The State of Social Media, Smartphones & Politics
Roughly 200 million Americans—about 79 percent of the population—own a smartphone, comScore says. Since 2010, the amount using those devices to follow political campaigns on social media has more than doubled to almost one third of registered voters, according to Pew Research Center.
Those figures highlight why savvy campaigns are increasingly mining unstructured data from social media sources. In fact, by some estimates only about 10 percent of social media data is structured, such as likes and dislikes, age, occupation and location. But analytics tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated, making it possible for campaigns to start utilizing the other 90 percent.
Not surprisingly, social media data can be particularly valuable for developing strategies to better understand and influence younger voters. For example, Pew’s research shows that in the 2014 midterm election, 21 percent of voters ages 30-49 were following candidates on social media, up from 6 percent in 2010. That usage is on par with that of voters ages 18-20.
Research also shows that smartphone usage is high across all races: 87 percent for Asians, 85 percent for African Americans, 83 percent for Hispanics and 77 percent for Caucasians, according to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report. That’s another example of why political strategies cannot afford to overlook social media’s mobile aspects.
Behavioral and other unstructured data from social media can be used in a variety of ways, such as determining the most appropriate ad to serve to each user. For example, someone who’s posted about jobs would receive an ad about the candidate’s job creation platform instead of an ad about, say, climate change. This relevance helps condition people to pay attention to political ads instead of simply tuning them out.
New Risks Abound
Campaigns mine unstructured social media because it is a fresh source of valuable insights. However, that value means they need to protect the data—advice that seems obvious, but is all too often ignored.
Read more about the importance of protecting social media and mobile communications in my latest article for insideBIGDATA. See just how far some candidates will go to use social media to their advantage and their opponent’s disadvantage.