Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Does the consumer pundit rule over the real ones?

In that last 3-6 months, I have had the pleasure of working with many folks in the public relations groups.  Having spent most of my time in the product development area among other places in the organization, it is always a pleasure to learn new things from new people.  To this end, bringing the concept of social media understanding to the public relations process is a thrill.

Why?  Because when you can impact a process and show others how to do their job in a different way, great things happen.  And those changes are not only focused on improving their process, but finding new ideas that are totally groundbreaking.  As a change agent nerd (really...if you saw what I put together on the plane recently it would cause you to run from pure geekyness), it is the essence of the change point that is most exciting, because beyond the impact to the business lies the insight that drives many other ideas that are of value.

Today what caught my fancy is the idea that in real time understanding, is the virality more important that the story it is linked to?  What do I mean by this?  Well, in traditional news (as a layman looks at it), an event is reported on by someone and everyone reacts to that report or expresses how they feel about it.

A great example of this happened last week during the debates.  As I sat in a New York hotel room listening to them, I frankly was bored to tears.  It really felt like trench warfare.  Two guys sitting there quoting stats, essentially trying to win style points clarifying their political positions on why they are better.  It was painful.  I really couldn't take much from it.  And while I was suffering waiting for the President to simply ask his opponent which guys was standing there on the stage (the right winger of the fall or the left winger of the moment), I have to admit Romney's vigor was higher.  And while I try to be non-partisan, this debate to me was more of a tie.  And not because Romney was not showing spark, conviction or even out energized the president, but because I was bored to tears hearing details that I knew were potentially bullshit all around.  And as I sit there with my layman's hat on, I couldn't make heads nor tails of it.

Then it ended and as always I flash to CNN to hear my favorite pundit in the world weigh in.  Who is it?  David Gergen.  He is my political reporting hero.  He is by far the most neutral, insightful and tell it like it is kind of guy.  He is ALWAYS be my barometer.  He speaks the truth in a non-partisan way and he is someone of high integrity in his analysis (a guy I want to have lunch with...because that type of passionate neutrality is gone from politics...hello Hannity and Maddow).

And boy did he weigh in...he took it to the president.  He called him listless and said he blew his opportunity.  The pundits piled it on.  And on and on.  Then the poll came out.  And as usual I sat there wondering, what was going on in the real time world of unfiltered social.  Before the pundits spoke, what was really happening.

Below is a look at the BEHAVIORS expressed by people on line on Twitter during the debate.  You will see that according to data below, Obama won with this crowd.  Which surprised me based on the pundits language is that Obama actually won (at least as expressed during the debate).

Why is this interesting?  If you take your political hat off for a moment, it suggests something way more profound in my opinion.  Typically, we watch a group of 20 swing voters powerpressing a button as we watch the debate.  Or we quickly get the results of a scientific poll conducted through the phone right after the debate.  And while these are both interesting methods, we are actually look at 6 million comments that happened in real time and are unfiltered other than sorted and classified by their sentiment.  Which is a more scientific method.  Sure you could say that there are more liberals online...but that is bullshit.  I have watched the net sentiment for both candidates for weeks and I can tell you that after the republican convention, Romney got a huge bump.  And for the past several weeks, Obama has been kicking his ass UNTIL people saw the debates AND watched the news.

It was at this point that the sentiment really changed as driven by the news.  Does this mean I am saying that the news swung folks as to who won?  No.  I am not.  I believe that Romney did win because of the reasons stated.  But what I am questioning is how the purity of real time expression during a crisis, event or other is becoming a really unbiased barometer of something going on.  I used the political example because this is a case where emotion is expressed in real time.

But what happens in a business situation when something happens first that is not emotionally charged?  What happens when your business nemesis goes public with something and the news picks it up?  What if you you know the news is going to report something and you want to see whether it is an issue.  When you can't see the news because the social response is faster.  What am I saying?

I have started witnessing events where the latency of processing news is slower than the public response of  Twitter.  We saw this during the Osama bin Laden raid (my favorite tweet of all).  Meet Sohaib Ahtar...the man who beat the news.  While this is an extreme case of someone truly beating the news.

So what is the point?

I guess I am asking...which response is real?  The response that is pure or the one that is influenced.   Either way the game is changing and we need to figure out who is controlling who.


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