Monday, January 25, 2010

New Blog Post - Crunching TweetMinster's numbers

Now I don’t want to become the statistics guy, especially after the fantastic compliment from Will Heaven who after my post analysing his stats accused me of being "good at spinning statistics” (Although I personally prefer the term “making statistics tell the truth” but there you go.), but  Tweetminster has released a report that is getting a lot of mainstream media coverage, no doubt thanks to Tim Montgomerie’s question at David Cameron’s press conference this morning about him joining Twitter and I think their findings don’t really stack up.

The report “Twitter and UK Politics” makes the usual claims that Twitter is the best thing since slice bread and that it will “have the potential to impact the next general election campaign and shape the 2010 parliament in unprecedented ways that we can currently only make an educated guess  about.”

All very grand but then it gets into the findings which is where I disagree.

Firstly it claims that in terms of politicians the Labour Party dominates all key metrics, being more active and more frequently mentioned as well as having more followers than the two other main parties combined.

I think there are some definite issues with this idea. Firstly raw follower numbers don’t tell you anything, how many of Kerry McCarthy’s 4,831 followers are actually labour supporters and not #kerryout campaigners ready to pounce on her every gaff and equally how many of them also follow John Prescott, Ed Balls etc. A de-duped list is what is needed, simply adding together the numbers doesn’t give a good measure of total number of followers of a party. Equally in terms of retweets, I have seen many Labour retweets from Conservative grass roots appended with “wtf” or similar messages of shock and displeasure. I believe that Tweetminster also measures sentiment against tweets so it would be interesting to see the number of positive retweets.

On the subject of retweets I’m also very suprised by how low this figure is. If Kerry McCarthy has that many followers who only retweeted her 1128 times then her messages are only retweeted on average 0.2 times per follower per year so her messages hardly go anywhere else. @conservatives is apparently the most retweeted political user however the figures have not been provided for comparison.

The second area is with the number of MPs on Twitter with the number of Labour MPs versus the number of Conservative MPs actually roughly representative of parliament. If you look at PPCs then the Conservatives are actually ahead of Labour. So in terms of that “metric” they’re actually not ahead.

If you look at what is being discussed though in terms of trending topics it’s clear that the Conservatives are ahead, something that isn’t mentioned in the Tweetminster findings with the top trending topic being cpc09 (although data isn’t available for how much more popular it was than lab09. Labour Party is above Tories, but what if you combine Tories Tory and Conservatives together, I suspect it would be higher, there are more ways to refer to the Conservative Party than there are to the Labour Party. Additionally David Cameron comes in at number 6 whilst Gordon Brown or even PM or Prime Minister doesn’t even get a mention. In a very circular way the 7th most popular word in political discussion on Twitter is in fact twitter! So is it all just one big self feeding organism?

The final finding I have issue with is that “ data shows that the Conservatives are more effective at distributing their message from the top, yet less so at a grassroots level in terms of spreading these positions within conversations (this should be the work of supporters, MPs, PPCs). While Labour has the opposite challenge – members drive conversations, yet the offcial line doesn’t strategically trickle down.

Tweetminster say that they measure this through “differences between themes/stories discussed/shared by supporters & what the top is focussed on.” although data relating to this isn’t in the report. I don’t see how the conservatives can be good at distributing messages from the top (when this is measured by who is retweeting and talking about them) but at the same time not be spreading at the grass roots, if it is the grass roots that is talking about them to spread them in the first place! In effect what they are saying is that the Conservative Party get their message out there and its discussed and Labour supporters just talk about whatever they want!

I also wonder how accurate the measure of a Tory Labour supporter is. I know for example that ToryBear follows a large number of Labour and Lib Dem supporters and MPs so could by Tweetminsters “network analysis.” be measured as being in the wrong camp.

All in all I think the report also dismisses the important conversations that go on amongst the grass roots, and in some areas ignores them. Am I a blogger for example or a grass roots member for example?

Equally the report misses out  Boris Johnson in the list, who may not be an MP but is a Conservative elected official. He has has 64,094 followers far outstripping anyone else in the political sphere.

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting comments - only two minor clarifications: 1) Boris Johnson is actually included (see News & Comment lists) 2) when we analyse network and trends: we don't only look at follower/followings - using your example of ToryBear: say you analysed his account only, would you be able to tell by his tweets with which party he stands? 3) As a blogger - you're part of the "news & comment" category (for the purposes of the report's analysis)