Was it the worm wot won it?

April 16, 2010

My colleague Ross Chainey has blogged about how Nick Clegg emerged as the winner on most measures from last night’s TV debate. But there’s another battle going on in this election — that between traditional broadcast and new-fangled social media.

“In real terms last night was the triumph of broadcast media over digital media,” the head of digital at one of the parties told me this morning.

That’s perhaps unsurprising given that the event was the dream broadcast event. But there’s a more nuanced view of the new media landscape — one that sees  important interplays between the worlds of traditional and social media. It’s argued that this is the fundamental insight that the Obama campaign used to such devastating effect in 2008. So, with this in mind, how well did social and broadcast media play together last night?

There was a lTrending topicsot of focus on Twitter. The aggregation and analytics service TweetMinster says there were 184,396 tweets from 36,483 tweeters with an average of 29 a second during the debate. That’s three times the number involved  during the Newsnight interview with  British National Party leader Nick Griffin earlier this year.

But that pales into insignificance against a peak-time TV audience of 9.9 million.  TweetMinster puts the size of the political Twittersphere at about 50,000. Those  hoping for a surge in new entrants to political tweeting were probably disappointed last night.

One thing I thought was interesting was how quickly ‘I agree with Nick’ emerged as a trending topic on Twitter as tweeters noted how David Cameron and Gordon Brown used the same language in referring to the Liberal Democrat leader.

Following the Twitter stream reminded me of how hard it was to navigate the #iranelection hashtag last summer when the Iranian protests started — it was impossible to keep up. The Labour Party, which has put more into Twitter than the other parties, created a filtered feed of tweets for its own homepage to help followers sort the wheat from the chaff.

Leaders Debate site from Labour

The Conservatives, who accept that Labour is stronger on Twitter,  chose to focus on a Google ads campaign around searches on ‘ITV’ ‘leaders debate’ and the party leaders’ names (amongst other terms) to help those newly interested in the party to  find their way to the Conservative website. Research by Google suggests that was broadly in line with what users were looking for yesterday. The party doesn’t have hard data on traffic to its site yet but says that server records suggest there was a major surge.

Back to the event itself. This was a highly structured format — separate rounds kicked off with a new question and very tight refereeing. It reminded me of a boxing bout. And I found myself wondering who had won the points on each round. I  didn’t see any real-time voting or sentiment analysis that picked up on this notion. The closest match was the ITV ‘worm’ – a chart of a panel’s responses to the speaker in view.  It would have been good to see an analysis of the ’rounds’ based on these readings and maybe Sky, with its record for innovation in sports broadcasting, will push this idea further in next week’s debate.

ITV's worm

And finally, I found myself drawn to the ‘slapometer‘ — a site allowing the disillusioned to use their mouses to deliver a slap to the most irritating party leader and recording the relative showings for the three leaders. This was easily the most volatile of the sentiment gauges during the debate.


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