Alberta voted for change last night. The Progressive Conservative party was voted out of power after 43 years.
Drinking from a Fire Hose
We started tracking #abvote as soon as the election was called on April 7th. Every public social media mention that included this hashtag was captured by our monitoring software. This means that every public tweet, Facebook post, and Instagram photo was rounded up and analyzed.
From the 600,051 mentions, here’s what we found.
The Hashtag Election
Danielle Smith dubbed this the Clever Hashtag Election on April 30th:
@Marty_Chan This is going to go down in history as the clever hashtag election. Your latest contribution is hysterical.
— Danielle Smith (@ABDanielleSmith) May 1, 2015
This was an election where major events turned into hashtags within seconds. The top 10 hashtags are exactly what you’d expect — things like #ableg (for the legislature), #pcaa (for the Progressive Conservatives), #adndp (for the NDP) and so on. But what defined the election issues were the other hashtags, made in jest or protest by Albertans.
#mathishard — 8,956 mentions
In the leaders’ debate, Jim Prentice noted that “math is difficult” during an exchange with Rachel Notley about a planned corporate tax hike. Surprising no one, that didn’t go over very well.
It's Notley vs. Prentice but Prentice is already out #abvote #mathishard
— James Pauls (@James_Pauls) April 24, 2015
#lifewithndp — 8,667 mentions
Life with NDP started as a way to encourage Manitobans and Saskatchewanians to share their NDP horror stories.
Manitobans & Saskatchewanians, maybe share some of your worst #LifewithNDP stories with the Albertans you know. I bet you have some doozies
— Sheila Gunn Reid 🐀 (@SheilaGunnReid) April 25, 2015
#pcaahostagecrisis — 4,521 mentions
This was born after five Alberta CEOs held a press conference to warn people that there wouldn’t be any money for corporate donations to frills such as children’s hospitals if Albertans elected a NDP government.
Nice hospital you have. Shame if something "happened" to it #PCAAHostageCrisis http://t.co/8NJXUkZ7zw #abvote pic.twitter.com/WP4NhEPd2C
— Pete Quily (@pqpolitics) May 2, 2015
#dirkshistory — 3,135 mentions
After Gordon Dirks claimed to be the main supporter of GSAs in Alberta, many tweeters rewrote other pieces of history to credit Dirks, including the invention of the light bulb.
Gordon Dirks was a champion of GSAs. He also saw the second shooter on the grassy knoll. #abvote #DirksHistory #ableg
— Marty Chan (@Marty_Chan) April 30, 2015
#notleycrue — 2,305 mentions
This quickly became a rallying cry for groups of NDP supporters, and it only took 44 minutes for someone to request a t-shirt (that could be purchased here but they have since moved onto other designs).
The #abndp have a great slate of candidates this time around. I know that I’m supporting the #NötleyCrüe #ABLeg pic.twitter.com/oV8eXg7yRh
— Olav Rokne (@OlavRokne) April 9, 2015
#prenticeblamesalbertans — 1,791 mentions
Prentice played the blame game for Alberta’s budget woes, and many tweets followed detailing other things he could blame Albertans for — like Nickleback.
"Look in the mirror", Prentice tells everyone but Prentice. #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans pic.twitter.com/TU19Xx6gi5
— Sally Poulsen (@SallyPoulsen) March 5, 2015
#buddyyouarebeingsetup — 1,748 mentions
Jamie Lall was disqualified for running for the PC party (probably good, in retrospect). Why? No one was saying. But according to former Justice Minster Jonathan Denis, “Buddy, you are being set up.”
#hopemongering — 1,628 mentions
Hope-mongering was started as a reaction to Paula Simons’ long string of tweets about the Edmonton Journal’s endorsement of the PC party.
Not Just the Pundits
One of the criticisms laid against social media, especially in election campaigns, is that it’s just the pundits and media talking to each other and doesn’t reflect the views of “regular” people. In this campaign, it certainly started out that way — for the first two weeks of the campaign, less than 9,000 unique authors were discussing the hashtag. But then it exploded.
In the last weeks of the campaign, the number of unique authors grew to 15,000, then 21,000 and finally to 56,000 unique authors. Yes, that is still a very small subset of the approximately 2.5 million eligible voters — just 2.2%. But keeping in mind that we can only track public mentions, not private Facebook discussions, text messages, and other digital discussions — it’s a sign that Albertans were engaged.
Which begs the question: will TV, radio, and newspaper ads always be a huge expense in electoral campaigns? Or will parties take their ad dollars online, to where their constituents are truly engaged? The NDP had the strongest digital game of all the parties in this election — they didn’t raise as much money as the PCs or Wild Rose, so every dollar had to go that much further.
Hope vs. Fear
The election’s narrative ended up as a choice — hope, with the NDP, or fear that any government other than the PCs would ruin Alberta. Many NDP supporters recalled Jack Layton’s famous last letter, where he stated that “…love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.” Since then, it’s been a rallying cry for NDP supporters.
Sentiment analysis looks at the words used and assigns an emotional “score”. Machines can’t (yet) detect sarcasm, or slang — so saying that someone “crushed it” or “that’s nice” would probably turn up the wrong sentiment. But by and large, sentiment analysis gives a good temperature of the conversations.
Here are the top 10 positive and negative terms shared in #abvote:
Most Popular Links
The most shared links weren’t very surprising, but this does show that the major parties do a terrible job of driving people to their own websites. For all the discussion around budgets and platforms, none of those showed up in the top 10. In fact, you’d have to go to the 16th most shared link, which is a thank you from Rachel Notley.
- Elections Alberta — Please RT if you’re voting
- Alberta Votes 2015 Dashboard
- What happened to Alberta’s cash stash: The life and death of the province’s rainy-day fund
- ‘Buddy, you are being set up’: Disqualified PC candidate Jamie Lall makes text messages public
- Corporate business leaders warn of risks to Alberta NDP government
The jury is still out on whether or not social shares improve search engine rankings, but regardless of how Google decides to place the results, driving people to your actual website is a key part of your digital marketing messaging. Developing a strategy to encourage people to share your content is just as important as creating that content.
Why Tracking Social Media Mentions Matters
There’s more to social media than counting likes and followers. Engagement metrics are often heralded as what matter most, but what about the sentiment? If we only consider the fact that something was said, instead of why or how, we cannot understand what makes our social media efforts succeed or falter.
Your vantage point improves when you go beyond only watching who follows you, who retweets you, and who likes and shares your posts. You understand how people feel about your brand (and your competitors’ brands), and you learn who influences your audience. You’re able to build a strategy to mitigate negative sentiment, instead of chasing it as it happens.
We followed the CFL playoffs last fall and had a lot of fun keeping track of which teams were winning with social media (even if they were losing on the field). Putting together this analysis of the Alberta election data was just as interesting, and we’re pleased to share this information with you. Consequently, we are excited to continue working on projects like this because we believe that gathering and analyzing data brings legitimacy to social media as a marketing tool that is worthy of your precious marketing budget.