For years, politicians have relied on small focus groups to test new messages, measure public opinion, and squeeze as much actionable information as possible out of a dozen or so pre-screened subjects. But as with everything else in the age of Internet politics, YouTube is providing political campaigns with new ways to evaluate information and formulate campaign strategy. Our new analytics tool, YouTube Insight, allows any video uploader to view detailed statistics about the videos that they upload to the site, including aggregated information about the age, sex, and geographical location of their viewership over time. You can also see how people found your video -- whether by searching on YouTube or Google, browsing related videos, or visiting blogs and other websites.
For campaigns with "Politician" channels on the site, this means improving their ability to understand -- and engage with -- the millions of voters that make YouTube the world's largest focus group.
For example, Steve Novick, who the New York Times declared the first major YouTube candidate, narrowly lost the Democratic Senate nomination in Oregon. While the campaign knew their success on YouTube was substantial, the site itself still seemed like a black box. A Novick strategist told the New York Times, "We don't know how many people who saw the ads were Oregon voters, as opposed to people in Norway."
Here's what the Novick campaign could have learned using Insight:
* The most views in the United States did, in fact, come from Oregon. (The most views in Scandinavia came from Sweden, not Norway.) Novick also had a strong following in California.
* His viewers skewed older and the vast majority were men (84%). Over 30% of his viewers were in the age range of 45-55.
* Throughout the entire campaign, novickforsenate.org was the main source of traffic for his videos. However, in the week prior to the May 20 Oregon primary, the political blog TPM Election Central was responsible for over one-third of all views coming from external websites. Novick's own website was a distant second.
There are many ways both national and local candidates can use this information on and off of YouTube. Is an ad about Iraq more popular in Virginia or Colorado? Do videos about health care skew old or young? Does an ad targeted on television to New Mexico get most of its views online from the same state? Are there national pockets of support from which a local candidate might fundraise?
With five months until November, look for more and more politicians using Insight to determine how effective their content is for which demographics. Online video is a new tool in 21st century political campaigning and this kind of data is invaluable to understanding how to use it.