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Examining the Political Twittersphere: Obama, Schwarzenegger and Stephanopoulos

During the 2008 presidential campaign, politicians and reporters quickly discovered the power of Twitter. These days, Twitter has become yet another tool for politicians to get the word out about political initiatives and for reporters to reach out to their readers. In October, social media analytics firm Sysomos took a closer look at the political Twittersphere and how politicians like President Obama and California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger use this tool and who they connect with on Twitter.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’ll re-publish some of our best posts of 2009. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2010. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!

Specifically, Sysomos’ Alex Cheng, Mark Evans and Nick Koudas were interested in examining who the most followed politicians on Twitter are and “how those within the political Twittersphere behave in terms of their follower/followed patterns.” In order to do so, they created a list of 168 accounts of influential politicians, reporters and bloggers from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. that comprise the core of the political Twittersphere.

Politicians with the most followers

  1. Barack Obama: 2,240,540
  2. Al Gore: 1,693,420
  3. John McCain: 1,425,419

Media personalities with the most followers

  1. George Stephanopoulos: 1,344,034
  2. Rachel Maddow: 1,287,323
  3. David Gregory: 1,244,844

Obviously, we can’t really know if the fact that somebody follows somebody else actually means that they are reading all the updates and the political Twittersphere is arguably a bit larger than the sample that Sysomos looked at here. For this study, Sysomos only looked at accounts that had over 5,000 followers and the team acknowledges that it had to make some editorial choices to keep the study manageable. The fact that the map of all the connections between the 168 accounts weighs in at 16 MB shows the complexity of this study, so some editorial control was obviously necessary.

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

The President

With over 2.33 million followers, President Barack Obama is the most followed politician on Twitter, though he is only being followed by 56 members of the 168-member political Twittersphere. Among Obama’s followers are Al Gore, Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Newt Gingrich also follows Obama’s updates, as does blogger Marc Parent (@mparent77772)

There is probably a reason why relatively few political influencers follow Obama. After all, if you want updates from the president, his Twitter account is probably one of the worst ways of following him and most of the updates on Obama’s account aren’t very interesting. Other politicians like Schwarzenegger and John Boehner also update their accounts far more regularly.

Politicians and Political Reporters

Among politicians and reporters, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos follows 105 members of the 168-member political Twittersphere Sysomos analyzed, followed by the Newshour (104), followed by John Boehner (98), the Huffington Post (98), and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (92).

Within the political Twittersphere, Schwarzenegger is also the most followed politician and Stephanopoulos is the most followed media personality.

Daryl Cagle, the cartoonist for MSNBC.com, is the #1 media personality that other reporters follow on Twitter.

News Organizations

Besides looking at individual reporters, Sysomos also examined the larger news organizations in the US. CNN’s Breaking News account (@cnnbrk) has over 2.75 million followers, followed by NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) with 1.51 million and Good Morning America (@gma) with 1.37 million. CNN doesn’t really follow anybody back, though, while the NPR Politics account follows close to 117,000 Twitter users and Newsweek (@newsweek) follows 97,000.

The members of the political Twittersphere as identified by Sysomos that are most likely to be followed are the PBS Newshour account, the Huffington Post and the LA Times.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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