For all the millions spent on the Republican National Convention, the entire operation could only speculate whether their keynote speeches had any meaningful impact. Until Facebook achieved near universal adoption among the voting class, brands had no reliable way to gage public opinion. Large surveys are subject to respondents’ notoriously bad memories, focus groups are too tiny to be nationally representative, and the Twitterverse is too liberal and young. However, Facebook’s recent experiment with topical chatter during the RNC may have just revealed the social network as the best known barometer of national buzz.
“During Ann Romney’s speech, the entire map of women talking from coast to coast turned bright red,” recalls CNN producer Michelle Jaconi, who oversaw a Facebook partnership that visualizes political social chatter across a map of the US. While Facebook doesn’t measure the sentiment of opinion, a giant spike in female chatter is the best indication we’ve ever had that team Romney hit the bullseye.
It’d be nearly impossible to ascertain how women actually felt about Ann Romney’s speech using traditional methods. Hindsight survey’s asking respondents how they felt about a speech over the phone are subject to participant’s notoriously bad memories. As we’ve noted before, many people can’t remember what they ate for breakfast, or remember monumental life events; so, they certainly wouldn’t be better at reflecting how they felt during a speech days earlier.
The second-best alternative is a real-time focus group, which measures opinion while groups of potential voters watch a replay of the speech. Unfortunately, focus groups are rife with problems: bored participants rush to judgement, are heavily influenced by the latent actions of the research director and their surrounding peers, and, are by nature, too tiny to be representative of the national population.
Twitter attempted to reveal national sentiment with its political index, which measures the volume of positive and negative tweets related to each presidential hopeful. But, research has shown that the modern state of statistical science just doesn’t know how to accurately measure opinion through the (heavily biased) Twitterverse. “It can be concluded that the predictive power of Twitter regarding elections has been greatly exaggerated,” writes computer science professor, Daniel Gayo-Avello.
Facebook though, has achieved near universal adoption in the United States. According to Pew, 70% of the Republican’s sweet-spot 35-49 demographic use social networks (and nearly all of them use Facebook).
Even if the Facebook chatter wasn’t all positive, the campaign now knows that it teed up enough users in the chosen demographic to mobilize passionate supporters. “You know who the power mobile users of Facebook are?” Ronmey’s Digital Director, Zac Moffatt asks, “stay-at-home moms.” With Facebook, Moffatt can target them with specific calls to action.
And, the Romney campaign has a history of channeling female engagement at the perfect time. Earlier in the year, when Obama campaign advisor Hilary Rosen made the unfortunate claim that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” Moffatt had Ann Romney respond on Twitter and Facebook. In 5 days, Moffett recalls, Ann Romney had 85K people engaging with her online. “In 48 hours, we created the single largest coalition, on the conservative side of the country, from scratch, on the only platform which could achieve this, which is Facebook.”
CNN’s experiment with Facebook was a proving ground for the social network as a goldmine in demographic-specific buzz. After the election, the benefits are sure to spill over into industry marketing. Ford, for instance, would certainly want to know if a Superbowl ad lit up teenage chatter–as would any national brand. Where the volume of chatter matters more than sentiment, it’s hard to imagine a better data source than Facebook. So, brands, put your ear to Facebook’s grindstone.