“We’re measuring consumer attention,” Goodhart says. But political campaigns aren’t a real part of the company’s client base quite yet. Goodhart can chart a candidate’s overall share of the online voice. For example, for the month of September, President Obama’s share of all Internet domains covered by ads outmatched Mitt Romney’s by an enormous margin—93.3 percent to 6.7 percent. Goodhart can also track when campaigns shift focus online—from persuasion to GOTV, for example.

“So this info starts to tell a story about what they’re doing,” he says. “We look at about 50,000 sites a day, so we were able to see where the Obama campaign was advertising and who they were buying through.”

Metrics in Action
The Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA didn’t have countless millions to spend on television ads in the 2012 cycle, but the Super PAC honed its message online by being responsive to metrics. Backed by the digital team at Global Strategy Group, the Super PAC bought ads on Hulu and Pandora.

Priorities employed social media analytics to evaluate campaign buzz and tweak the Super PAC’s anti-Bain, anti-Romney message online. When Priorities ran Twitter ads, GSG monitored the ratio of replies, which can often be negative, to retweets and clicks to analyze the exposure of the group’s videos to a wider audience through social action.

“So we would monitor this ratio for each tweet as we’re at the controls and make adjustments to our targeting to make sure we’re reaching people who will amplify our message,” explains Hugh McMullen, GSG’s Senior Associate for Digital + Social. “For example, if we’re getting too many negative replies in a campaign we’ll switch out the tweet or change the targeting to skew a bit more liberal.”

Tweets would be monitored long term for engagement performance, and that informed how Priorities tweeted moving forward. Through the process, GSG learned that encouraging a retweet worked well, and tweeting a quote from a linked video was frequently more successful than explaining it.

GSG also used YouTube analytics to test the effectiveness of online video ads. One ad, titled Stage, was twice as long as most political ads at 60 seconds, but paid traffic—a full view registered by YouTube and charged to Priorities—moved rapidly. At the end of the cycle, Priorities revisited the ad because the metrics read so well.

“The metrics and analytics are going to get a lot better,” McMullen says. “For Twitter, at least, this was really their first big election. Working with them, I can tell there are better things to come.”

According to Mele, the end game for social media analytics is to figure out the sentiment behind posts and tweets and then impact social media to move those numbers. Beth Becker, social media activist and founder of Progressive PST, agrees but says the measurement tools aren’t quite there yet.

“The problem is there’s no one tool that I can send you a link to right now that measures not just quantity but quality of conversations,” she says.

Various tools measure pieces of social media conversations. Facebook Insights and Twitter Web Analytics provide the most detailed metrics on those platforms individually. Twitterizer offers Twitter integration for apps, and Klout attempts to quantify social media influence across platforms. Not to mention a slew of other social media monitoring tools.

One of the closest to hitting the mark right now is Attentive.ly, which turns campaign lists into info-graphics—matching names with social media networks, prioritizing the most influential for targeting and monitoring who’s talking about the campaign. The next step: developing tools that can truly quantify engagement. Becker is developing her own tool for determining reach, but she says it’s not close to being tested yet. Still, she expects a greater emphasis on sentiment analysis of social media in the immediate future.

Jim Pugh, former director of analytics and development at the Democratic National Committee, predicts more control testing—determining the most compelling “donate” button color—and data modeling of lists—knowing who donated before and getting them to donate again.

“As integration increases, using data to optimize programs between networks and communities, both offline and online, becomes good option,” Pugh says. “I think what you’ll also see is a mix of core experts who really know stuff—generalists who are good on multiple fronts—plus people who can sit across the desk.”

Digital will never replace face-to-face GOTV efforts, but it’s important for campaigns to be willing to experiment with analytics and supplement that offline component.

“You’re never going to replace shaking hands and holding babies, and I don’t think you should,” Becker says. “The role of analytics is figuring out how successful things in the past were and then tweaking future iterations.”

Dave Nyczepir is the staff writer for Campaigns & Elections.