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Sentiment analysis has become unreliable, but you can get around that

(MARKETING) Gathering sentiment analysis on your brand is a standard marketing practice, but new studies reveal the data is increasingly unreliable – here’s how to combat this trend.

Man drinking coffee looking at phone for reviews.

Turns out it isn’t just the average Joe who should be worried about misleading information online. Brands should be equally concerned about the accuracy of consumer perception. The basics of sentiment analysis are as old as the pandora’s box of asking for someone’s opinion. However, a study by the Harvard Business Review has shown that online vs. offline consumer reactions should be treated differently.

Sentiment analysis is the computational process of categorizing a person’s attitude towards a product, brand, topic, or campaign as “positive”, “negative”, or “neutral” by digesting their linguistic patterns in their posts and comments.

It’s essentially the uphill battle of turning subjective feelings into actionable or useful data. The problem is finding accurate trends when 60 percent of sentiment analysis studies yield overall “neutral” attitudes. Not all that helpful…

Essentially, online reactions are rooted in extremes. We all have been or have that friend who posts about finding “this amazing product/brand” and must let all passing scrollers know about this new obsession.

Alternatively, some try to perform a civic duty by warning others about a poor experience to save their social media friends from the same grief. Whatever said in that comment or post is likely filled with intense emotion, equivalent to someone running out into the road to yell their feelings to anyone who’ll listen.

Secondly, the spectrum of consumer reactions can be too wide. With the rise of fake accounts and bots, accepting feedback wholesale can lead to too much noise or misleading sentiments. Specificity is key, especially when A.I. and algorithms still have trouble recognizing irony, hyperbole, and humor. (Memes, anyone?) Feedback can be more accurate by targeting phrases such as “will buy” or “won’t buy”. For bigger brands, random, sentiment sampling can also help narrow the focus.

Finally, the sentiment analysis tools should vary. There are a growing number of resources with Hootsuite Insight, Rapidminer, and Social Mention just to name a few. Different tools can help create a better picture of consumer reactions — just follow the trail of hashtags!

The minefield of online interaction hasn’t gotten any safer despite a public awareness for fake news. Context is still a tricky thing. But subjectivity still makes the world go ’round (in my opinion), and we can see the value in feedback even though it may require playing with fire.

Staff Writer, Allison Yano is an artist and writer based in LA. She holds a BFA in Applied Visual Arts and Minor in Writing from Oregon State University, and an MFA in Fine Art from Pratt Institute. Her waking hours are filled with an insatiable love of storytelling, science, and soy lattes.

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