The reach of "This seat's taken"

It was the last night of the Republican National Convention, and they invited Clint Eastwood, one of the best known of celebrity Republicans, to help warm up the crowd for Mr. Romney. Eastwood is not a person easily molded into the script of an evening praising the nominee. And his talk seems to have come as something of a surprise to the organizers as he lectured an empty chair, in lieu of Obama, for ten minutes.

On Twitter that was the high point of the evening. A whole string of take-offs appeared quite quickly with lots of followers and lots of tweets. But the one for this report was a tweet by barackobama, which is the official Twitter user account of the president. It was simple -- "This seat's taken," with a picture assumed to be a White House chair and the back of Mr. Obama's head.

"This seat's taken" was retweeted more than any other Twitter message of the convention period. The question is: how far did that tweet reach?

Mike Jensen very generously captured twitter messages containing some version of Obama's name and Romney's name that evening. It is a sample of the messages, but it is a very large sample of 591 thousand. Romney's name was included in 361,561 of the messages. It is hard to estimate the relative size of the sample compared to the number of Twitter messages for the day. It was 2 million for the day. (Twitter Blog, 8/30/2012) That is a 24 hour day, and the sample is only for the evening. Assume that half of the two million were in the evening. Then the sample is roughly a third of the population of messages.

In the sample "this seat's taken" was retweeted in one form or another 24,397 times. Twitter shows that it was retweeted 55 thousand times -- just over double the number in the sample. (Twitter, 10/13/2012) But posting to Twitter is only the start of the communication. Each of the posts ends up in the 'inbox' of all of the followers of the person who posted. So the total communication is roughly 55,000 times the number of followers. In the sample the average number of followers is 1250. If many of the persons who posted did so more than once that would reduce the total because the same people would have received the message more than once. So I checked. There were very few who posted the retweet more than once. Few enough that it does not interfere with a crude estimate. This number also does not include the president who has 19 million followers, which is enough to have raised the average.

If you multiply 55,000 times 1250 you get an estimate of the reach of that tweet, and the number is 68,750,000. To put that number into perspective Nielsen reported that 30.3 million viewed Romney's speech on TV. (Fouhy, 9/5/2012) And "this seat's taken" got to twice as many people.

68 million is a rough estimate, but it is a reasonable approximation. Twice the TV audience happens often with political messages posted to Twitter. We, media people and political scientists, have not recognized this, yet.

We are molding the public domain anew. Suddenly everyone has voice, and the reach of that voice is often greater than the reach of TV. The public domain is becoming a participatory co-motion in which mass media and personal voice interact in very new ways. (Boynton and Richardson, 5/5/2012, Boynton, 8/24/2012)


Boynton, G. R. (8/24/2012) Voice and the public domain becomes co-motion

Boynton, G. R. and Glenn Richardson (5/5/2012) Reframing Audience; Co-Motion at #SOTU

Fouhy, Beth (9/5/2012) Republican Convention Ratings Plummet from 2008, Huff Post Media

Twitter (10/13/2012)

Twitter Blog (8/30/2012) A four million Tweet convention: That's a wrap for #GOP2012

Corrected 10/13/2012

© G. R. Boynton, September 6, 2012.