Social Media and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

From time to time we post pieces by the undergraduate and graduate students who work with us at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. Today’s post is from Abigail Nutter, who was our social media intern during fall semester 2012. Abigail has been an important part of our efforts to get information about our polling out to the general public through Facebook and Twitter.

Social Media and the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, by Abigail Nutter

This semester, I worked as the social media intern for the Rutgers-Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. As someone who was very interested in social media and communications, I was fortunate enough to encounter one of the most important years in politics and its role in the 2012 Election, Hurricane Sandy, the issues of gun control, and the upcoming gubernatorial elections. Social media played a key role in the upswing of popularity of public opinion polling and the controversy of “skewed” polling. The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll was thrown into the news numerous times this past semester (whether it was due to our on point data about President Obama’s outcome in New Jersey for the November election or Governor Christie’s “comeback” in popularity after the tragic effects of Hurricane Sandy).

For someone who has never been introduced to the world of public interest polling, it was a hectic but incredible learning experience. The marriage between social media, the burgening form of communication that allows for information to be processed and transferred in a matter of seconds (or a “retweet” button), and the importance of political and economic progress within the country and New Jersey allows society to both progress as well as learn more about ourselves. Poll results mean something. The entire process of finding and compiling information, double and triple checking that the poll results are accurate due to the microscope that public opinion polling was placed under, and then sharing it via Facebook, Twitter, and our blog posts gave the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll invaluable coverage. And if you don’t believe me, I can tell you I spent hours upon hours putting together a media spreadsheet of all of our data that was used in news stories and coverage not only in New Jersey but all over the country.

How does social media come into play? As I learned this semester, timing is everything. Getting your information out there is essential to making it relevant. Yes, accuracy is the most important aspect of public opinion polling, false information, as mentioned before, loses credibility and no polling center can afford to have their data deemed not credible. But social media allows for immediate attention. Part of my job was to schedule Facebook and Twitter posts to be placed at strategic times throughout the day so that our followers would see the information, as well as major news sources so as to be able to create stories using our data. Gaining an audience is difficult to describe how to do but an upsurge in our online presence as well as our data used created an upswing in Facebook and Twitter followers. The job of social media never rests, believe me. There is a constant strive for more followers, more data published, and yet never annoying your audience with information overload. It is a careful balance and has to be taken very seriously.

As a social media intern who went into her job with a love for politics, I came out having an incredible appreciation for public opinion polling. The amount of work that goes into a poll; the deadlines, the stress, the nail-biting anticipation hoping the story will make press releases, it is all worth it when seeing a poll make a national news source. Whether it was about the controversy surrounding other “skewed” polls or the popularity of New York Times analyst Nate Silver, we cannot deny the victory of public opinion polling. And I’d like to think that from now on, we recognize how important the role of social media plays in our information gathered from public interest polling. Of course, I may be slightly “skewed” on my opinon!



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