By October 6, 2011 6 Comments Read More →

The “this too shall pass” effect

Online reaction to the G8 draft report leaked during the federal election was quick and decisive. People weren’t happy. Tweets on the issue reached a fever pitch. It seemed like this would be a campaign killer. For about eight hours it was near impossible to follow the flood of tweets. Then we all went to bed and woke up and it was a fresh day. People were on to the next stage of their life, wondering what the next story would be about the election. As luck would have it, something was already on deck… the debate.

Twenty years ago, that story might have been a campaign killer. Forget about the ever shrinking news cycle; welcome to the ever-shrinking attention span of bursty social media communications. I dubbed #elxn41 (the social media hashtag for the federal election) the A.D.D. election and referred to this new dramatic cycle of high stress immediately followed by a good night’s sleep as the This too shall pass effect.

All of this means political war rooms have to work harder to get the kind of attention which may tip. We have yet to see anyone’s effort reach that point. Though they’re trying.

We saw it early in the current campaign. The Liberal party led an effort to topple Anthony Marco. He’s the Niagara West-Glanbrook NDP candidate who shared his thoughts on religion vs. atheism and the futility of trying to change an extreme opinion in podcasts he’s released over the last three years. His use of extreme examples to illustrate his points made it attractive to isolate statements and make him look very bad. It was a four day campaign which consumed the energy of a small group of people who managed to reach a 206-tweet spike (91 of those issued from a single Twitter account) in traffic on day two of the issue. Then the weekend happened and the conversation moved on.

The Conservatives were the target of outrage earlier this week after their Brampton-West candidate Ben Shenouda published and circulated an anti-gay flyer. The tsunami of critical tweets crested three times higher (721) than the Marco peak the day after the flyer story broke, and trailed off nearly as quickly.

So, the moral of the story for campaigns is to carry some extra strength Tylenol and expect to have to go through one or two 4-hour medicated cycles.

The following graph (created with Sysomos Heartbeat) illustrates the this too shall pass effect as observed on Twitter. The Anthony Marco spike occurs at September 21; the anti-gay flyer spike at October 3. The taxes line is on the graph as a frame of reference for ongoing activity surrounding the number one most discussed election issue (online). The taxes line boasts two of its own spikes. The September 21st spike is associated with another “TTSP” effect when Conservative candidate Randy Hillier was in the news for taxes owing on the sale of a property. The September 27th spike is connected with the televised leaders’ debate.

And because I’m a huge fan of the band and we should have a little fun once in a while, here’s the video for OK Go‘s This Too Shall Pass.

 

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About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of FullDuplex.ca, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.