Will Facebook Be the Death of the Polling Industry?

Elisabeth Harper Senior Interactive Strategist, OmniStudio

Posted on September 14th 2013

Will Facebook Be the Death of the Polling Industry?

ImageFacebook announced this week that it’s releasing a limited API to certain “trusted” media partners to enable those partners to track and publish, in real time, public Facebook profile and page posts using a keyword or hashtag, as well as data or insights on a certain keyword or hashtag in a certain time frame. This anonymous aggregated information will collect and measure results for keywords based on gender, age, and location. 

This is amazing.

In just another step of development that seems to have a clear path (we just don’t know what it points to), Facebook has continued to move toward two possible outcomes, as far as I can estimate.

First, it seems possible that Facebook could take on (and sink) the public opinion polling industry. With all of us users posting comments seemingly nonstop about a range of popular, “happening now,’ and other topics, why would these media partners need to rely on polling data for public opinions? Those pollsters and statisticians will have it in for me after this one, but with 67% of U.S. internet users on Facebook (Source: Pew Internet), the fastest growing number of users being seniors, and usage reaching saturation point across most other demographic areas, the sampling accuracy can’t be that bad for starters. 

On top of that, no one is asking us what we think about a topic. Meaning we are expressing ourselves as we feel, and not in response to how something is worded or what someone said. In other words, that could help remove any potential for bias in a poll based on the questions.

I know, this is going out on a limb, but think of the opportunities and possibilities this presents… What if politicians could use insights from keywords to inform their policy decisions and messages? And don’t even get me started on brands. I guess this means that hashtags really will become more useful (and potentially used) on Facebook, even though they have practically been discredited by most analysts (myself included). Well done Facebook, you continue to lead the way. 

Secondly, and perhaps far more fascinating, is the potential for Facebook to slowly take over and become the news source. Farhad Manjoo wrote a beautiful piece about how Facebook’s news feed changed, well, everything, and I have to thank him for this thoughtful reflection on how much our lives have shifted, even against our will, by our ongoing participation in Facebook and what its developers have been able to do with our participation.

Streaming content on keywords on CNN is one thing. I mean, we all know how CNN sometimes breaks the wrong news, so this could help them. But in that trajectory, what if Facebook started to break news before the news had it? What if Facebook, with a few more lines of code, beat out Twitter and all the other instant news creation tools to get ahead of breaking news through a combination of user engagement (that’s all of us out there, posting and responding to our news feeds) and popular adoption (round up the last few people who watch the news but aren’t on Facebook). I’m excited to get a screen shot of Kate Bolduan reporting the news while a Facebook keyword stream breaks a major news story as she’s still finishing her teleprompter story. 

And at this point I want to get back to the point that Farhad makes. Regardless of the routine mockery of Facebook that users spew each time something is updated, we’ve fallen in love with its news feed. And this is known because we users invest in it more. In turn, the developers have more of our data to use to give us more of what we’re looking for, to the point where I know quite a few people (points at self) who check their news feeds in the morning before turning on NPR. 

This recent announcement of Facebook’s may be drowned out, one among many, but I for one am geeking out to see where it leads us, and Facebook. What will be next?

What do you think Facebook’s next bold move will be?


Elisabeth Harper

Senior Interactive Strategist, OmniStudio

Elisabeth has over seven years of experience with social media strategy, digital engagement, and project management in non-profits. She successfully translates that experience into better outcomes and products at OmniStudio, where Elisabeth works in many areas within the firm, from content and social media strategy to business development and web project management. She explores new means of marketing and expands the uses of digital media tools and products developed by Omni.

Located in Washington, DC, OmniStudio has been instrumental in the communications activities of local, national and international institutions for more than 30 years. We share the goals and passions of our clients, especially in the areas of education, health care, the environment, peace, the arts, and human rights.

See Full Profile >