Mapping Reaction by Audience to Indiana’s RFRA

In a crisis, who’s talking can matter just as much as what’s being said. With this in mind, we decided to take a look at the data around Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act using our Optimized Listening platform to better understand how different political audiences engaged with the issue and when, and how this tracked with the eventual outcome — the Indiana legislature’s move to quickly revise the law.

What’s striking about the fallout from the RFRA was how each group differed in when they reacted to the issue. First, we can look at overall reaction on Twitter, with more than 100,000 U.S.-based reactions in the first day after the bill was signed, and peaking on March 31st, the date of Governor Pence’s press conference:

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In situations like this, we always want to know where reactions are coming from, not just their overall volume. Was the conversation being driven by the national political elite, or outside the Beltway? We developed a score to classify conversation along this axis, measuring the extent to which a conversation is being driven within our audience of political elites and the media (mostly inside the Beltway) or from sources elsewhere. We see stark differences in this Insider Score over time, with early reaction strongest among non-elite audiences, and the political elite catching on to the issue on Monday, March 30th, when presidential candidates began to weigh in and Indiana lawmakers began considering revisions to the law. Interest in the RFRA clearly followed an “outside-in” pattern of influence.

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In fact, if one looks at all news cycles since the beginning of the year, defined in Optimized Listening as news conversations about a single topic on a single day, RFRA broke into the top 20 on six times for all U.S. Twitter users and liberals, two times for conservatives, and zero times for Beltway Elites (topping out at #22).

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Indeed, it’s not very surprising that the political left generated the majority of conversation about the RFRA, just over 70% according to our sampling of conservative and liberal activists on Twitter. But this pattern shifted over time, with liberals generating more than 85% of the ideological conversation in the first two days of the controversy, and conservatives steadily increasing in engagement until they generated more conversation on April 3, the date the revision was signed into law.

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The pattern is even more striking when one looks at the percentage of ideological conversation by day, with the right steadily gaining in share.

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Activity on the right was centered on the story of Memories Pizza and their comments about catering gay weddings. In response, an online fundraiser which spread through social media raised $842,000 for the business. While this part of the story reached full force on April 1st, conservative reaction was building even before then.

We can also see this when we visualize individual tweets, with liberals reacting very strongly within the first few hours of the controversy and coalescing around tweets by Hillary Clinton, Marc Benioff, and George Takei. Conservative retweets caught up a few days later, but no individual conservative tweet reached the level of these early messages on the left.  

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It is relatively rare to see a law revised so quickly after passage. News coverage alone can tell us what happened, but looking at social data allows us to tease out patterns that might be applicable to other situations moving forward. What are the signals that we can measure through social data as events are unfolding that can signal whether a crisis like the RFRA will result in an about-face by decisionmakers — or fade away?  

  • A seeming disconnect between elites and the rest of the country. An immediate spike in volume around a political controversy that’s more concentrated outside media and elite circles than inside will add fuel to the fire, as participants will have the added motivation of trying to force the media to cover the issue. For perspective, most 2016 Presidential candidates are being discussed 3 or 4 times more heavily inside the Beltway than outside, as far as political issues go. The inverse was true of Indiana.
  • Immediate action by critics accompanied by virtual silence by natural defenders. At first, liberals were extremely vocal about the law and conservatives, who might be expected to defend the law, were virtually silent. Only when a local business was targeted did conservatives reach the same levels of engagement as the left, but this had little bearing on the revisions to the law itself. We see this pattern again and again when one side feels stronger and has the momentum, while another ideological camp may be conflicted and not as willing to weigh in publicly.
  • This only works when interest is high and events are changing rapidly. We see a number of issues where one side is more active than the other, or where there’s seemingly a disconnect between political elites and the rest of the country. This does not mean a law will change, only that critics are persistent. We can apply this framework mainly when conversation volume is increasing rapidly, and the outcome is uncertain.

Know Your Audience with Optimized Listening

By on February 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

We’ve been busy at Echelon Insights over the last few months, and today, we’re proud to announce Optimized Listening, the first social analytics platform that lets candidates, causes, and companies see who’s really doing the talking on the issues and trends driving the conversation.

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Recent elections have shown us that we can no longer rely on polling alone to understand what the public really thinks. But many approaches to digital listening, focusing only on counting raw mentions or imperfect sentiment scores, have been a less than convincing alternative. So we decided to build something better.

As a decision maker, you care about what specific audiences think – that can be policy elites, the media, activists, people within Congressional districts, or key voter groups. You also care about tracking whether your issue has broken through with the public at large. Knowing that there were a million tweets about your issue doesn’t tell you very much when you don’t know who was saying it.

Optimized Listening provides a unified platform to quantify issues and the news cycle like never before and answer the basic question: who’s talking about me, and do they matter?

You got a taste of Optimized Listening if you caught The Year In News, where we analyzed nearly 200 million U.S. tweets about every major news event in 2014, breaking down what mattered most by key audiences like media elites and political activists.

Optimized Listening analyzes every tweet about news events and issues, public figures, and key corporations – nearly 100 in the basic version. We then create custom audiences representative of key groups that matter to success or failure in a political or brand campaign, or a policy fight. And then it answers questions like:

  • What share of news conversation is my issue capturing today and over time, both overall and within key audiences, and how does this stack up with potential competitors?
  • Does my issue matter more to elites or the general public? Are there trends that might be concerning – for example, is the Beltway ignoring a potentially negative conversation about my issue brewing outside the Beltway?
  • Which issues are partisan activists on the Right or the Left – the ones who matter in the Presidential primary process – talking about the most?
  • Demographic insights like gender breakdowns on every issue and the types of communities – rich or poor, urban or rural, or ethnically diverse – where an issue is being talked about the most.

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Optimized Listening offers a unique approach to social analytics that combines the benefits of large scale conversational data with the statistical rigor and subgroup analysis that are essential to traditional market research. And it’s endlessly customizable. It can include custom issues you define and using advanced network analysis, we can identify the most influential people on your issue or in your network and track exactly what they’re saying – not just on your issue, but every other issue out there too.

Let us know if you’re interested in getting more information or a demo of Optimized Listening. We’re eager to share the incredible data we’re analyzing and can’t wait for you to see it too.

Using Optimized Listening and Network Analysis to Predict the Oscars

By on February 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

Voting for tonight’s Academy Awards is a closed process, decided through a secret ballot of more than 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Alas, there are no polls of Academy voters, and members themselves are barred from speaking publicly about the nominated films.

Yet the betting markets have settled on two frontrunners for Best Picture — Birdman and Boyhood. In fact, it’s not really close by that measure: no other film gets more than 16:1 odds at nabbing the top prize.

Part of that is because we’ve had numerous other award shows over the last few weeks, and either Birdman or Boyhood has received top honors each time. Further, the conventional wisdom holds that while Boyhood entered awards season as the favorite, that mantle has since shifted to Birdman.

We wanted to see what digital data could tell us about all of this, so we gathered data on every news mention or tweet about the nominated films over the last year, with a greater focus on the last three weeks of Oscar balloting.

We also wanted to know what people in Hollywood were saying. To do this, we ran a social network analysis on Hollywood celebrities to build a custom audience of people influential within the movie business. This group may or may not overlap with Academy voters (and Academy voters themselves can’t talk about who they voted for). Nonetheless, this is the group that Hollywood, and by implication, the voting population, listens to the most on social media. The audience was built looking at who this year’s nominees and other influential celebrities follow the most on Twitter. Viewed from a distance, the social graph we came up with looks like this:

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Within this audience, as well as for the overall Twitter population and the mainstream media, we ranked the volume of discussion about each Best Picture nominee. We broke down the results over the last year (covering the release of every nominated film) and the last three weeks of Academy voting. That breakdown looks like this:

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By this measure, the hottest movie is neither Birdman or Boyhood, but American Sniper, which has sparked passionate discussion over its timely subject matter and its main character, Chris Kyle. It is also among the highest grossing Best Picture nominees in history, and had its release right in the middle of awards season.

Hollywood itself has reflected this intense discussion, making American Sniper the most discussed film across all categories. But among the two films seen as favorites, telling patterns emerge. Over the last year, Hollywood Influencers split evenly in their conversations about Boyhood and Birdman, but Birdman has opened up a clear 21% to 13% lead in share over the last three weeks, reflecting its surprise wins in other awards ceremonies. And if anything, people outside Hollywood see Birdman as an even bigger favorite amongst the two, with it generating nearly twice as much discussion as the third top ranked film in the last three weeks. Other films that generated more buzz at the time of their release, like The Imitation Game and Selma, have faded down the stretch. And The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be more appreciated by insider audiences than the general audience, with the opposite being true of the film coming in eighth, the Theory of Everything.

Trending this data over time can also show us why securing lots of buzz during release may not translate to winning the most votes from Academy members:  

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On this chart, movies get buzz when they’re released, when they’re nominated, and when they win other awards. And other than American Sniper, the highest release week peak among the nominated films was for Boyhood back in July. But during the last two weeks (as Oscar ballots were being cast), Birdman led in conversation, underlining the sense that it might be peaking at the right time.

Isolating these two films also shows the much discussed momentum shift from Boyhood to Birdman, specifically during the awards season.

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The bottom line? Boyhood seems like something of a sentimental favorite. Hollywood loved it right when it came out. But Birdman has the late breaking momentum, and that’s been reflected in the volume of discussion between the two films over time. Which will ultimately be the best indicator? We’ll find out tonight.


Mapping Hollywood’s Most Influential

Our custom audience of Hollywood Influencers can also tell us something about social influence within Hollywood. The network graph we showed you above can be translated into a mathematical ranking of the most influential people within the network, which we’ve broken out by field — acting, directing, writing, comedy, music, media, and politics. One advantage to such an analysis, as opposed to looking at raw follower counts, is that it can measure the most influential people within an audience, in this case Hollywood celebrities.

Acting: Lena Dunham

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Directing: Judd Apatow

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Writing: Kelly Oxford

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Comedy: Patton Oswalt

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Music: Questlove

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Media: The New Yorker

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Columnists & Pundits: Rachel Maddow

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Democratic Presidential Hopefuls: Hillary Clinton

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