AAPOR 2013 – The view from the Twittersphere

Last week, more than 1,000 public opinion researchers convened in Boston for the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). The four day conference was centered on the theme “Asking Critical Questions” and included papers, posters, courses, and addresses from top researchers in the field.

As with each of the last several conferences, some attendees (and non-attendees) took to Twitter to discuss the results being shared and connect with colleagues old and new.  Our analysis of the #AAPOR hashtag (the “official” hashtag for the conference) shows more than 1,500 Tweets during the conference by more than 250 Tweeters.  About three quarters of these were original Tweets and the remaining quarter reposts (retweets) of #AAPOR posts made by others.  This is up about 500% from Tweeting at the 2010 conference. Five Tweeters posted more than 50 times during the 2013 conference, but more than half only posted once.

The conference activities kicked off on Wednesday 5/15 with afternoon short courses and wrapped up on Sunday 5/19.  Overall Tweet volume peaked on Saturday, though the most original Tweets (total minus retweets) were posted on Friday.

By hour, Tweet volume peaked during AAPOR events such as the plenary, President’s address, and award ceremony.  There was also a peak during the Saturday morning paper sessions with many Tweeters relaying thoughts shared by high-profile researchers like Jon Krosnik and Tom Smith.  In the chart below, the solid lines show volume excluding and the dotted lines including retweets.  Noon is indicated by the vertical line above each day.

We sorted original Tweets by time and looked at every fourth one to get a sense of the popular topics of discussion.  Content and research findings from presentations topped the list, making up about a third of all original tweets.

The most retweeted post was from @AAPOR announcing the release of the Non-Probability Task Force Report.  In the spirit of transparency though, it should be said that some (including me) were asked to retweet this announcement.  The post was retweeted 26 times.

Here is a quick word cloud of #AAPOR tweet content during the conference (the phrase “AAPOR” removed, for obvious reasons).

Interestingly (to us, anyway), the #AAPORbuzz experiment was more of an #AAPORbust… Few attendees were interested in replying to our Tweeted survey items, despite endorsement from @AAPOR itself.  It may be that attendees were more interested in sharing just what they wanted when they wanted and weren’t looking to respond to a survey/poll/vote simultaneous with discussing the topic of surveys itself at the conference.  It would be interesting to find out more about why people did not respond to these items.  Were they lost in the sea of Tweets?  Would another outreach approach be more effective? Would this work with a different population?  Further experimentation should help answer these questions.

Also interesting was the increased focus on Twitter itself at the conference.  In addition to the short course I gave with @carolsuehaney (Carol Haney), there were papers focused on Twitter analysis and at least one company (Evaluating Effectiveness), downloading #AAPOR Tweets and posting a dataset on their website. Popular bloggers like @mysterypollster (Mark Blumenthal) used Twitter to announce and link to their blog posts covering the conference.

Is Twitter here to stay as a mode of communication and topic of research for public opinion research?  Time will tell, but adoption and utility for those in the field seems to be on the rise.


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