Can social media predict tonight’s winner of “The Voice”?

Earlier on in the season, I’d have said an emphatic “no” based on the correlation (or lack thereof) between buzz on Twitter, positive buzz on Twitter, number of followers on Twitter, week-to-week growth in followers on Twitter, Klout score — and just about anything else I could measure — and the actual results. The past couple of weeks, however, have gotten slightly better results, and that could be for several reasons:

  • Better odds in general as the number of contestants declines.
  • More focused social media discussion of the remaining contestants — i.e., less “noise” — overlapping better with voting behavior.
  • More audience engagement as we hit the semi-finals and finals, similar to what we see with big-time sports (e.g., Super Bowl, March Madness, NBA finals, Stanley Cup raise the volume of discussion over what you see in the regular season).

Remember, too, that we are using Twitter buzz only as a proxy for voting behavior — tweets don’t actually count in the voting. What does count is telephone voting, SMS voting (but only if you’re on Sprint), Facebook voting and iTunes downloads, this last category having a disproportionately large effect with sufficient volume. We do not have access to any of the metrics for these sources, so the experiment has been to see how well buzz on Twitter correlates with the outcomes each week. So this is the final week of the experiment for this season.

So let’s look at overall Twitter buzz:

voice all 2013-06-18 at 2.22.52 PM

And now restrict the view to only “positive” buzz:

voice positive 2013-06-18 at 2.25.52 PM

This does change the order between Michelle and Danielle if we look at the Top Entities view; the Swon Brothers are a distant third in both sets of metrics. We could posit that the Swons’ fan base doesn’t tweet, but that actually runs counter to generally observed engagement levels — the brothers are very active on Twitter compared with the other two contestants, not just with posting but also with replies and retweets. Perhaps two is better than one for keeping the chatter high.

Another interesting phenomenon became apparent in the buzz charts if we look at Top Hashtags: Michelle has a hashtag, #4eyesontheprize, that didn’t exist when I set the topic up, so this tag is not being counted in her totals under Top Entities. This means that her numbers are potentially higher than the Entity chart shows, though only for tweets that contain that hashtag and no other reference to her. So we can’t simply add the two numbers together. There’s also another telling phenomenon in that in overall buzz, #teamusher beats #teamblake, even though Team Blake has two of the three finalists. However, those numbers look vastly different if we just look at positive buzz. The thing about the sentiment coding here, though, is that it favors precision over recall, which is a somewhat technical way of saying it undercounts rather than overcounts. So when push comes to shove, I’m going with the old Oscar Wilde adage: “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” — any buzz at all trumps positive buzz.

In that vein, however, we do have to remember that Danielle has consistently out-buzzed Michelle in many of the other weeks, and also that Danielle has more than 40% more followers than Michelle. On the other hand, follower counts have not correlated at all well with actual results, neither for “The Voice” nor for “American Idol”. Also, this week’s overall volume is significantly higher than in those previous weeks, so we’ll assume it follows the engagement trend of other finales, in which overall votes or other forms of engagement tend to correlate with viewing audience.

Anyway, it would appear the numbers are telling us that the Swon Brothers get third, and that there’s a somewhat conflicted picture of whether Danielle or Michelle wins, but I’m going with the overall buzz numbers and calling it for Team Usher’s Michelle Chamuel.

One last side note: it appears that “Voice” executives finally ponied up to Twitter, as all finalists’ Twitter accounts are now verified. In Twitter-speak, that means they now count as celebrities. 🙂

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