Mixed Emotions – Facebook grapples with the art of surfacing sentiment

Colin Parker May 26 2016

Surfacing Sentiment for Digital Marketing - Facebook Dislike & Emoji - Portent
Amazon and Google are duking it out for your voice-controlled living room for some very specific, obvious reasons. I’m going to go out on a limb on one: whoever does the best job of quantifiably surfacing sentiment from users across digital mediums will win. And by “win,” I mean like everything. The new car, the camper-trailer, the jet-skis, naming rights to the next planet…everything.

So if it’s all about the living room and the way consumers search for answers or products, why does Facebook’s introduction of a “dislike” button or emojis even matter to marketers?

It matters because the short-hand language of digital sentiment is being created, right now, right in front of us. And it has everything to do with sharing.

Owning the search data for an entire household is enormously powerful; no argument. But measuring a user’s emotional engagement with a written post, or a video, or a specific product requires that we go beyond surface metrics like searches, clicks, and time on page. Yes, even voice-searches through my Google-robot-butler.

Does my content win hearts and minds? Surfacing sentiment today.

For a lot of us in digital, today that means evaluating our strongest conversion paths, and making post hoc assumptions about whether a series of page-views in a certain order means “happy,” “needs convincing,” “not finding what I want,” etc.

We rightly evaluate this data against our user journey maps, and adjust our models based on how accurately we predicted some final outcome (hopefully a huge conversion). Rinse and repeat.

But all content marketing best practices aside, I’ll wager that if I offered you the ability to have a face-to-face conversation with a prospective customer, while they were exploring your content, immediately after they’d voluntarily taken a healthy dose of truth serum, you might be interested.

Hint: Listening to customers talk to each other about your products in a store is really similar.

If you had the choice, would you simply stop at “yes, or no?” “Buy, or don’t buy?“ “Like or Dislike?”

Today, Facebook is talking about how to let its users express themselves more fully or accurately, without opening the door too much wider to the troll in each of us.

But see this move for what it truly is: step one toward a quantum leap forward in sentiment mining for marketing.

Text analysis is well and good, but if Facebook can iterate its way to a set of communication tools including “like” buttons, “dislike” buttons, and other more subtly positive or negative stickers, it stands to make huge gains in its on-site advertising program, which, by the way, revolves entirely around its data offering to marketers.

The biggest question on my mind at this point is still whether Facebook can act patiently enough to make these new emotional signs a social norm, or if they’ll rush in and create a passing fancy.

If the holy grail of digital marketing is surfacing sentiment, at scale, and turning that into truly actionable insight, the process of collecting it must be at worst benign. It can’t be blunt. And it can’t get in the way. It has to be a truly useful set of tools that fit our lives and bend to our moods, good and bad.

Oh, and by the way, whoever does pull off creating the shorthand language for sharing sentiment between people wins social media for the next ten years.