The Impact of Real-Time Social Content on the Midterm Elections

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How live streams, geolocated content, and UCG is changing coverage on important issues

In this year’s midterm elections, it’s incredible to reflect on the impact social media and real-time content has had on the way voters and local communities engage. Ten years ago, when Barack Obama was first elected as President, one of the things that stood out about his campaign was he was the first candidate to truly tap into the power of the web and the early days of rising social media powerhouses like Facebook and Twitter. Obama’s campaign strategy centered on creating a sense of connection and engagement with voters, a feeling they were part of a bigger social movement that played out on a viral medium. As a result, Obama received more votes from voters under 30 than any candidate in history.

Fast forward to today and social media has permeated nearly every facet of how we engage around politics. Daily tweets and posts by current President of the United States and other candidates are shared with the public daily, and reported across media channels – from FOX News to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, to livestreams like BuzzFeed’s popular Twitter show AM2DM. In next week’s midterm elections, every politician, every issue, and every race are being talked about in the open and debated with a level of passion and divisiveness that 15 years ago would have been left to one-on-one conversations, small town hall gatherings, and locally covered debates.

While social media has always served as a way for people to engage around issues and even directly interact with candidates, the evolution of social platforms from real-time content and live streaming has taken it to an entirely different level.

In the past, families would watch the televised debate, read stories online and engage with their family and friends leading up the election, but the information flow and virality of the content was far more limited. Today with real-time content and live streams, the debate is raging 24/7 with comments from candidates going viral online the moment it happens.

A great example is the video of Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s answer to a question about Colin Kaepernick and other NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem, captured live by a town hall attendee. O-Rourke’s comments in support of military veterans and the right for peaceful protest instantly went viral online, sparking a heated debate and commentary on the issue, while also creating a wave of reactions – both for and against Beto heading into next month’s elections.

Snapchat – which helped drive more than 400,000 users register to vote in October – announced this month it was adding polling locations to Snap Map ahead of midterms.

As more people have cut the cord and consume live media on their smartphones or other devices, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube have become powerful real-time video platforms – unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. Snapchat – which helped drive more than 400,000 users register to vote in October – announced this month it was adding polling locations to Snap Map ahead of midterms.

To stay relevant and provide stronger local coverage of the elections, local TV news networks and producers are livestreaming across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube to reach more voters in more places- while also integrating the voice of the viewer by bringing social content into their streams as an integral part of their daily coverage plans.

This Fall, Tagboard and Twitter announced a joint effort to make it easier than ever for broadcast news stations and media organizations to discover and share Twitter content as a part of their live broadcasts and storytelling with the launch of Tagboard Discover. News media can filter tweets by topic – from political races, candidates and party affiliation to specific locations, issues or other keywords.

“Twitter is delighted to be working with Tagboard and local television stations around the country to bring the Twitter conversation about the U.S. elections to viewers’ TV screens,” said Eric Zuckerman, manager of news partnerships for Twitter.

Updated in real-time, Tagboard Discover also provides a powerful way to incorporate Tweets into live broadcasts, capturing the conversations happening across local communities. Leading up to the midterm elections, broadcast producers are already leveraging the platform to capture thought provoking questions from viewers during live debates and instantly display tweets and reactions on-air.

One of the early adopters of Tagboard Discover is TEGNA, which operates 47 TV stations across the U.S. Leading into the midterm elections, TEGNA will leverage Tagboard Discover to discover and curate Twitter content directly, and bring reaction, commentary, and other forms of important content directly into their production, amplifying voices of communities around each local race.

“The innovative crowdsourcing that the Tagboard, Twitter and TEGNA collaboration enables is surfacing locally relevant conversations in real-time and enabling voters to ask questions during debates,” said Adam Ostrow, chief digital officer, TEGNA.

Twitter is also partnering directly with local broadcasters across the country to stream important debates, where you can watch and react in real-time. With a constant stream of partisan commentary leading into the election, I for one, am interested to see how the people discuss and debate amongst their peers live and in real-time on Twitter; perhaps the back and forth will be more entertaining than the ridiculous attack ads we are all forced to watch on traditional television.

CNN also recently announced it will test live events to bolster its midterm election coverage with a daylong conference, called “Citizen by CNN.” The goal is to drive engagement with a broader audience base online as attendees and viewers pass along news and video of the events via social.

In this Fall’s elections, the role live social content will play has never been greater. By bringing authentic voices to the forefront of their coverage (including social content from local residents and candidates), broadcast networks and media have an opportunity to improve their coverage and storytelling. By the same token, local candidates, voters and communities will continue to see a richer discussion around key issues.

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