms to detect subtle rewordings between tweets, but these two didn’t trigger them.
We might as well come out and address the elephant in the room. It was obvious to anyone who had followed our predictions or paid even casual attention to the #AskObama stream, that there was one particular topic getting a particularly large share of the buzz: the legalization of marijuana. Although the topic of the Town Hall was ostensibly about the economy, it was becoming clear that people did think of this as an economic issue. By our measurements, the two most popular tweets of the entire stream, were:
Would you consider legalizing marijuana to increase revenue and save tax dollars by freeing up crowded prisons, court rooms?
Pres. Obama: Why can’t we discuss legalizing cannabis to create jobs and save millions annually on enforcement?
These two alone, including their various reincarnations, accounted together for more impressions than every question about taxation put together! An event that emphasizes popular opinion as a tool for accountability could surely not fail to address these questions in the depth they deserve; but, of course, the topic was notable only for its absence. The President discussed the war on drugs merely tangentially, for less than half a minute, leaving absolutely nobody satisfied.
One explanation for this glaring omission is a simple misinterpretation of the data, whether on our part or Twitter’s. With such a strong signal coming through the noise of #AskObama tweets, however, we were fairly confident in our evaluation of this topic’s relevance — but maybe the curators were looking at things differently. When White House correspondent Mike Allen announced the official breakdown of tweets, we wanted to compare his with ours:
Notice that the relative percentages of Twiitter’s four categories are nearly the same as ours, except that it accounts for more of the total — as if a chunk of the “Other” category was removed or reapportioned among the four categories. Here’s what happens when we separate out the tweets we believe to be related to the legalization of marijuana in our set from the catch-all “Other”:
This evidence is purely circumstantial, but it does suggest that the things our algorithms classified as marijuana legalization were either dropped from the grand total, or re-assigned to some other category based on secondary characteristics. Either possibility would result in the near-perfect correspondence between our “Top-4” and “Other” tweet percentages.
To be fair, we didn’t expect the President to truly treat every question equally. For one thing, the encouraged topics centered around job creation and the economy. For another, a large part of the “Other” chunk of the pie consisted of rude or snarky comments, clearly trying very hard to impress with their own wit. Nobody expects Obama to field those. But when an overwhelming part of the people who are supposed to be setting the tone of the discussion are being conspicuously passed over — it makes you wonder why we don’t just drop the pretense and have another press conference instead.
Despite the disappointment some people may have felt about this dodge, we still felt it was a great event. The thrill of working in “real time” under the public eye is addictive, and we’ll definitely be looking for more opportunities to practice our analytics chops out in the open. Thanks again for all the help, and keep an eye out for more great TwitSprout features coming soon to our regular users.
Adrian at TwitSprout
After hours of feverishly gathering, sorting, poking, and prodding all of our #AskObama data, we’ve finally got our first iteration of the Obama Dashboard!
Our gnomes had to work hard for this information — there’s no magic wand you can wave that tells you programmatically whether a particular tweet is a genuine question or just some promotional spam. It’s even harder to tell when two questions are essentially the same except for some minor rewording, and more difficult still to group together questions on the same general topics, like “jobs” or “Republicans.” With some clever heuristics and manual intervention, however, we’ve succeeded in bringing it all together into the predictions and analysis above.
As we discussed in our previous blog post about this Town Hall, it’s impossible to know how the team will curate the massive amount of questions that people all over Twitter have posed. It’s clear from the numbers above, however, that any honest evaluation of the data requires the President to acknowledge Americans’ concerns about the drug laws in their country. Whether it’s justified or not, people seem to place the blame for a lot of America’s economic woes on them and their heavy-handed enforcement. Regardless of which side of this debate his opinion happens to fall, if Obama doesn’t address this point during tomorrow’s discussion, it will be clear that he’s avoiding the data. By a landslide, this is what people want to hear his plans on.
To keep up with the latest version of this dashboard, as well as @BarackObama’s TwitSprout dashboard and our eventual postmortem of the Town Hall meeting, keep an eye on http://Obama.TwitSprout.com and, as always, send us all the feedback you can come up with!
Adrian at TwitSprout
The latest buzz on Twitter has been all about President Obama’s impending Town Hall tomorrow at 2 PM. As your friendly neighborhood social media experts, TwitSprout has been carefully monitoring and analyzing the tens of thousands of tweets to bring you our predictions and conclusions! [Jump to Word Cloud]
We started tracking the #AskObama hashtag shortly after the White House announced the event, on Friday, July 1st. Uptake was slow at first, but another Obama-related event on Tuesday really started the ball rolling.
We’re currently tracking over 20,000 unique tweets so far (not including retweets!) and we fully expect this number to reach 50,000 before the President begins speaking tomorrow. Of course, not all of these tweets are quality questions — many are just encouraging others to participate. Our gnomes are busy using heuristic algorithms to separate the wheat from the chaff, and as best as we can tell, the President has about 11,000 genuine, unique inquiries from concerned citizens to look forward to on Wednesday. Let’s hope he talks fast!
Of course, in all seriousness, Obama will only be able to scratch the surface of this mountain of curiosity he’s gathered. According to Twitter, the team at Mass Relevance (plus Jack Dorsey) are the ones entrusted with curating and selecting the lucky tweets. Nobody can be sure exactly what their selection process will look like, but it’s safe to say it’ll be some combination of the following:
- Random selection: In true democratic fashion, all tweets are treated equal and have the same chance of being picked at random. While nobody can complain about the fairness, it might lead to some really strange results.
- Sheer numbers: The best questions are being retweeted hundreds of times, and the cream is really rising to the top. The team could select the most retweeted and RT’ed tweets as the questions the most Americans care about.
- Popularity contest: There are many ways of measuring influence on Twitter — whether it’s Klout, follower count, or your TwitSprout dashboard. However they choose to measure it, the questions asked by the most important people might be the lucky ones.
- Politics as usual: Of course, it’s not impossible that the White House has already “vetted” a series of questions from their own talking points, and the team is simply looking for people on Twitter who asked the same things.
We obviously can’t do much to predict the outcome of #1 and #4, but we just can’t resist using our number-crunching powers to see what happens in the other cases. Right up until the event tomorrow at 2 PM, we’ll be making and updating our predictions about the most common and the most important tweets — and posting them to our special Obama Dashboard (coming soon)! Follow along to get the pulse of what Americans really want to know the most.
One thing is clear: there’s something never far from the front of Americans’ minds.
The #AskObama word cloud clearly shows what tomorrow’s talk will revolve around: Jobs, the economy, and Obama’s agenda to improve them. Even the legalization of poker and marijuana pale by comparison — and same-sex marriage didn’t even make the list! No matter how Mass Relevance decides to choose their questions, you should expect to see these big-ticket items make an appearance.
The next few hours…
The half-day remaining before President Obama takes the microphone will be an exciting one in Twitter’s history. Make sure to get your #AskObama questions in before it’s too late, keep up with this blog and our Obama Dashboard for the latest updates and predictions as the hour approaches, and tune in at 2 PM. While you are all out worrying about the country, we’ll be worrying about the analytics!
Adrian at TwitSprout