No Love Lost on Sentimental Value

The word "sentiment," according to, means "an attitude toward something; regard; opinion." OK, so here's my opinion on sentiment analysis: Its utility for marketing professionals woefully lags behind how people use social media.

In other words, apply a big dose of caution in how you apply value to the sentiments expressed on social sites. We have a long way to go before meaningful analysis can enhance business strategy with a deep understanding of customer sentiment toward a product or service.

It's not that sentimental value doesn't have its place, particularly from an analytics perspective. Sentimental value requires measurement, after all. But its measurement methodology differs from what we've used for Websites so far.

Web analytics began with IT professionals evaluating server log files to count server "hits" as representing site visits. But with the advent of JavaScript codes and HTML page tags, digital marketing objectives not only became easier but also achievable. Subsequent success stories showed that Web analytics were as essential as any other business activity.

But consumer sentiment appears on the algorithms of social media platforms as well as on Web pages. With current social media analytics tools approaching message exposure in different ways, capturing the value underlying a comment includes some unrefined assumptions. You can deduce a visitor's impression of a Website from measurements such as average time on the site and number of page views. But does a word shown in a social media feed really constitute an "impression" that truly influences followers?

Another challenge is this: The algorithms in a social media feed rely on simple terms to display a person's sentiment, yet the linguistic definition of sentiment implies complex thought behind the expression. So how does a marketer get to the complex thoughts that lead to an action?

A great example is a recent Twitter trend on the phrase "White Diamonds," which became popular when Elizabeth Taylor died. But did that trend translate into sales for White Diamonds, her fragrance for women?

I did a quick Google search. While the term trended during the news reports of Taylor's death, I saw no indication of an associated increase in sales for the perfume. In fact, I discovered White Diamonds was already the top-selling celebrity-endorsed fragrance in the world. So what lift could be expected from sentiment when you are at the top of the game?

Now, you could correctly argue that data has no value without its human interpretation. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the training and insight of the given beholder in this case, the business intelligence analyst, is still playing catch-up to the fluid changes of the Internet. Even the technology is catching up. Just recently, Google and Webtrends updated their solutions with enhanced social media measurement capability, for example. offers another definition for sentiment: a thought influenced by or proceeding from feeling or emotion. But can 140 characters truly reflect one's thoughts?

A number of events and products stir a quick emotion, such as a song or a sports team. But for an engineered product, such as a car, you just aren't going to capture why people like it in a quick Tweet. And the more passionate someone is about such a product, especially if it has a strong community built up around it, the more detailed the explanation will be. Just ask an Apple MacBook Pro or a Porsche 911 owner.

In addition, you must account for cultural and contextual interpretation in analyzing expressed sentiments. Social media are offered on the go, rather than simply in front of a computer, so a marketer would have to deduce the context influencing the sentiment of a Tweet or series of Facebook comments, for example. Is the consumer sitting on a stalled train and venting about all things, products included, because he's harried? How can you tell?

Furthermore, getting to an understanding of context requires knowing where the consumer is located at the time of the Tweet. While the consumer must permit use of location information, this could tread into a negative sea of privacy management that can turn off consumers and make a sentimental value campaign a bust. To quote rap group Run DMC, when a consumer uses the word "bad," perhaps it's "not 'bad' meaning 'bad' but 'bad' meaning 'good.' " It's also tricky to get context.

How ready are we to assess sentimental value? As they say in Twitterland, #notwellatall.

Point / Counterpoint, Founder, Zimana

Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business analytics consultancy that reviews data from Web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and Web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability. He has conducted analysis for various small businesses and has also provided his business and engineering acumen at various corporations such as Ford Motor Co. He writes analytics articles for and Pitney Bowes Smart Essentials and contributes business book reviews for Small Business Trends. Pierre looks forward to providing All Analytics readers tips and insights tailored to small businesses as well as new insights from Web analytics practitioners around the world.

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Re: Great Promise Yet to be Realized?
  • 10/23/2011 1:36:08 PM

"I think there's been a lack of patience regarding free tools"

I think there is always the most criticism when it comes to the 'free' things. People feel entitled to want the world when things are free. But if you ask users to pay for it, the use of the same tool would probably drop by 40-50%.

Re: Great Promise Yet to be Realized?
  • 10/21/2011 5:58:43 AM

Thanks Ariella for providing the Klout poll - I read through a few of the comments, and will look over the thread more thoroughly. I liked the Klout survey comment that Klout is imperfect but its the best that we have for now. I think there's been a lack of patience regarding free tools.  Related to this post, understanding the context desired vs. measurement capability is extremely important.

Thanks so much for sharing the Klout poll.

Re: Great Promise Yet to be Realized?
  • 8/17/2011 11:53:10 PM

Thanks for the link, Ariella. Hope you and everyone else in the community will join us tomorrow Thursday Aug. 18 at 2 p.m. ET for a live chat with Joe and Pierre on the tropic of analytics for social media. See you then? 

Re: Great Promise Yet to be Realized?
  • 8/14/2011 12:25:05 PM

It is even debatable whether or not the analytics that claim to measure Twitter influence are doing so effectively. Focus posed that question about Klout: 

The overhwleming majority disagreed that Klout is legit as a the measure for online influence. 

Great Promise Yet to be Realized?
  • 8/11/2011 2:10:34 PM

Hi Pierre,

Yes, my feeling is that there is great promise here still to be realized. Is there a possibility that algorithms capable of judging sentiment from the semantics of a 140 character message on Twitter can be developed? Perhaps. Are we there yet? You tell me! I suspect the expertise can be developed but banking on it as a solid marketing tool may be another matter.

Emotional baggage
  • 8/11/2011 1:52:37 PM

Pierre -- I think you've hit the nail on the head here, aptly expressing the concerns a lot of people no doubt have about the effectiveness and usefulness of sentiment analysis for today's marketers. I'll be watching this sentiment analysis developments closely but try as I might otherwise will no doubt be doing so with a heavy dose skepticism.