Politics

Sites, firm measure leaders' Twitter 'reach'

If a tweet falls in the cyberspace forest, does it make a sound? That depends on the 'reach' of the person who posted it.
According to data compiled by Navigator Ltd., NDP Leader Jack Layton, centre, had the greatest Twitter reach last week. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, right, came in second. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has the most followers of the three but reached the fewest people. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

If a tweet falls in the cyberspace forest, does it make a sound?

That depends on the "reach" of the person who posted it.

Twitter users reach the users who choose to follow their updates, but other factors — such as "retweets" (the reposting of a tweet by another user) — increase the chances of their tweets being read by a wider audience.

A handful of websites try to quantify Twitter "reach" and "influence" by analyzing how often a user's tweets are retweeted and by whom.

And with the federal election campaign in full swing, Canadian political and public affairs firms are getting into the act as well.

Navigator Ltd. is tracking the Twitter "reach" of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton  on a weekly basis throughout the campaign.

Layton's tweets reached 322,305 people last week, according to the firm's data. Ignatieff's tweets reached 270,218 people and Harper's had an audience of 156,536.

At first glance, those numbers seem to be at odds with the fact Harper has tens of thousands more Twitter followers than either Ignatieff or Layton.

But, Navigator's Will Stewart says this is likely because of differences in the parties' social media strategies.

Strategies differ

Conservative communications director Dimitri Soudas tweeted this photo of the Harpers at Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort in Quebec. Many of the so-called insider looks at the Conservative campaign have come from Soudas, rather than Harper's account. (Dimitri Soudas)

"It seems, so far, the strategy hasn't been for the PM to do his own outreach," Stewart said. "It does seem to be their strategy to have other people do the talking for the prime minister."

One of those other people is Conservative communications director Dimitri Soudas, who regularly tweets photos of Harper and his wife, Laureen, at campaign stops.

Conservative candidate Tony Clement, one of the party's most prolific Twitter users, has also been tweeting — and engaging directly with Canadians — from the campaign trail.

While canvassing with a Toronto Conservative candidate on April 4, he invited a follower who asked about lawn signs to send him a direct message for more information.

The Harper account consists mostly of policy announcements and links to related news releases on the party's website.

Layton's account also regularly links to content on the NDP website but makes greater use of hashtags — enabling a wider audience to see the tweets.

And Ignatieff's account features a mix of policy announcements, Twitter photos and, on occasion, responses to tweets from others.

'True reach' measured

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had the lowest Klout score of the major party leaders last week. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Popular website Klout  also measures Twitter users' "influence" by examining, among other factors, the size of their following, how often they're retweeted and by whom.

The site ranks users with a "Klout score" out of 100, with a higher score indicating a high level of "influence" in the Twitter world.

As of Thursday, Ignatieff had the highest Klout score — 78 — of the five major party leaders.

Harper was a close second, with a score of 76, though his "true reach" score (which Klout defines as "the size of your engaged audience") was nine to Ignatieff's 35,000.

Layton had a Klout score of 75 and a "true reach" score of 29,000, while Green Party Leader Elizabeth May's Klout score was 74. Her "true reach" score was 8,000.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe had a Klout score of 70 and a "true reach" score of 21,000.

According to Klout, Harper and Ignatieff have each been "retweeted" by 5,000 unique users, but Harper's username had been mentioned in tweets by more than 10,000 unique people. 

That may be because Harper, as the leader of the party most recently in power, is often referenced in tweets posted by other parties.

Does it matter?

But will Twitter "reach" make a difference on May 2?

"That's a big open question," Stewart said. "Are there actually any undecided people out there, and does what's online actually change people's minds or help them to make a decision?"

There is some "undecided" chatter on Twitter, but much of the discussion on the popular #elxn41  hashtag consists of partisan talking points.

"It's very clear that social media has been instrumental in the spinner's war," Stewart said.

"You've got all the Liberals and Conservatives out there fighting each other's positions."