As market researchers, our job is to collect and interpret thoughts and opinions on behalf of our customers. Our go-to approach is the survey, in which we ask respondents to answer specific questions, and we help our customers make decisions based on those answers. Very regimented. Very objective.
Sentiment, however, is another beast altogether. Many would argue that by asking specific questions, you inherently change the answer. Perhaps because the respondent is lying – to impress, or hide their true feelings – or maybe because the question is biased and influences the response. Maybe none of the available choices in a multiple choice question accurately reflects the respondents opinion, so they make something up. Or maybe they’re just tired of answering questions.
Sentiment, though, captures opinion in real time. It analyzes words and behavior in context; not necessarily in response to a specific question. Social media is a veritable treasure trove of sentiment, but it’s very difficult to truly capture. The objective metrics are easy – mentions, likes, retweets, etc. But that’s not really an accurate representation of sentiment. Finding meaning in all the noise is a Mt. Everest-sized challenge.
I recently had a conversation with Michael Tupanjanin, newly appointed President & CEO of a company called Metavana. Metavana is aiming to tackle this challenge head-on, and they’re bringing some pretty impressive mental muscle to the fight. The founder and chief scientific officer of Metavana is Dr. Minh Duong-van – a Stanford professor and physicist renowned for his work in understanding semantics and the origin of language. Dr. Minh is also credited as one of the founders of chaos theory. Also joining in the fight as a member of Metavana’s advisory board is Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and mathematician. Serious minds at work here.
Their goal, through the use of some pretty complex science, is derive real meaning from the voices of the social web; to distill sentiment in a way that is understandable and actionable. Metavana has spent the past three years focused on research and development, and they’re now in the process of applying the work they’ve done to a user-driven, self-service/SaaS model for public consumption.
This is exciting stuff. Harnessing the opinion the exists in the vapors of social media is no small task. To date, it has been limited objective metrics, but has yet to exist in a way that I’d consider meaningfully useful from a market research perspective. I’m very interested to see what Metavana has to bring to the table when they’re ready to launch.