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First Real-time Search, Now Real-time Sentiment. But Does It Work?

Real-time search is just now coming into its own as can be seen with Google's upgrades Thursday - giving SEO marketers another tech development to incorporate into their strategies. The industry is giving them little breathing space, though, with the advent of the next big "real-time" development: sentiment tracking.

Increasingly firms are applying analytics to judge and keep track of the popularity or success of a new film, say, or product. One example is ESPN, which plans to use Viralheat’s free real-time access to data it is collecting on certain topics, to show live popularity rankings for NFL teams (via Technology Review).

Natural-Language Processing

In the case of Viralheat, natural-language processing and machine learning is used to comb through social media to pinpoint or quantify collective sentiment. Another example is HCD Research, which is launching a new service aimed at pharmaceutical marketers that analyzes consumers' and physicians' sentiment and emotions associated with their particular brand and competitor brands. Called NetClassRX, the service helps medical marketers sift through digital conversations about their brands and competitor brands via proprietary algorithms.

Bigger Dashboard

While such offerings are still experimental for many marketers, those in the field believe they will become a commonplace tool in the future. Ed Chi, area manager for the Palo Alto Research Center's Augmented Social Cognition team, says companies will eventually recognized the value of tracking sentiment as part of a public-relations effort. "Sentiment analysis will be a component of a much larger dashboard," Chi says. (via Technology Review).

Certainly there are signs of real-time social media data infiltrating all sorts of enterprises.  A new effort at Gatorade is charting social media comments about its brand in real time - and using the results to craft new campaigns on the fly. Researchers at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Lab in Cherry Hill are planning to track the 2010 hurricane season - not through weather maps and TV reports - but through photos and messages on social-media websites. It is studying posts on Twitter and YouTube during disasters and political conflicts as part of a growing field of research on the intersection of disaster relief and ever-evolving social media.

Does It Work?

The bottom line for marketers, though, is do these applications correspond to real-world developments?

A hint of an answer is, ironically enough, provided by Viralheat, which recently spent a month tracking one million social media mentions right as nine major TV shows were airing their season finales, Mashable reports. It looked at data from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google Buzz and then compared the social media buzz with the Nielsen TV ratings for each show. It wanted to know - does chatter on the web equate to eyeballs on TV screens?

The research determined that online buzz does not always correlate with ratings. The sentiment analysis of social media chatter casts those mentions in a new light "as even when ratings are lukewarm (as was the case for the Lost season finale) social media chatter can be overwhelming in volume. But a lot of those mentions online expressed a negative sentiment."

All in all, Viralheat found that Nielsen ratings combined with social media sentiment analysis provided the best snapshot of how a show’s season finale performed with viewers, Mashable said.

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