ImageThe popularity and use of social networks has created a whole new world of communications.  A trip to a restaurant, department store or the automotive garage comes with a compelling need to take photos, post a comment and to illicit an approving ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.  Suppliers are no longer under the protective scrutiny of an internal customer approval questionnaire but subjected to unsolicited opinions.  The logic is that unorchestrated random opinions from a much larger base will reveal truth, or does it?

The ‘yin and yang’ of opinion polls comes with it a fundamental understanding that these are unbridled opinions.  They often employ human dynamics, both responsibly and irresponsibly.  I’m sure you have seen those cases where an opinion become the center of the discussion and not necessarily the focus relative to the subject under review.  Let’s take consider a couple of examples a;

  • 4 Star Restaurant vs. a Fast Food Chain, and
  • Movie debut.

ImageIn the first case photo may or may not due the establishment justice.  At the sametime socially driven ‘likes’ are apt to occur more often for the 4 Star establishment and less so for the Food Chain.  In fact social stigma about nutritional value of food chains can occur without so much as having set foot into the restaurant.  Which brings up an important point… opinions rendered DO NOT need to have engaged contact.  In other words we can easily give an opinion on NO BASIS what so ever.  So what can we conclude from this??  Simply that opinions are in fact a general social opinion and will include both authoritative and subjective input.

A premier movie appears in town accompanied by fanfare driven by marketing.  It creates possibly a cult following (as it did with the Spiderman movie).  If the general opinion, pre-viewing is positive, then there is a persuasive pressure to giving a likewise positive opinion. Sure there are those people who will exercise truthful opinion but often this is overshadowed by peer coherence.  Using the likes and dislikes one must fragment the opinions into the popular category and dissenting group.  The dissenting group needs to be examined to better understand whether its simply an opinion or whether there are elements that can be considered (e.g. length of movie, lingering plot, animation quality and so on).  Sometimes the answers are not in popularity but in the legitimacy of the countering opinions shared.

It goes without saying… we need to understand that while we may amass opinions that there are people, users and non-users (but with experience) that may never give an opinion.  This is not a 100% effort, but neither was internal questionnaires.

Making Heads and Tails

So what are the givens associated with superficial social analytics?  Includes,

  • Direct and indirect opinions,
  • Opinions influenced by dominant social attitudes,
  • Often incomplete rationale behind both negative (and sometimes positive feelings), and
  • A single population group from which further examination and analysis will be performed.  DO NOT mix with other sources of input because of the random nature of the unsolicited collection process.

To make sense from all of this we should take a closer look at what drives opinions.  Social opinion can be driven by,

  • Events(something going on involving the enterprise),
  • Groups (person, group, blog association or adware sources), or
  • News (ranging from a single person’s opinion to a pervasive news event).

ImageKeep in mind that people can create viral conditions in which a single post is then propagated out to their connections (appropriate called Friends since we seldom see cases where we host a connection with non-friends.  We won’t delve into the depth of friendship but suffice to say that there is some bond… whether intimate or superficial).  Viral conditions can and often drive opinion giving… sometimes to the negative as a feeding frenzie and other times as a means to be a part.  I’m sure we have all seen those ’cause’ opinions where it would not be welcomed to give a pro-opinion such as in matters about religion, women’s rights/sexuality, politics, etc.).

To use superficial social analytics in a positive and constructive fashion the benefactor of opinions needs to accept first and foremost that they are not perfect.  If this were the case than one should be questioning whether the analytics are doing the job in which we are expecting them to do.  It is quite customary for benefactors to utilize superficial social analytics to make change, better understand social opinion and possible reveal other opportunities that may exist.  We can find these bits of information in understanding several elements hidden within the analytics,

  • number of opinions given,
  • time slices in which they were received,
  • general consensus,
  • dissenting votes,
  • comments (and the legitimacy which can be subjectively evaluated from the tone and professionalism of the commenting party.  ‘It sucks’ carries a bit less weigh than an opinion that says ‘The service was horrible both in terms of the food availability and the attitudes of the wait staff’.).

As superficial social analytic opinions are evaluate (which needs to be done on a frequent ongoing regular basis) one must keep protective attitudes in check.  Its far too easy to become defensive and discount the value of the analytics.  The question becomes whether this is so difficult that an independent party should provide this (and follow on supporting methods).  Likewise one must also determine whether an independent would also overlook or assume certain matters that the benefactor would not, because of their knowledge.  Simply put… the understanding and evaluation of superfically generated social analytics is not a casual exercise but one that demands significant understanding of what goes on behind the scenes.

ImageThere remains one important item that deals with the ‘Like’ campaign.  Many benefactors and their surrogate social network engineers roll out campaigns to solicit opinions.  Sometimes these are the time of creating the social network page while at other times done as a separate downstream effort.  Understand that there is a difference in results produced overtime (often shown in the time slice dynamic) and those coming out of a solicitation initiative.  Solicitation initiatives are often surrounded by other efforts such as promotions, news events or direct requests and thus legitimizing the reason to give an opinion.  Those woven into the fabric of the group site serve as an outlet.  To increase the feedback incentives may be used to further the cause.

Conclusion

In the world we live in today individual or institutions are on a quest for insight into the opinions of others.  We sometimes fail to remember that if you ask the question  you need to be prepared to accept the worse possible answer.  But without an aware of the answer one may blissfully overlook the opportunity for self-controlled change.  Superficially Social Analytics provide us with a tool driven that when driven by  proper diligent attention can become useful and not simply something to foster a knee jerk reaction.

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