As I sat watching the first debate of the 2012 Presidential Election, my eyes were pinned to the screen as the two candidates talked. I listened as they argued about domestic policy, tax reform, and healthcare. But what I was really wondering was how the world was seeing this same set of answers, the same suave lingo, through their own eyes.
So I got on Twitter. (Hey, I am a social media specialist, after all).
But as I did, I recalled a similar time (four years ago to be exact) when I, again, sat pinned to my seat, watching the then new, now familiar, face of Senator Obama and his Republican counterpart, John McCain. I thought about how different of a time that was. I only had 400 Facebook friends, due, in part to not “everyone and their mother” (including my mother) having an account. Pinterest didn’t exist. Heck, I didn’t even have a Twitter handle. I don’t think I even had my laptop within reach while watching the debate.
Now, not only I, but millions of Americans were watching this debate while on our laptop, iPhone and/or iPad. Wow, has the scene changed. And in more ways than one.
The 2008 election was the first that was affected by social media, which four years ago, was much less prevalent than it is today. Sure, people were tweeting and posting Facebook statuses about what they were watching, but the numbers of four years prior paled in comparison to what the country experienced on October 3, 2012.
For example, in the 24 hours after the start of the debate, there were twice (yes, twice) as many tweets about the debate than there were for all the debates COMBINED in 2008. In fact, the October 3 debate was the most tweeted about political event…of all time. In just 90 minutes, more than 10.3 million tweets poured in, pounding the previous debate Twitter statistics.
Just by observing the number of times each candidate was mentioned, you can see the true magnitude of the changes we have seen in the social media landscape. In 2008, for example, Obama was mentioned 14,659 times in 2008. Fast forward to the 2012 debate, and that number increased to 4.9 MILLION, yes million. What a difference four years makes.
And the Trending Topics during the debate were interesting, too. During the 90-minute debate, a number of trending topics emerged. And the standout Twitter topic of the night…Big Bird. In the minutes after mentioning PBS funding (and Sesame Street’s most beloved character specifically), #BigBird was mentioned at a rate of 17,000+ tweets per minute and Facebook posts mentioning him went up 800,000% (wait, people were mentioning Big Bird on Facebook before the debate?).
What is most evident is not who won or lost the debate, but this simple fact: The election, nay, the world, has changed a lot because of social media. Now, we all have our own public platform from which we can share our beliefs. Better yet, people will listen. And because the public can now display their thoughts about the campaign (and have some influence in a digital arena), we may just deem social media as this election’s “Swing State.”