Democrats atwitter over convention

Originally published September 8, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — More than four million tweets were sent about the Democratic convention on Thursday night alone — which is more than twice the total number of tweets sent globally, on all topics, on Election Day 2008.

It’s clear that social media around the conventions is here to stay, despite some prominent glitches mainly around live-streaming the Democratic speeches on YouTube.

2012 was the first set of party conventions in the age of mature and all-encompassing social media. There was a record-breaking amount of political activity on Twitter, plus huge amounts of activity across platforms like Facebook and Google , which was especially pronounced around the Democratic gathering in Charlotte, although also high surrounding the GOP confab in Tampa the week beforehand.

“The big story of both conventions is that social media has officially arrived and is going to be a core part of any campaign as we go forward,” said Zac Moffatt, the digital director for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

In total, during the almost two-week convention season, more than 16 million convention-related tweets were sent. By comparison, on Election Day 2008, just 1.8 million tweets were sent globally — and that’s across all topics, not just politics. In some ways, that says as much about the growth of social-media as a cultural phenomena as it does about its political power.

During the three days of official convention proceedings in Tampa, Republicans had a total of four million tweets, the same as just the last night of the DNC alone.

Political conversation on Twitter normally averages about two million tweets per week, according to data from the social-networking site.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if a fair amount of the attention paid to the convention was through Twitter primarily,” said GOP strategist Patrick Ruffini of EngageDC, a digital advertising firm. “If you’re like me, someone who hangs on every word someone is saying, you have far fewer options for TV apart from C-SPAN.”

The disproportionate Twitter activity seen by Democrats over Republicans during their convention also mirrored TV ratings, which were higher for Democrats too.

“One of the things we’ve seen is that the overall broad cross-ratings were a bit higher for the DNC than the RNC,” said Elaine Filadelfo, a spokeswoman for Twitter. “A smaller audience watching on air usually means a smaller audience tweeting.”

Overall, through the whole week of Republican convention, about 7 million tweets were sent, compared with a total 9.5 million for Democrats, according to Twitter.

The most social moment of either convention was President Barack Obama’s speech, which was the biggest political event on Twitter ever, sparking 52,756 tweets per minute, the most-mentioned event of both conventions on Facebook, per data from that company, and the most searched about on Google.

Mitt Romney’s speech, which at its peak saw 14,289 tweets per minute, was far behind. And data from Facebook shows that Obama’s speech got 192 percent more mentions — including status updates, comments, posts and shared posts — than Romney’s did

Filadelfo pointed out that unlike other Democratic speakers, Obama’s Twitter Political Index — which measures overall Twitter sentiment surrounding the candidates, as defined and measured by Twitter — actually dipped in positivity following his speech, meaning the record number of tweets weren’t all in support of Obama.

“A lot of those tweets were actually probably coming from the GOP side, from Republican-leaning folks who were tweeting their responses to [the speech],” she said. “52,000 doesn’t necessarily indicate a partisan swing one way or another.”

Other Democratic convention speakers also saw huge amounts of Twitter activity: Michelle Obama’s speech, for example, peaked at just over 28,000 tweets per minute, twice the number of tweets from Romney’s speech. Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday night, and Joe Biden’s speech Thursday night, peaked at 17, 932 tweets per minute.

For Republicans, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s was the second most-tweeted speech, at 8,937 tweets per minute. Clint Eastwood garnered 7,044 tweets per minute and Paul Ryan’s speech peaked at 6,669 tweets per minute.

Facebook found that Obama’s speech was the most-mentioned event on the social-networking site from either convention, followed by Bill Clinton’s speech and Michelle Obama’s speech. Romney and Eastwood came in fourth and fifth.

The most retweeted tweet of either convention came during the RNC, and not a tweet from Romney or another Republican candidate, but from Obama. It was the president’s response to the now-infamous Eastwood speech in which he lectured an empty chair as if the president were sitting in it. “This seat’s taken,” the president later tweeted, with a picture of himself sitting in a chair, which got just shy of 55,000 retweets.

The Obama campaign was also successful at using fundraising emails that correlated with the events happening on stage.

“His use of email during the convention was phenomenal,” said GOP digital strategist Vincent Harris. “He was sending out emails from Bill Clinton as soon as he got off stage.”

Because Obama is an incumbent president, Moffatt said, he was always going to get more attention both on TV and online than Romney the challenger.

“The president of the United States is always, whoever it is, going to have the most [social] conversation,” he said.

And Twitter, too, tends to skew toward younger and more minority users, per a Pew study released earlier this year, so it makes sense that the Democratic convention would see more activity on that front.

“It reflects the fact that Twitter users skew younger and more ethnically diverse, so it should be a more Democratic group,” said Democratic digital strategist Jeff Jacobs. “It’s just not nearly as monolithic as stereotypes would have it, which is why you’ll see both parties use it to persuade undecided voters, not just mobilize their existing supporters.”

Moffatt added that the momentum built not just over each convention, but over the two-week period itself, which helps explain the high volume numbers on Thursday at the Democratic convention, which came last.

“It’s like the [presidential] debates: every debate will have more engagement than the debate before,” he said.

For people not at the conventions themselves, social networks were one of several ways viewers were engaging with the speeches as they happened, Harris said.

“I was watching the [Democratic] speeches on my TV, but I had Twitter open in my lap and I was tweeting at the same time and I was on Facebook, and I had my cell-phone next to me and was texting people about the speeches,” he said.

And as a result, both parties worked to integrate social media into the convention structures themselves.

“It’s a reality on campaigns that social plays an important role,” Moffatt said. “I think each entity structurally went about it differently.”

He pointed to the incorporation of Twitter into the Republican convention stage itself — the screens on stage showed convention-related tweets from users both in the convention hall and around the country, and more tweets circled the Tampa Bay Times Forum on the ticker — as a sign that Republicans had the more sophisticated approach to social media.

“If you just look at volume … Democrats had the more social convention,” Moffatt said. “By infrastructure it was a far less social” meeting.

The social media dominance raises the question of whether the traditional conventions could become a thing of the past when so many people outside the convention halls were able to engage online.

Joe Lockhart, the communications vice president for Facebook and a former press secretary in the Clinton White House, said at a POLITICO breakfast in Charlotte that physical conventions are here to stay, but could become shorter and more social than they’ve been in the past.

“I’d expect it will be much more interactive, much more virtual,” he said.


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