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@MentionMachine tracks the presidential candidates: Who’s up, who’s down on Twitter?

By Cory Haik, and ,

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination Aug. 13, the same day as the Ames Straw Poll, those watching social streams could have rightfully assumed he had won the Iowa contest. Twitter exploded with Perry mentions, even though he didn’t participate in the straw poll, while the winner, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), drew far less attention. Social media was the writing on the wall. Perry would soon trend up in polls, surpassing Bachmann and the rest of the field. Twitter was the early — scratch that — Twitter was the real-time warning system.

The chart above shows the number of times Bachmann, Perry and Mitt Romney were mentioned on Twitter during the weekend of the straw poll. Shortly after Bachmann lost the buzz war to Perry, her poll numbers plummeted.

Traditionally, several barometers have been used to gauge the success of a campaign: polling data, fundraising totals, ad spending and endorsements, among others. Now social media success, especially via Twitter, is the newest measurable campaign benchmark.

@MentionMachine is a new Washington Post news app that monitors Twitter and media across the Web for political candidate mentions, revealing trends and spikes that show where the conversation is and why. It launched Jan. 3, the day of the Iowa caucuses, and will run through the presidential election in November.

There are a few ways Twitter variables, or mentions, can be measured or extrapolated to examine trends in campaigns. 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. There are many engagement presentations across The Washington Post site that will display @MentionMachine counts to show these variables.

How @MentionMachine Works

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Toolbar — An overlay on Washington Post campaign coverage showcases @MentionMachine “scores” for each presidential candidate. These scores represent the total number of Twitter mentions per candidate in the last week:

Candidate analysis — Data-rich pages for each presidential candidate include interactive charts detailing Twitter trends and spikes over the last week, along with media mentions and recent headlines for each candidate:

Candidate comparisons — A leaderboard tracks Twitter and media mention “scores” for all the presidential candidates: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Barack Obama.

@MentionMachine on Twitter — Follow @MentionMachine for daily stats on the presidential candidates, Top Tweets and our analysis into the latest presidential campaign tags and trends.

@MentionMachine Methodology and Functionality

@MentionMachine was developed exclusively by The Washington Post. It leverages the Twitter streaming API to capture and analyze Tweets that include either the candidate’s official Twitter handle or mentions the candidate’s first and last name together in a tweet.

Top Tweets are identified as tweets driving the conversation around a candidate at a given period of time. These tweets are scored by @MentionMachine based on the similarity of keywords within candidate streams; to provide a greater variety of tweets, this Top Tweet calculation factors overall keyword mentions (not just retweets).

Some tweets may be filtered out based on Washington Post conversation standards, but will still be counted in overall candidate scores.

Media mention counts are derived by leveraging the Trove API to count candidate mentions from across more than 10,000 blog and news sites. Trove is a personalized news platform owned by The Washington Post Co.

The @MentionMachine Roadmap

The January 2012 launch of @MentionMachine is our first release. Our team will begin developing additional releases shortly thereafter. While we have many ideas — ranging from integrating sentiment analysis, sourcing from more social media streams, creating public widgets to pulling paid search data — we are eager to hear what you think about the machine.

Tweet your thoughts to @MentionMachine or e-mail haikc[at]washpost[dot]com.

@MentionMachine, Brought to You By...

Cory Haik , Executive Producer

Sean McBride and Jesse Foltz, Developers

Amanda Zamora , Digital Editor

Katie Parker, Designer

Natalie Jennings , Social Producer

© The Washington Post Company