PA Times article on the use of social media during the 2012 election

I wrote up a short piece about the impact of social media in the 2012 election. It will come out in print this month and I wanted to share it here as well.

The social media dance around the VP pick

On Friday night the news broke, that the Romney campaign was planning to reveal the vice-president in a live TV covered event at 9:05am the next day. Within a few hours however, all major news-outlets stated “Mitt Romney picks Paul Ryan”. There was no question mark, no speculation. Only these plain statements – quoting sources close to the campaign.

Online, there was however very little indication on 8/9/12 that the information was leaked: The USA Today/Twitter Election meter showed negative sentiments towards both candidates at an all time low (since #Twindex data was revealed to the public): Obama 20; Romney 12. This number was stable until late Saturday evening when the Twitter index was finally updated – which seems to happen only once per day: Obama 32; Romney 39.

As a result, people were buying shares for their favorite veep pick, Paul Ryan on the Intrade prediction market. Ryan was favorited by 95% of the buyers:

On Saturday morning social media came into play. Romney’s Twitter account officially confirmed his pick – even before he went on stage in Norfolk, VA:

An hour later, Paul Ryan’s newly established Twitter account confirmed the news as well:

The account name “@PaulRyanVP” was initially not verified by Twitter and it took the company a few hours to add the blue checkmark to the account. As a result the followers jumped up from a handful to several thousands. Controversy around the account’s name eluded people to the fact that Paul Ryan already labels himself (or let’s say his campaign team labels him) VP = Vice-president. People are asking legitimate questions, as the following tweet by Chris Geidner shows:

Romney campaign aide Beth Myers confirmed in a statement to the press, that Romney had already made his pick earlier in August, after he returned from his first visit abroad. She presented the campaign’s strategy on how they kept the decision under wraps right after the announcement to the press.

@140Elect reports that the @PaulRyanVP Twitter account was created on August 2, 2012 which confirms that the VP decision has already been made weeks ago. It is unclear however why the campaign chose to reveal the candidate two weeks later, on a war ship at a time when only half of the country can watch the news at 9:00am on a Saturday morning.

During the exciting events of the day, other social media tools were ignored by the campaign.  As an example, the iPhone app “America’s Comeback Team” did not inform its users as advertised. Instead, the screen stayed blank even after the world heard the announcement, as this screenshot from Anthony De Rosa shows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter was also the first place where the campaign’s logo was revealed – on @PaulRyanVP’s account:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romney campaign clearly had their sight set on Twitter and ignored Facebook – the Paul Ryan Vice-President Facebook account was established just an hour before the official announcement.

At the end of the day, the futures markets weren’t impressed by the Vice-President pick. As an example, the Iowa Electronic Market for the 2012 US Presidential Election Vote Share Market still lists a win by the democratic candidate at 60%:

Obama campaign’s “Holy Grail”: Dashboard

A recent article in the Guardian pointed to the Obama campaign’s “Holy Grail” of campaign technology: the so-called “Dashboard“. The “data acquired by volunteers from voters canvassing in Ohio will immediately be synced with that gathered by those running phonebanks in New Hampshire and with the outreach efforts of volunteers at myBarackObama.com, giving campaign bosses a real-time master view of the president’s re-election efforts throughout the country.” According to the article, “more than 100 statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organizers” are still working on verifying that the tool is working according to plan before more details are released.

The idea is to provide local campaigners a tool that allows them to tap into their own local social networks and collaboratively conduct all the tasks online. The article talks about a collaborative building experience similar to Zynga’s Farmville, where players are using the support of their online social

Right now there is not much to see – only a sign up screen, but in the following YouTube video, Jeremy Bird –  Obama’s director of field organizing – explains the idea behind the dashboard:

Jeremy Bird defines the Dashboard in the video as :

  • the organizing network working to reelect President Obama,
  • an online nation-wide field office,
  • connecting supporters and bringing them the best tools to build the campaign in their community;
  • after signing up, supporters are connected to the grassroots network;
  • stay up to date on upcoming local events;
  • join a neighborhood team to register, persuade voters (a group of local volunteers);
  • build relationships with volunteers in the neighborhood;
  • Dashboard helps local volunteers to bring the national campaign office to their own desktop;
  • Call voters, report progress, see photos, updates from local team members, helps to organize day-to-day tasks

Presidential Memo: Managing online records beyond paper and filing cabinets

Today, President Obama published a new presidential memo building on the efforts of the Open Government Directive he encourages departments and agencies to save money by providing government records in digital format – instead of “paper and filing cabinets”.

From the White House blog:

The new effort calls for reports, by each agency head, describing their current plans for improving records management programs; outlining current obstacles to sound, cost-effective records management policies;and cataloging potential reforms and improvements. The agency reports will inform, and be followed, by a Records Management Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB and the National Archivist. The Directive will focus on maintaining accountability to the American public through documenting agency actions; increasing efficiency (and thus reducing costs); and switching, where feasible, from paper-based records to electronic records. In addition, all statutes, regulations, and policies must be reviewed to improve government-wide practices in records management.

Full memorandum is available here and on Scribd via Fedscoop:

Presidential Twitter Townhall @townhall

Yesterday, President Obama sent out his first publicly observable tweet starting off a new form of online Town Hall meeting, a Twitter town hall:

The Twitter Town Hall meeting was the second large-scale social media event sponsored by one of the most influential social media companies in the U.S.: About three months ago, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.com, has sponsored and moderated a Facebook Town Hall meeting live. This time the online Town Hall meeting was sponsored and moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey:

[picture linked from The Guardian]

The most tweeted question was similar to what we have seen during the Open For Questions event: The most tweeted question – retweeted here as an example – with close to 5,000 retweets was:

The tweet was not answered by the President, even though it seems very different to the pro-marihuana agenda many people were pushing during the Open For Questions event. This one seems to be intelligent, with implications for overcrowded prisons and a sense that the consequences of legalizing marihuana might actually have a positive long-lasting impact on the legal system in the U.S. and could save government a lot of money.

The President also addressed a question posted by the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, giving the Republican party a minute in the limelight as well:

You can watch the whole event on the White House YouTube channel:

According to the graphic below, the submitted questions to the hashtag #askobama slowly picked up during the days leading up to the Twitter Town Hall, but then rapidly increased on the day before the actual event. The following statistics were published on http://obama.twitsprout.com/ and linked here:

TooManyWebsites.gov

This week the White House blog posted a message from Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media, titled “TooManyWebsites.gov”. This initiate is part of the Campaign to Cut Waste that the White House launched this week, quoting the President: “As President Obama has said, we can’t win the future with a government of the past.” Phillips estimates that as part of the over 2,000 top level domain sites, more than 24,000 subsites were developed over the last years to display government content.

In order to stop the “confusion and inefficiency” and make access easier for citizens, government received the mandate to avoid duplicates: “So the federal government will do more with less, improving how it delivers information and services to the public by reducing the number of websites it maintains. To help drive this change we’ve set a specific goal that over the next year, we’ll get rid of at least half of them.

As part of this effort, all new .gov names are stopped and need to be directly approved by the federal CIO, who will first map out the existing landscape to see if a new site is necessary. Within a year the plan is to cut half of the federal websites.

While I salute the White House for recognizing this seemingly unnecessary growth of websites, it sounds like a massive effort to me. My hope is that similar to the Open Government plans, the agencies themselves will have control over what of their content is important, what can be consolidated and what they would like to cut. This will avoid the impression of “big government” and will leave the responsibility to actual content providers instead of too much micro- and top-down management. The ‘drawing the landscape idea’ seems to be a helpful first step, although I wish the White House would also look at the actual user statistics. Which websites are frequented by citizens and therefore indicate a real need for information that is displayed on them or transactions that are facilitated? Moreover, going beyond the mere numbers: What are the websites that need to stay because they are catering to a small niche audience that would otherwise not get the information? Here, government needs to make use of the lift of the cookie policy to understand who their audience members are. With over 24,000 websites in place, I am worried that only those make the cut that come in above a certain number of hits per month.

This mandate has also sparked other concerns for me: What about agencies starting blogs or adding social media accounts to their online presence? Many of the third party social networking services providers are creating new URLs for a social media account. Do these URLs count toward the cut? Do the SNS need to find a way to allow for folding account URLs into the existing .gov domain names? Does this mean that the agencies and departments are no longer allowed to create new accounts and with that new URLs? Or are external URLs excluded from this effort?

Watch the update on the Accountability Government Initiative here: