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What Does the New 'Tweets per Minute' Metric Really Mean?


Are the metrics generated by social media actually relevant?

But what do TPM or Facebook friends have to do with public sentiment?

On his website, Adam Scheweigert, Director of Technology for Investigative News Network, offers four reasons why we should be skeptical of any "story" being fed to us by Twitter or any other social media company.

Twitter followers and Facebook fans can be bought. This is probably the simplest and most common critique of using these metrics for anything really. Since fans and followers can be bought (pretty easily, Google it) these numbers tend to not tell us much at all other than which candidate is best at getting Facebook fans or Twitter followers. (See what I did there?)
"Tweets per minute" or "mentions" are only a measure of activity. They don't tell us how many of those said positive things or negative. These numbers MIGHT (in some cases) tell us something about enthusiasm, or perhaps which side of the political spectrum is more active on Facebook or Twitter, but they also don't tell us who is "winning".

Sentiment is hard to measure. When you see a reported metric that says X% of tweets were positive and Y% were negative, be deeply skeptical. I know I am, and here's why: Measuring sentiment is still very difficult and the tools we have are not nearly as accurate as we would like. For example: "That speech was sick!" To a computer, that's negative, but we know better, right? Some tools are getting better at this, but to please the statisticians, you'd have to go through and manually code each and every tweet or status update, by hand, and use your human brain (note: still subjective) to better determine the sentiment of each post before you could tally up the final percentage.

These metrics (often) come from dubious (single) sources. Is Twitter really a disinterested party? Should we trust the numbers they report? Do we know anything about their methodology? Could we verify their numbers independently? Is there another source for this data? I have no doubt that they have sophisticated tools for monitoring and analyzing activity on their network, but I'm equally sure they are selective in what they choose to share with the public. They also have a vested interest in making Twitter seem like it is driving the political conversation (same for Facebook) when this may or may not actually be the case. I would love for someone to do that story.
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