How Twitter is changing election coverage

How Twitter is changing election coverage

Alberto Nardelli – CEO of Tweetminster – argues that while twitter has come centre stage in this election, there has been a lack of imagination in how it has been used.

The difference is stark. The number of people watching Mitt Romney’s prime-time Convention speech on TV was 23% down compared to the 39 million who tuned in to view John McCain four years ago.
In contrast ,the number of Tweets during the Republican convention hit 5 million, up from just 365,000 in 2008.
The figures show that Twitter is playing an increasingly central role in US presidential campaign. Nor is this role one-dimensional. Twitter is being used to:

  • follow breaking news and events as they unfold
  • provide behind the scenes insights
  • amplify events and trends, making them “social” and consequently influencing public opinion
  • allow candidates to connect directly with voters and journalists
  • shape the media agenda beyond Twitter itself through instant rebuttals and news generation
  • and, to a lesser extent, aid campaigning and organisation

All these areas have been defining features of Twitter’s relationship with politics for some time now. Yet I believe the big difference with either previous UK or US elections, is the scale and maturity now of Twitter as a communication platform. It is used by millions of voters, by the majority of politicians and political parties, and is an integral part of news, deeply embedded in most media organisations.
So the questions “is Twitter useful?”, “does Twitter matter?”, “why should I care what you had for lunch”? and there many variations, are no longer relevant. Twitter simply is, it matters and is now mainstream. This, I believe, is the single most important “innovation” and difference with previous elections.
In terms though of big ideas and new ways of using Twitter during elections, I don’t think we’ve (yet) witnessed significant innovation. Interestingly, there were bolder experiments using Twitter during the recent French election than there have been so far around the US campaign.
Tweetminster’s story is useful in explaining the point I’m trying to make. When we launched Tweetminster at the end of 2008, our first service was a tool to find and follow MPs on Twitter, and invite those that were not to join. There were four MPs back then on Twitter. Now there are over 360.
During the election campaign, we experimented with various ways of using Twitter to develop new ideas for following an election, including:

  • an interactive map to show where parties and candidates were campaigning across the country based on their Tweets, and what the issues were in each region
  • Twitter interviews with candidates, including with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
  • analysing the volume and sentiment of Tweets during key events, such as the leaders’ debates
  • researching potential correlations between candidate mentions and election results
  • using Tweets, Twitter-based data and other social media tools (such as AudioBoo) to cover live events and report from party conferences
  • and on election day, inviting people to Tweet that they had voted to map turnout

Fast forward to 2012 and the US election, and there aren’t that many examples of new or different developments. This is despite the fact that two years is a very long time in terms of potential web developments. Think Instagram, the photo sharing app that has gained over 80 million users in under 2 years.
This isn’t to criticise media organisations or to boast and suggest Europeans do it better. Consolidation and platform maturity should not be taken for granted given the scepticism of only a few years ago. It is simply to emphasise that while it is welcome that there are millions, not thousands, of tweets and they are covered by senior political reporters rather than tech correspondents, we remain very much in the expected trajectory of Twitter’s potential role within politics. So while it is significant that Twitter is now mainstream, we are still scratching the surface in terms of what’s possible when it comes to big and bold ideas to use it to cover elections and politics.
There have, however, been some exceptions. Beyond the many useful Twitter Lists which help to follow elections, and the integration of Tweets within many live blogs and streams, here are the three tools which I feel are the more original ideas that have so far emerged around the US election:

  • Twitter’s Political Index, which measures and displays candidate sentiment over time, and complements Twitter @Gov’s coverage of the election (which includes blogs, lists and hashtag pages)
  • The Washington Post’s Mention Machine which tracks the mentions of key candidates on Twitter
  • electionista*, a platform that follows politics and elections on Twitter in over 120 countries and 55+ languages, bringing together the Tweets of politicians, media, governments, parties and politicos; the most shared links; and trends. A few additional elements are developed for major elections ( The platform also has an API for partners, which in addition to Tweets and links, includes trends, data and photos, all of which can be integrated into partner sites and applications

Alberto Nardelli is Co-founder & CEO of, a UK-based media platform that dynamically analyses and monitors networks of influencers and experts on Twitter to aggregate relevant news stories, identify trends and provide insight around any topic, industry or market. * Tweetminster also powers – a platform following politics and elections on Twitter in 100+ countries.

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