How Valuable is Social Data?

I just read an article on Mashable which began with a quote from CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, stating “I really think 2012 is going to be the Twitter Election,”.  I immediately thought that the article was going to be about social analytics and the power of information available freely online through social commentary.

However as I read down it turns out the article was more about Twitter being an essential platform for reaching voters in next years USA presidential election. I agree that this is the case. Something I have been looking a lot at recently is the future of social TV. We have all heard the figures bashed about but what it comes down to is simple. Most people watch TV with another device in their hand (smart phone, laptop, tablet). Whilst the availability of more content online is potentially driving people away from traditional TV in certain areas, live events such as sport, entertainment shows like The X factor and news events such as presidential debates are being complimented by the ability of viewers to participate in the social commentary as it happens. People want to find out what other people are thinking. I think more times than not what they are really looking for is confirmation or justification of what they are thinking!

This is something the candidates in the upcoming election will have to bear in mind. After a debate held in 1960 between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon people polled who had listened in on radio felt Nixon was the clear winner, while people who watched on TV felt Kennedy won. This is because Kennedy’s youthful good looks stood out against a tired, unshaven and disheveled Nixon. During this years campaigns candidates will have to  realise that a social commentary will take place on twitter as well as in the media. If a candidate makes a mistake, people will talk about it. Not after the event, but right when it happens. This can strongly through off a perception and sway opinion.

Twitter. Social commentary. Presidential debate

But coming back to what I originally thought the article was about. How much of a picture can we build up of future events based on social media analytics? I attended the Get Social Conference last year where James Ainsworth from SDL international gave a talk. SDL provide a comprehensive social analytic platform which no doubt costs a pretty penny. James was able to study data freely available online in relation to first the X factor and then the nominations for Time’s person of the year. Now it would be close to impossible to predict the winner of the X factor from the outset. That’s because public perception changes and people haven’t had enough time to make a decision. But as the competition went on and the less candidates there were, the data was there clear to see. With 6 candidates left more people were talking about Matt Cardle ( This was 2010 results), more often and more positively than any of the other singers. The same thing principle applied to this years Time person of the year, where a clear front runner could be found by analyzing what people said.

Both these examples show that where there is a definitive limited number of options available for people to vote, a very clear picture can be built up using data online. I have no doubt that harnessing this information will prove a big advantage to whichever candidate can do it best.

A final thought. With Facebook about to float publicly, it will be interesting to see if whether financial transparency brought on by regulations for public companies, reveals more information about how they use our data. I know they use it as a basis for targeted advertising on their social network platform, but man, with Information being power and them having so much of it, I have no doubt that its been used in other means too!