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Monday, November 15, 2010

"Neutral Sentiment" in Social Media

As Social Media Monitoring and Measurement becomes increasingly defined and sophisticated, it appears that the communications industry is beginning to settle on common terminology regarding results or impact. But one important area where differences remain is on the meaning of the crucial term "Sentiment" - specifically "Neutral Sentiment." There are even those who claim that there simply is no such thing as neutral sentiment and that it is, in fact, a contradiction in terms.

There are literally hundreds of new tools, dashboards, programs and technical widgets flooding the market place to help organizations know who is talking about them in the digital/social media sphere, what they are saying, how often they are talking about them ("frequency") and whether that talk is positive or negative ("sentiment"). These tools can be extraordinarily complex, graphically illustrated and expensive, or they can be simple and free. (The New York Times just jumped in with its article on companies trying to cash in on social media monitoring).

Positive or negative sentiment is determined in a number of ways as these tools crawl the internet. Mostly, sentiment is identified through a predefined dictionary of qualitative descriptor words that have been applied in social media to a product or an organization. Sometimes it is simply a key word search and other times it involves artificial intelligence technology. Then, these data are pulled into a report, a matrix or even a "heat map." As an illustration, perhaps it's green for positive, red for negative and tan for neutral. It seems obvious what words or whole conversations will result in a positive or negative pixel added to the "map," but, what would be "neutral"?

Some social media experts I've spoken to say that's easy - any time a product or organization name is mentioned without any descriptive word or adjective, it is deemed neutral. This runs against an old PR maxim, "As long as they spell your name correctly, all news is good news." We don't fully subscribe to that view but it's a good place to start the discussion.

Other experts argue that the internet is filled with SPAM and automatic updates and auto-triggered responses from companies that couldn't possibly meaningfully contribute to users' sentiment.

Even if professional communicators can agree on a meaningful definition of neutral, what does a company or organization do with this information? I suppose they would want to engage these "non-opinionators" and move them to a positive, non-neutral perspective. But how?
For more discussion on this subject here is a recent discussion from Fresh Networks.

What are your thoughts? Or are you neutral on the issue?

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