Social media analysis of the Throne Speech

  • National Newswatch

Social media as an early warning system for public opinion measurementIndustry Minister James Moore offered a teaser of the upcoming throne speech on Sunday. Headlines immediately promoted a would-be consumer-friendly agenda. Canadians buzzed about possible legislation forcing television carriers to unbundle packages and offer customers more decision power through a pick-and-pay model. The prospect of regulation wireless roaming charges and bill-of-rights protections for airline passengers raised hopes.This morning's headlines paint a very different picture of public interest, one that suggests there might be a few throne speech hangovers. While it's true there is some buzz about consumer issues, weightier issues now dominate.Twitter provided an early-warning indicator this would be the case, particularly as the Governor General turned the pages of the speech.Canada's most engaged online political participants and their followers generated 10,059 relevant Twitter mentions (that's about three tweets each second for the full hour). Consumer issues didn't rank in the top five within that chatter. Nor did commentary on the on-going Senate expenses scandal that had more energy earlier in the day, likely to the relief of the Prime Minister.Top throne speech issuesIn all, 12,380 Twitter accounts issued 26,000 throne speech related tweets yesterday. And, as the dust settled, the top five issues identified by Twitter contributors were:Economy First Nations issues Crime Foreign trade PovertyTwitter activity comprised 40 per cent regular tweets containing original content (what we call 'communication'), 56 per cent retweets or rebroadcasts of tweets issued by others (what we call 'amplification') and only four per cent replies (what we call 'conversation').Each of these tweet types is important.Regular tweets represent communication of comments (sometimes overheard), ideas and opinions. I find retweets to be more interesting. Retweets represent amplification and provide a way to determine if a comment, idea or opinion has resonance beyond the immediate network of Twitter followers. That is, did the original tweet reach beyond the epicentre of political interest to others who may be connected through unrelated common interests such as sports, music or crafts? For example, a political enthusiast's tweet about job programs might get the attention of a fellow hockey fan who recently lost her job due to downsizing at Blackberry.MPs participatedMPs were also involved in the online chatter. A total of 96 members contributed 569 tweets. The most active (along with the number of tweets they issued) were:Elizabeth May (63) Joy Smith (49) Prime Minister Harper (34) Michelle Rempel (34) Brad Butt (13)Justin Trudeau issued the most popular throne speech tweet of the day. His declaration “Today's Throne Speech must address the fact that middle class Canadians haven't had a decent raise in 30 years” was retweeted 379 times. Of course, he also directed readers, “RT if you agree,” essentially telling his followers to help amplify his message.Prime Minister Harper issued 38 tweets yesterday making it the PM's second most active day on Twitter. The PM's Twitter account was used to live-tweet his morning speech to the Conservative caucus after a no-reporter-camera-operator-only restriction set by the PMO led to a media boycott of the speech. The only camera on hand to capture the speech was from Sun Media. As of seven o'clock this morning, a copy of the video uploaded to YouTube had been watched 7,200 times.The last time the PM was so active on Twitter was July 15 when he issued 51 tweets to promote his cabinet appointments. Generally, the PM issues on average about three tweets each day.Why do social media matter?My company,, has a particular interest in the role social media play in measuring and shaping Canadian opinions. Our on-going research and client work depend heavily on using tools including Sysomos Heartbeat to analyse content and interaction posted to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and other digital channels.This past summer we expanded our research to include a panelled survey. Together with partner companies Abacus Data and MediaStyle, we determined that 41 per cent of Canadians have changed their opinions because of something they've seen online.Online chatter has a greater reach than the 41 per cent would indicate, though. Our research and experience show online political chatter often ends up in the news stories Canadians consume from their most-trusted sources: television, print and radio. Journalists who cover the political and public affairs beat pay attention to online chatter and frequently refer to it, draw on it or even take direction from it in their coverage of political issues. This of course means what happens online is, at the very least, helping to shape the stories Canadians are receiving.Programs like CBC's Power and Politics go further by integrating online chatter into their programming. The PnP team follows the #cdnpoli hashtag and encourages the show's audience to tweet directly to Evan Solomon during the program in addition to inviting viewers to participate in a fresh poll conducted during each two-hour program.Digital is becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives. Besides enabling us to stay in touch with friends and family, and allowing us to discuss and get involved in our democratic system, social media provides analysts the ability to measure public opinion in real-time. This is powerful for reputation and issues management, and for gauging public reception to certain statements. Researchers also continue to investigate social media's role in predicting election outcomes in a multi-party system.