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The Tweeting of the President

A new social media analytics effort points toward the White House.
August 21, 2012

Bluefin Labs, a social media analytics company that attempts to glean meaning from tweets about TV, is now expanding beyond sitcoms, sports, and shaving ads and attempting to analyze how people are reacting to the presidential candidates. It plans to apply its techniques when more of the national presidential TV ads air (to date, most advertisements have been in local markets, making analysis difficult because the location of tweeters is usually not available, the company says), and to analyze reactions to the conventions.

“We are going to be doing something nobody has ever done—looking at campaign TV ads and people responding to them on social media as they air,” says William Powers, director of the new effort, called The Crowdwire.

Bluefin’s effort is aimed mainly at providing story fodder and insights to the news media; it is not under contract to any party or campaign, the company says. Bluefin, a startup that grew out of research at MIT, is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts (see “A Social Media Decoder”).

It’s not yet clear that Twitter analytics provides actionable information or strategic insights to campaigns, says J.D. Schlough, founder of Well & Lighthouse, a Democratic political strategist firm in Washington, DC. For one thing, it’s not always clear how the people tweeting relate to the general population, or, more important, to the crucial registered swing voters in swing states. And regardless of what people tweet, it’s hard to determine whether someone has been swayed by any particular message enough to influence their vote, he says.

The Bluefin tool joins the Twitter Political Index, a tool that takes a daily measurement of sentiment toward Mitt Romney and President Obama as expressed on Twitter. That tool is based on a calculation from another analytics firm, Topsy, that analyzes tweets mentioning either of the candidates’ last names or Twitter accounts—@barackobama or  @mittromney—and gives a daily sentiment score between 0 and100.

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