by Ran Ju, on July 16, 2012
The number of Indonesian internet users is projected to triple by 2015, according to the Boston Consulting Group, and if current growth rates continue, 40% of the country will be online by the middle of the decade, creating an internet market of 100m people. This dramatic growth is coupled with an explosion in the growth of social media. Relatively inexpensive mobile devices that offer online access have also been credited with driving internet and social media growth and have propelled Indonesia into becoming the second largest market for Facebook and the third largest for Twitter. The number of Twitter and Facebook users has reached 19.5 million and 43 million users, respectively. In addition, local social media has also rapidly spread from villages and cities to the rest of the country.
Indonesians have enthusiastically embraced online socialising and appear to have little concern about privacy – they are especially interested in connecting with one another and sharing opinions and ideas on Facebook and Twitter. Similar to other Asian countries making the democratic transition, Indonesia has only recently opened up the market for social media, which has rapidly become the most popular platform for the public to engage in political discussions and community affairs. Soon after the market was liberalised, political activists began to use it to criticise policy and mobilise people. However, it is not just political activists who have embraced social media; politicians and political candidates are leveraging these networks to mobilize people around their campaigns and during elections.
To take advantage of the growth in social media, two digital agencies – Tridaya and Mediawave – have created Politicalwave.com, which specializes in monitoring and analyzing the conversations about political issues on social networks. Recently they have been tracking the electability of and ‘buzz’ – the level of online conversation – for candidates in the race to become Jakarta’s governor. In addition to monitoring social media, the service also breaks down the amount of activity surrounding candidates by medium, looking at coverage on news sites as well. At the bottom of the site, they have a real-time feed of social media activity, blog posts and news coverage about the candidates. Politicalwave provides visitors with clear visualisations of the trends the service is monitoring.
Social media analysis has been around for a while, but applying the methods not just to the buzz about products and brands but also politics and political conversations is a relatively new and still evolving practice. In Twitter-mad Britain, the service Tweetminster analyses the tweets of hundreds of MPs who use the social network. The political analysis start-up has moved from new media darling to a potent force for traditional media, forging partnerships with Reuters and the PR firm Freud Communications. Earlier this year, the Washington Post launched a service, dubbed the MentionMachine, to monitor the buzz around presidential candidates earlier this year as well, showing that social media analysis is being adopted even by traditional news organisations.
Once social media use becomes common not only amongst the public but also political figures and elected officials, it generates large amounts of data that can be analysed and can bring a new perspective to political research. It might improve or, at the very least, add to traditional forms of measuring political sentiment such as polls. The real-time nature of social media measurement can capture the public mood at more regular intervals than traditional polling. The rise of such services also reflects the broader trend of how social networking has quickly become a potent, though sometimes unpredictable, political force. Social media monitoring also provides opportunities for news outlets to provide services for their audiences and also for their own journalists to help keep track of the buzz of political conversations on social networks. In fact, such services might just become the political polls of the 21st Century.