The 2018 presidential election in Finland, some observations from a news analytics perspective

The presidential elections 2018 in Finland were quite lame. The incumbent president, Sauli Niinistö, was a very strong candidate from the offset and was predicted to win in the first round, which he did. You can read more about the elections for instance on Wikipedia.

Boring election or not, from an analytics perspective there is always something interesting to learn. So I dug into the data and tried to understand how the elections had played out on our site, hbl.fi (which is the largest swedish language news site in Finland).

We published a total of 275 articles about the presidential election of 2018. 15 of these were published already in 2016, but the vast majority (123) was pubslished in January 2018.

Among the readers the interest for the elections grew over time, which might not be that extraordinery (for Finnish circumstances at least). Here are the pageviews per article over time (as Google Analytics samples the data heavily i used Supermetrics to retrieve the unsampled data – filtering on a custom dimension to get only the articles about the election):

President_2018_per_day

Not much interesting going on there. So, I also took a look at the traffic coming in via social media. Twitter is big in certain circles, but not really that important a driver of traffic to our site. Facebook, on the other hand, is quite interesting.

Using Supermetrics again, and doing some manual(!) work too, I matched the Facebook post reach for a selection of our articles to the unsampled pageviews measured by Google Analytics.  From this, it is apparent that approximately one in ten persons reached on Facebook ended up reading our articles on our site. Or more, as we know that some of the social media traffic is dark.

The problem with traffic that originates from Facebook is that people tend to jump in and read one article and then jump out again. Regarding the presidential elections this was painfully clear, the average pageviews was down to 1,2 for sessions originating from Facebook. You can picture this as: Four out of five people read only the one article that was linked to Facebook and then they leave our site. One out of five person reads an additional article and then decides to leave. But nobody reads three or more articles. This is something to think about – we get a good amount of traffic on these articles from Facebook but then we are not that good at keeping the readers on board. There’s certainly room for improvement.

What about the content then? Which articles interested the readers? Well, with good metadata this is not that difficult an analysis. Looking at the articles split by the candidate they covered and the time of day the article was published:

President_2018_per_candidate

(The legend of the graph is in swedish => “Allmän artikel” means a general article, i.e. either it covered many candidates or it didn’t cover any candidates at all.)

Apart from telling us which candidates attracted the most pageviews, this also clearly shows how many articles were written about which candidate. A quite simple graph in itself, a scatter diagram coloured by the metadata, but revealing a lot of information. From this graph there are several take aways; at what time should we (not) publish, which candidates did our readers find interesting, should we have written more/less about one candidate or the other. When you plot these graphs for all different kinds of meta data, you get a quite interesting story to tell the editors!

So even a boring election can be interesting when you look at the data. In fact, with data, nothing is ever boring 😉

 

A note about the graphs: The first graph in this post was made with Google Sheets’ chart function. It was an easy to use, and good enough, solution to tell the story of the pageviews. Why use something more fancy? The second graph I drew in Tableau, as the visualisation options are so much better there than in other tools. I like using the optimal tool for the task, not overkilling easy stuff with importing it to Tableau, but also not settling for lesser quality when there is a solution using a more advanced tool. If I had the need to plot the same graphs over and over again, I would go with an R-script to decrease the need of manual clicking and pointing.

 

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