Political leadership and social media, conference at Banff, Canada

“Really Maurice” (this is me talking to myself), “the first time in Canada?” I just returned to Calgary after a couple of days in beautiful Banff in Canada. Be sure not to miss it when you’re in Canada. I was in Banff on invitation by Professor Richard Davis and Professor David Taras for the meeting on Political Leadership and Social Media. There was a nice group of colleagues from Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Switzerland. It’s really nice to meet such a fine group of people in such a nice surroundings.

The Canadians themselves are extremely nice people. Always making jokes and in for a laugh. Imagine entering Canada at the airport, the passport control official specifically requesting me to get Donald Trump to the conference and stop his Twitter rants. Then half way the conversation, he started talking Dutch, being the son of Dutch immigrants (probably after WOII in search for a better life). A real unique experience. A similar experience happened on the way to Calgary: a woman next to me in the shuttle bus turned out to be Dutch as well, having immigrated to Canada over a decade ago. The Dutch seem to be everywhere: Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Canada, the Caribbean, and I’m sure I’ve left out other countries.

Anyhow, a big thank you to Richard and David. Looking forward to continue the collaboration.

And now back to work … OK OK just a brief look at some pictures then 🙂

Banff Banff
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Rumble on Youtube: Psy vs Justin Bieber

On Saturday November 24th 2012 history was written: The most viewed Youtube video up til then – Canadian Justin Bieber’s baby with 805.914.820 views – was surpassed by South Korean Psy’s Gangnam Style with 833.499.683 views.
It’s interesting to look at the viewer statistics of both videos and the way Youtube presents them. First of all, looking at the shape of Bieber’s viewer stats across time. At the early stages after the video was released we see a steep incline, which then levels off to a horizontal line. Looking at Psy’s graph we see that the amount of viewers is still on the increase. There are no signs yet that a maximum has been reached.
At first, after the new record was set, I expected there would be a competition between Bieber fans and the Psy fans to compete for the new target: 1.000.000.000 views!!! Then again, there is no visual sign of Bieber’s curve to rise again. This means that Bieber´s video increasingly lags behind Psy’s video, probably to the extent that he will never be able to overtake Psy. If Psy’s video will reach more than a billion views, it’ll be the record holder for a long time. Or will it? Bieber’s record only lasted less than three years, while Psy broke that record in record time. It took Psy only 134 days (which equals 6.220.147 views per day). Compare this to a measly average of 804.306 daily views for 1002 days for Bieber’s Baby. So, it’s waiting for the next video to break Psy’s record. It’ll come within the next five years. Mark my words!!! 🙂

Interestingly, Youtube doesn’t seem to be that interested in Justin Bieber’s video. First of all, Youtube is very slow in updating Bieber’s viewer stats. Whereas Psy’s stats are updated daily, Bieber’s stats on average they lag behind for about a week. Also Bieber’s vertical axis needs to be updated because the video surpassed the 800.000.000 mark clearly.

Psy’s Youtube stats

Justin Bieber’s Youtube stats

A further notable difference is the steep climb at the beginning of the number of viewer for the Bieber video. Compare this to the slow start of Psy’s video. A possible explanation is the date these video´s were posted: Bieber’s video was posted in Februari, one of the coldest months of the northern hemisphere, and Psy’s video was posted mid July, the hottest period for the northern hemisphere. That got me thinking that in the coldest months people stay indoors and have Youtube readily available, whereas in the summer people often are outdoors, or are on vacation, limiting their Youtube access. Cautionary note: this analysis is based on visual inspection of the graphs. It’d be better to use the actual longitudinal data. On July 28, 2012 Robbie Williams linked to Psy’s video on his website, probably aiding the quick dissemination through the Web, particularly the English speaking parts of the Web.

Justin Bieber’s Youtube interaction stats

Psy’s Youtube interaction stats

Below are the interaction stats directly compared between Bieber and Psy. It shows that, again, Psy has the most views, but Bieber has the most reactions. Psy has the most “Thumps Up”, whereas Bieber ahs the most “Thumbs Down”.

Viewer stats compared


As for the ratios between different stats we see that the audience of Biber’s video is more responsive than Psy’s audience. The rates for “Thumbs Up” “Thumbs Down” are quite similar to the earlier indicators because the number of views for Psy and Bieber are at a similar level. Still the quite small fraction of people reacting to these videos which only reaches a 1.1 percent shows that social media are not always that interactive. This percentage is probably somewhat inflated, and probably somewhat higher if multiple views by the same person would be taken account for. At the same time a single person can post multiple reponses to the video. This shows that using of-the-rack stats comes with limitations.
Rates between stats compared

Finishing this blog post on the 12th of December and checking the latest numbers on the Psy video, I wouldn’t be surprised when it reaches a billion views before then end of the year Only some 67 million views to go!

OK, to make this blog post complete here are both videos:

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Special issue of New Media & Society

Recently the online articles of the special issue “Online Campaigning in Politics” of New Media & Society, guest edited by me, came online. Below are the abstracts and the DOI’s of the articles. I wish to thank all authors for their contributions to this issue. I also thank Nicholas Jankowski and Steve Jones (editors of New Media & Society) for letting me do this special issue.
Two articles are the result of the international collaborative research project CENMEP (Comparative European and New Media and Elections Project), which started in COST A30: East of West: Setting a New Central and Eastern European Media Research Agenda. I would like to thank Carlos Cunha and Gerrit Voerman for their assistence, contributions and acting as hosts for meetings during the development of the project in Groningen and Lisbon. I also thank all local organizers and coders across Europe responsible for the data collection:

  • Austria: Flooh Perlot and Peter Filzmaier
  • Belgium: Eva De Smedt and Wim Vanobberghen
  • Cyprus: Dimitra Milioni
  • Czech Republic: Václav Å tetka
  • Estonia: Ãœlle Toole
  • France: Karolina Koc Michalska and Thierry Vedel
  • Germany: Eva Schweitzer
  • Greece: Marianna Psilla, Nikos Leandros, Sofia Fourouli and Vassiliki Paliatsa
  • Hungary: Gabriella Szabó and Zsuzsanna Mihályffy
  • Ireland: Lugh O Braonain
  • Italy: Cristian Vaccari and James Newell
  • the Netherlands: Liesbeth Hermans, Nicole Louwers, Maurice Vergeer
  • Poland: Michal Jacunski
  • Portugal: Carlos Cunha
  • Romania: Dorina Gutu
  • Slovakia: Branislav Ondrasik
  • Sweden: Lars Lundgren
  • United Kingdom: Darren Lilleker and Nigel Jackson

(I hope this list is complete. However, if I’ve missed someone, please inform me ASAP)

Below is a list of abstracts of the articles in the special issue:


Politics, elections and online campaigning: Past, present . . . and a peek into the future
Maurice Vergeer

This introduction provides a brief overview of developments in research on political campaigning on the Internet. It presents state-of-the-art research in the field of political communication and the Internet, after which summaries of the studies in this special issue are provided. Finally, the article suggests a number of future research concerns.


Live research: Twittering an election debate
Greg Elmer

This paper questions how vertical tickers on leading social media platforms (blogs, Facebook, and in particular the Twitter micro-blogging platform) pose new challenges to research that focuses on political communications campaigns. Vertical looped tickers highlight the fleeting nature of contemporary networked and socially mediated communications, since they provide an intensely compressed space (interface) and time to have posts viewed by friends and followers. This article draws upon a research collaboration with the news division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to understand how Canadian political parties increasingly worked to strategically intervene, in real time on Twitter, during a broadcast political debate.


Party organizational change and ICTs: The growth of a virtual grassroots?

Rachel Gibson, Kevin Gillan, Fabienne Greffet, Benjamin Lee, & Stephen Ward
This paper examines the relationship between unofficial party blogs and official party sources in the UK using a mixed-method approach. Specifically we combine interview data with content analysis, user surveys and usage data, and finally hyperlink analysis to profile the emergence, popularity, audience and online prominence of four major party blogs since 2005. The core question posed is how far the blogs are challenging parties as the focal point for member activism and offering an alternative public ‘voice’. The findings show blogs occupy an important alternative critical space for party debate, particularly outside elections. They are not mobilizing tools, however, being used by the grassroots largely for information-gathering and discussion purposes.


Personalization in e-campaigning: A cross-national comparison of personalization strategies used on candidate websites of 17 countries in EP elections 2009
Liesbeth Hermans & Maurice Vergeer

Candidate websites provide politicians with opportunities to present themselves in an individual way. To a greater or lesser extent politicians share personal information in their biographies and provide options to connect with citizens by putting links on their websites to their social networking sites (SNS). In this paper, although acting on different levels, both strategies are indicated as forms of personalization strategies used by politicians in their online communication. This cross-national study explores the use of these strategies on candidate websites in 17 countries during the elections for the European Parliament (EP) in June 2009. This is a comparative study of the personalized and individualized campaigning styles used during elections. Findings show that three general dimensions of personalization can be distinguished; ‘professional’, ‘home and family’ and ‘personal preferences’. While the first two dimensions show a higher level of use among candidates, the third dimension on private information is hardly used. Results show also that countries from Central Europe inform their citizens more about their professional and personal circumstances, and Mediterranean countries use personalization strategies the least. Furthermore, the overall findings show that SNS were not frequently used during the 2009 e-campaigning. West European countries use links to SNS more frequently than countries in other regions. In general these findings suggest cross-cultural differences regarding online personalized political campaigning.


The structural relationship between politicians’ web visibility and political finance networks: A case study of South Korea’s National Assembly members
Yon Soo Lim & Han Woo Park

This study examines whether the network characteristics represented on the Internet drive or reflect other events and occurrences in the offline environment. More specifically, the purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between the web visibility network of Korea’s National Assembly members and the amount of financial donations they receive from the public. The results of the linear correlation analysis indicate a positive direction, suggesting that politicians who occupy a central position in the web visibility network are more likely to receive financial donations than those occupying a peripheral position. The quadratic assignment procedure (QAP) correlation results revealed a significant correlation between politicians’ web visibility network and their political finance network. This study identifies the structural relationship between Korean politicians’ online and offline networks.


From echo chamber to persuasive device? Rethinking the role of the Internet in campaigns
Cristian Vaccari

Most of the e-campaigning literature claims that the Internet can reinforce political attitudes, but not change them. In this article, I analyze the issue through the receive−accept−sample (RAS) theory, which postulates that messages can change attitudes if they are both received and accepted by audiences. Based on qualitative elite interviews with 31 consultants and operatives involved in the 2008 United States presidential election, I argue that campaigns are finding new avenues to improve both reception and acceptance of their messages, and the implications merit close empirical scrutiny. The probability of message reception can be increased by citizens’ propensity to seek out issue positions online and by diffusion through low-threshold activities by supporters; the probability of message acceptance can be augmented by video and the targeting of content; finally, indirect persuasion through interpersonal communication can increase the probability of both reception and acceptance.


Web campaigning in the 2009 European Parliament elections: A cross-national comparative analysis
Maurice Vergeer, Liesbeth Hermans & Carlos Cunha

Political communication has transformed drastically since the Internet made its way into the political arena. Political parties seem unable to do without a website or a social networking profile any longer, particularly in election campaigns. One of the many approaches to studying online political communication is measuring specific website features political parties, politicians and candidates utilize in order to engage visitors in the political process. Even though the analysis of online political communication has evolved over the years, website-feature analysis is still a valid instrument to study political actors. The explanations sought to understand website-feature utilization are found in earlier cross-national comparative studies (technological and human development) as well as new ones (political systems characteristics, ideology, participation and engagement). This study looks back on two prior cross-national comparative research projects and reports on a cross-national comparative analysis of 1026 candidate and party websites from 17 countries participating in the European Parliament (EP) elections of 2009. To analyze these data, some methodological improvements are made compared to earlier studies.


Social networks in political campaigns: Facebook and the congressional elections of 2006 and 2008
Christine Williams & Jeff Gulati

This study examines the early adoption and dissemination of emerging technology tools in campaigns by analyzing which candidates were the most likely to adopt and use Facebook in the 2006 and 2008 elections to the US House of Representatives. The research hypotheses draw primarily from the diffusion of innovation literature. Our analysis of 802 candidates in 2006 and 816 candidates in 2008 indicates that Facebook adoption diffused rapidly between 2006 and 2008, with party (Democrats), competition, money and the level of education in the district explaining both adoption and implementation. Challengers and candidates for open seats were more likely to be early adopters, but incumbents used Facebook more extensively. Both higher adoption rates by peers or competitors in the candidate’s own state and a propensity to adopt earlier campaign technologies are strong positive motivators for early adoption, but irrelevant to usage.

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