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VoterTide Shows Political Professionals, The Public Which Conversations And Stories "Have Legs" On Social Networks

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Wednesday, November 16 2011

In the last days stretching up to Massachusetts' special senate election in January 2010, some shadowy conservative group unleashed a negative "Twitter Bomb" messaging campaign against Democratic candidate Martha Coakley.

An academic study that later examined the campaign found that nine anonymous Twitter accounts had dispatched almost 1,000 negative messages about Coakley in an election that her Republican opponent Scott Brown ultimately won.

While Coakley had a lot of other things going against her at the time, the point that the researchers were trying to make was that real-time communications can dramatically affect the kind of information that voters have access to on the web at key moments. In this case, they were trying to show how online campaigners can spam the real-time search results displayed on the major search engines, which had updated their algorithms to put "real-time" conversations up top on their organic search results.

This kind of development is what makes real-time social media monitoring so crucial in modern elections. Things can change quickly online for candidates (as well as their competitors) and trying to pinpoint the influential conversations shaping the race online can be difficult in real-time.

Enter VoterTide, a new social media monitoring service built by a group of entrepreneurs and coders spread out over the Midwest, and co-founded by Jimmy Winter and Shannon Schlappi. The service, launching publicly on Wednesday in one consumer-oriented version online at Votertide.com, tracks conversations about political candidates on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as the article-sharing activity of account holders across those networks. The company is offering political professionals monthly subscriptions to their data, which provides information both about their own campaigns as well as their competitors'.

"We believe one of the most important parts of social media and understanding buzz is online sharing," says Winter. "If someone writes a blog post or uploads a video and it isn't shared or watched its like a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear. As soon as that item starts getting its initial shares on the social networks we can assume that the item 'has legs' and also is something people are interested in so the candidate should take note of this."

The service shows candidates which YouTube videos are being shared actively online, as well as Twitter posts by influential people, as ranked by number of followers and their Klout score. It also shows you the top Twitter phrases associated with your candidate's name. On Tuesday, for example, the top Twitter phrases associated with Sen. Ben Nelson, (D-Neb,) were: "Ben Nelson gives Obama blank checks for;" and "wasted stimulus to study ants in Africa."

Clicking on the first phrase displayed on VoterTide's dashboard shows that former Bush White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove shared a YouTube attack ad against Nelson posted by the Republican group Crossroads GPS. The dashboard then shows that Rove's tweet was re-tweeted by dozens and dozens of his followers.

Similarly, users of the service can statistically track what people on Facebook have shared about a candidate across time. Users of the service can set goals for themselves in terms of increasing the number of fans and followers on the various social networks, and they can generate reports about the activities on the social networks and about which articles have been shared on Facebook about the candidate.

Right now, VoterTide has set up accounts that track all of the major presidential candidates as well as every member of Congress, as well as their challengers. The plan is to set up accounts that also track governors' races as well as races for mayors of big cities.

Many other social media tracking services, such as Attentio, Radian6, Trackur, and Visible Technologies are already out there, but Winter says that none of them are as focused on politics as VoterTide.

"Many similar applications need training to even understand how to start using them," he says. "We've spent a lot of time making our application as usable and easy to understand as possible so users can simply jump in and be up and running immediately."

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