Sarah Palin’s new "Mama Grizzlies" video drew strong reactions from many reporters, politicos and critics. An analysis of viewer data, however, shows that Palin’s video actually failed to reach or excite her base.
In the week since it was first posted on Palin’s Facebook page, which boasts over 1.8 million backers, the video has drawn 368,000 views. Yet despite her large following, only 33,000 people watched the video via Facebook, according to YouTube statistics. That means only one out of ten viewers found "Mama Grizzlies" through Palin’s social network—and under 2 percent of her Facebook community watched the video. So who did watch "Mama Grizzlies"?
Mostly traditional news readers and Palin detractors.
Almost a third of all views came through an article on Yahoo! News, for example, while ratings for the video ran almost two-to-one for "dislike" over "like." "The bulk of the views seem to come after it had been covered in the mainstream media," observes Pete Warden, a social media analyst who has studied Palin’s Facebook strategy. "She is still reaching a lot more people indirectly through the media than through Facebook and Twitter and the other direct channels," added Warden, a former engineer at Apple.
It’s quite a feat. Palin blasts the "lamestream" media while claiming to commune directly with her base, which draws extensive media coverage for an effort that actually reaches a tiny number of people. Without the media assist, though, Palin would just be sitting on a Facebook page with 2 percent participation and a YouTube video with niche numbers. (As is, "Mama Grizzlies" is not exactly Double-Rainbow material; it would place below this week’s top ten political videos for overall views.) Some reporters are catching on. "I hope we don’t hear from Sarah Palin about media bias anymore," Chuck Todd recently said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, "because it is amazing the ability this woman has to get media attention with as little as she does, whether it’s a Twitter or a Facebook update."
For tangible political impact, the distinction between symbiotic media coverage and direct mobilization is crucial. New research by political scientist Kevin Wallsten, for example, found that viral campaign hits like the "Yes We Can" Obama video, which topped 5 million views in one month, are driven by political organizing and citizen blogs, not traditional media coverage.
I raised this dynamic with an experienced political web operative—who did not want to go on record antagonizing Palin—and this pol argued that while Palin can drive magazine covers and book sales, her core political support remains vastly overstated. "More of the viewers were people critical of her rather than fans, although the lazy implication is for people to say, ‘Look at all her fans, she has 300k views on YouTube,’ " said the operative, adding, "She doesn’t have real support among actual people, even Republican primary voters. She is a self-perpetuating phenomenon of, by and for the media."
While Palin is undoubtedly a media force, when it comes to activating even her own core supporters, she looks more like a paper grizzly.
An official for SarahPAC, which produced the "Mama Grizzlies" video, did not dispute any of the statistics when contacted for fact-checking, or provide any specific comment to questions about Palin’s online outreach. The official did include this closing in an email reply: "We kindly direct you to her Facebook page where she most frequently comments. Thank you for your inquiry."