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Social Advocacy & Politics: Leveraging Publicly Available Social Media Data for Opposition Research
Posted on December 4th 2013
When it comes to social media, it is really hard to hide what you are doing. You can surprise people with your strategy when you launch a campaign, but once it is out there, it is hard to keep what you are doing a secret. That is the nature of being social. That said, you might think your performance data is secret. After all, you have to be a page administrator to access your Facebook insights and you have to log into your Twitter account to access Twitter Analytics. But the truth is, there is more than enough data available through open data APIs, as well as data that is visible on Facebook and Twitter to anyone, to learn almost everything you need to know about what your opponents are doing and how well they are doing it. And there are a bevy of online tools, free and premium, that gathers these data and packages them up for anyone to use.
To demonstrate what you can learn from publicly available social media data, I used Unmetric.com to analyze and compare the social media channels of the conservative Heritage Foundation and the progressive Center for American Progress, and their respective 501(c)(4) Action Fund partner channels Heritage Action and Think Progress.[i] Unmetric processed only publicly accessible data from the following Twitter and Facebook channels:
Center for American Progress
Let’s start with the vanity statistics (page likes and followers). While many people fixate on these stats, they are often hollow. For example, an analysis of Newt Gingrich’s Twitter followers revealed that half of them had been inactive for over a year and half lived outside of the United State; neither of which helped Newt win the GOP presidential nomination. Engagement statistics are far more important, but vanity statistics make a good starting point for comparing competing channels.
Center for American Progress
The first thing that stands out is that Heritage’s bigger channels are its Heritage Foundation 501(c)(3) think tank channels and American Progress’s bigger channels are its Think Progress 501(c)(4) channels. For Heritage, the reason is simple. Heritage’s c3 think tank channels are much older than its c4 Action channels. For American Progress, the reason has to do with website traffic. ThinkProgress.org has millions of unique monthly readers, while AmericanProgress.org has a few hundred thousand unique monthly readers.
The strategic implications of the differential are illuminating. Because Think Progress is part of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a 501(c)(4), it is allowed to run unlimited grassroots policy advocacy campaigns and can conduct a limited amount of political (electoral) advocacy. Since the Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)(3), it can only spend $250,000 per year on grassroots policy advocacy and cannot conduct any political advocacy. In order for the Heritage Foundation to match American Progress’s advocacy via social media, it has to do so very subtly, without explicitly promoting a specific party or candidate(s) and with limited resources devoted to grassroots policy advocacy. The big Heritage Foundation channels are significantly more constrained than the big American Progress Action channels.
To see how effective these channels are, we have to look at the engagement statistics. These are them metrics that tell you more about how many of your audience are paying attention, doing what you ask them to do and extending the reach of your policy and political messages.
Twitter Engagement (past week)
The Twitter engagement data clearly show that @ThinkProgress outperforms all the others. Not only does it outperform in terms of total engagement numbers, but those numbers are generated with about three-quarters the number of followers as @Heritage. In others words, @ThinkProgress has such a high rate of engagement that it generates more than twice as much engagement with three-quarters as many followers as @Heritage.
The story on Facebook is quite the reverse of Twitter. Heritage Foundation significantly outperforms Think Progress and the other channels, racking up five times as many shares and more than six times as many likes. Even accounting for Heritage Foundation having about twice as many page likes (fans) as Think Progress, these numbers are very impressive.
The thing to remember here is that I was able to access this data without logging into any of these Facebook or Twitter channels. Furthermore, Unmetric reports many more stats than those presented here, allowing for even deeper analysis of OTHER PEOPLES’ SOCIAL (are you down with OPS?).
Data APIs create incredible opportunities for collecting data. Open API’s allow us to collect deep data on the performance of our competitors and password protected APIs for our own accounts allow us to pull performance data from all of our communication channels.
I’ve highlighted a taste of what you can do with open API social media data from Unmetric. Now imagine what you could do with another tool called Frakture. Frakture can be configured to pull data from any API, whether it is open API data from your competitors’ social media channels, closed API data from your own social media, web, email and website channels or open API data from any other source you can find. Frakture puts this data into a single database that allows you to run channel comparisons, message sequence analysis and much more. All of a sudden, performance data that previously existed in many different siloes are assembled together. And instead of limiting the presentation of this data to predetermined, though incredibly useful reports like Unmetric, you can run any analysis or report you need.
The bottom line is that all sorts of useful data can be collected. And depending on how much you want to pay and how much custom analysis you want to do, you can use this data in ways never before possible to improve your strategy and tactics.
[i] Full disclosure: I used to work at the Center for American Progress, where I played a major role in developing and implementing its social media program. That said, I did not manage the primary American Progress and Think Progress channels analyzed in this post. Further, all of the analysis presented here comes from Unmetric.com via publicly accessible data.