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If You're Measuring Buzz Online, Measure the Buzzworthy, Not the 'Top Tier'

BY Nick Judd | Friday, August 19 2011

The Washington Post has started tracking the online buzz generated by the presidential candidates on Twitter:

Over the past four days, Perry has gone from a whopping 51,578 mentions on Twitter (these mentions could be both flattering and critical) to a high of 56,398 mentions on Tuesday (the last day we measured, and the one after he mentioned the Fed could be “treasonous” if it printed more money).

Bachmann’s Twitter mentions rose and fell along with her Iowa straw poll victory, peaking at 38,000 on Sunday, the day after her victory.

But Romney was a Twitter dead end, with his Twitter mentions remaining slow and steady at 5,794 on Saturday (straw poll day) to 3,052 on Tuesday.

Who's missing? Oh, right. Rep. Ron Paul, Republican of Texas. The guy who placed second behind Rep. Michele Bachmann in the Ames straw poll and whose besting of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in that poll nudged Pawlenty off the campaign trail.

The Washington Post's analysis only focuses on "top tier" candidates, ignoring Paul. Romney's social media graph has largely flatlined since the weekend, so there is some empirical support for leaving him off the graph — but not Paul. Here's what you get when you add the anti-war Texan to the graph of Twitter mentions over the last week with Perry and Bachmann:

Source: Topsy.com

Say what you will about the "tier" to which Paul belongs, but his mentions track with Bachmann's throughout the last two-week period. This raises an awkward question: What does it mean if this "top-tier" candidate is neck-and-neck for online attention with someone who gets no love from the networks or cable TV? We know Paul has an active and engaged following online. So does Bachmann — and showing the two together reveals that similarity. It doesn't make sense to ignore it, I think.

The last thing to explore is how much Twitter is different — or not — from the real world. Let's indulge everyone by replacing Ron Paul with a new candidate — bacon. This delicious breakfast treat always has a certain amount of Twitter chatter.

Source: Topsy.com

As usual, while us politics nerds are freaking out over what's popular in our world, the rest of the universe is talking about other things entirely.

By most accounts it's a bit of a stretch to assume that Ames mattered at all in terms of who stands a chance to win the general election. The same is certainly true of Twitter. But Twitter is useful for quantifying the zeitgeist of the political class that so enthusiastically chatters there. If those folks are as enthusiastic about discussing Paul as they are Bachmann, it seems like omitting Paul ignores data that's potentially relevant if you're trying to understand what's on people's minds and why.

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