Social media a better predictor than polling

March 12, 2012 | By | Reply More

The world’s biggest focus group for brands

Troy Media – by Doug Lacombe    

When you want to do a gut check on consumer opinion, there’s nothing like a quick focus group to tell you what you don’t know.

Researchers will tell you, quite rightly, that focus groups are not statistically valid. They are a form of qualitative not quantitative research and thus can’t be extrapolated to any larger population. Pollsters and marketers will also tell you how useful they can be to unearth hidden sentiment or to shape more formal research.

Data mining Twitter

Social media is becoming a bit like the world’s largest focus group. In some cases it goes beyond that to a sample size that is sufficiently large and thus random to accurately predict outcomes. Occasionally it predicts as well or better than traditional polling.

Take for example the UK political/media tool Tweetminster that was used to analyze tweets and predict the 2010 UK election. As reported at the time in The Guardian “Tweetminster regularly revised its predictions throughout the campaign and as it gathered more data from Twitter, ultimately processing more than two million tweets by election day, it became more and more accurate . . . the results proved as accurate as traditional opinion polls, with a definite correlation between the visibility of a candidate on twitter and their performance at the polls.”

More recently, Twitter data mining and analysis was applied to American politics, accurately predicting outcomes about half the time in the recent Super Tuesday race. CIO Today wrote: “The science of applying predictive analytics to Twitter is still in its infancy . . . Social-analytics firm Attensity had offered Super Tuesday predictions based on analyzing tweets, and ended up being about half right. Part of the problem lies in a lack of location-based data about Twitter users’ tweets – info that is scarce on Twitter.”

Of course, data mining Twitter is not just about politics. There’s the fairly well known correlation between tweet sentiment and box office performance that has grabbed Hollywood’s attention.

One firm, California-based Fizziology, has made an impressive business of such predictive modeling. In their words “Fizziology uses real-time information from the world’s largest, fastest, most honest focus group – social media – to provide meaningful business insights. Using a proprietary system, Fizziology monitors social media buzz from Facebook, Twitter and blogs on everything from movies to talent to brands.” By all reports, they are predicting box office outcomes of major studio releases more accurately than traditional accepted methods.

All of which makes last week’s news that Twitter has sold access to its archives all the more fascinating. As reported by Reuters “Twitter users are about to become major marketing fodder, as two research companies get set to release information to clients who will pay for the privilege of mining the data.”

Gnip Inc. of Boulder Colorado and UK-based DataSift will soon be selling access to tweets archived as far back as 30 days (Gnip) or up to two years (DataSift). For brands, this is like having two years of focus groups just waiting to be tapped. As DataSift founder Nick Halstead said recently “With Historics we’ve democratized and simplified how businesses can unlock insights from billions of social conversations.”

Not everyone is thrilled about this turn of events. From Reuters:

Creepy but legal

“It’s frustrating, and telling, that now marketers have greater access to my old tweets than I do,” said Rebecca Jeschke, digital rights analyst and spokeswoman for the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “However, this is perfectly legal, if creepy. If you publish your tweets publicly, that allows all sorts of folks to do all sorts of things with them.”

Just as we’ve been telling marketers about our consumer preferences by using loyalty cards for years, now we’re volunteering our thoughts on Twitter, making them available for data mining.

If you don’t like that, you have no one to blame but yourself and your 140 character impulses.

Doug Lacombe is president of Calgary social media agency communicatto. Find him on Twitter at @dblacombe.

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Category: Social Media

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