@MentionMachine was developed exclusively for the newspaper and was launched in conjunction with Tuesday's Iowa Caucus, the official start of primary season for the 2012 Presidential Election. The app uses Twitter's streaming API while also tracking mentions in the traditional media.
The launch of @MentionMachine is telling, in that it formally adds "social media success" to polling data, fundraising totals, ad spending and endorsements as ways to measure how well, or how poorly, a campaign is doing. For those keeping score, Ron Paul had the most mentions in the 24 hours preceding this writing, with 44,900 tweets.
"Growth in number of legitimate followers or a high recurrence of retweets are both indicative of growing grass-roots support. A spike in the number of times a candidate is mentioned on Twitter might signal an event that could alter a campaign," the newspaper said in a blog post.
Highlights from @MentionMachine's tracking are posted on a dedicated Twitter account, and the app keeps tabs on which candidate had the most mentions in the previous 24 hours and the previous week. But the feature is more dynamic than just simply tabulating the number of times a candidate gets tweeted.
In addition to the Twitter account, @MentionMachine includes a toolbar that overlays on the portions of the Post's Web site that deal with the campaign and updates as spikes or shifts are detected on Twitter. The feature also includes an analysis of individual candidates so readers can track their mentions over time. The app was also developed to give greater weight to top tweets as opposed to retweets.
The newspaper said it plans to tweak and add new features to @MentionMachine throughout the month.