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Opinion Overload - When Social Media Meest Research, How Do You Know What To Believe?

Posted By Ben Carlson, Monday, June 10, 2019

When there’s a “wow” moment at an awards show or when a new movie trailer drops online, people around the world grab their phones and race to social media to voice their opinions. Even more people jump on just to read the conversation.

And what a conversation it is! On Twitter alone, 500 million tweets are sent each day. That’s 6,000 tweets every single second. Add to that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Reddit and regional social sites like Sina Weibo (China) and VK (Russia). The conversation is massive, global and nearly instantaneous. But as we all know, social media is not real life. So can you believe the opinions you read when you scroll through social?

The answer—not surprisingly—is both yes and no.

Social media acts as the world’s biggest, fastest focus group. In near real time, you can see hundreds, thousands and even millions of opinions about any topic imaginable from people around the world. Before social media, this would have been impossible. And one of the largest topics of conversation across social media is entertainment. We have all seen how social can reflect pop culture phenomena such as Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones. It can give voice to smaller fan groups as well. Nearly every series and film has supporters on social media. These fan groups can help a show grow audience interest, drive tune-in, and in rare instances, even find a new home. Canceled shows like The Expanse, Brooklyn 99 and The Mindy Project have found new life on other networks or platforms thanks in part to rabid social fans.

The instant reactions available on social media can be addictive. Many producers race to Twitter to quickly get a first read on audience reactions to an announcement, the launch of marketing materials or the debut of their show or film.

And that is the point where social media can become misleading. From an anonymous perch online, people can lob negative opinions onto YouTube videos or Reddit threads. In the interest of attracting more attention, a negative joke can go viral on Twitter. Or a glance at mentions on Facebook may be glowingly positive, even if most audiences didn’t like something. There are a multitude of ways that social media can frustrate, confuse or mislead.

Separating the signal from the noise in social media is challenging. And while it may be tempting to disregard the social conversation because of this, there are valuable insights to be gleaned and a path to closer, faster connections to audience opinions. Here are a few important considerations to keep in mind when evaluating social opinions.

Beware the Trolls

Some people on social media just want to be negative. Often this negativity is in the interest of being seen as clever or funny. These negative comments can go viral—spreading quickly across social media and influencing the opinions of others. At other times, this negativity comes from a particular worldview that creates a knee-jerk reaction. An example of this occurs when fanboys take sides between Marvel and DC superhero films. Those fans will often be blindly positive to their chosen superhero brand of choice while talking negatively about the other. Stars can also stir “troll” behavior. High-profile talent with strong opinions or political stances can drive negative conversation unrelated to the series or film in which they appear. In today’s charged political climate, some audiences have a knee-jerk, negative reaction to a series or film based on issues related to the beliefs of the people behind it.

Negative conversation from trolls can be hurtful personally, but it usually does not have a material impact on the property with general audiences. Understanding if a negative opinion is a real reflection of an audience’s reaction or the work of an online troll is a key first step.

Context Matters

How many tweets does it take for a trailer launch to be considered successful? How many likes on an Instagram post are too few? There are hundreds of data points around social media. But unlike more straightforward metrics (like box office results or digital downloads, where more is better), there is not a single right way to read the results. For example, higher volume is usually good—unless that volume is driven by negative conversation, which could be a warning sign. So negative conversation is always bad then, right? Well, not for every type of entertainment property. With horror films, for example, a certain amount of negative conversation correlates positively to success.

Talented data scientists, digital marketing professionals and research analysts across the industry are working to define the markers of success. There are many theories and opinions, but one thing almost everyone can agree on is that a number in isolation—without benchmarks, comps or averages—is not a meaningful gauge of failure or success.

Owned vs. Organic

Almost everyone has some form of social media presence. An individual’s mentions (when someone tags them on Twitter or Instagram, for example) is a quick and easy way to see when someone is talking about them. This is also true for the social accounts of an entertainment property, such as a studio’s YouTube channel where they launch trailers, or a TV franchise’s official Facebook page. These “owned” social accounts, either for an individual or a property, are where fans gather to discuss something they care deeply about. A media investment can boost performance on these owned social channels, increasing views, shares and engagement. Owned social is relatively easy to measure and manage, but it only shows part of the story.

Organic social conversation consists of the mentions shared by people with their family, friends and fellow fans. These are posted on an individual’s own social channel and usually done without tagging the individual or property. Examples of this behavior are an Instagram post of a poster at a movie theater or a Facebook post about the latest bingeworthy sensation on a streaming platform. These are the real opinions in social, as people are using their social currency to let friends and followers know what they think. This organic conversation makes up the vast majority—over two-thirds—of the social conversation around the average film or television series.

Finding Needles in Haystacks

That organic conversation, however, can be very hard to find. Only about 20% of people use official hashtags or “@ names” when talking about a film or TV show on Twitter. So it’s important to search for untagged mentions to understand the full conversation. For a popular property or unique title, this is relatively simple. But it can be very hard for properties with titles such as Us or It. (And a caution against searching online for mentions of the Jason Segal comedy Sex Tape in any fashion!) Each social platform has slightly different search capabilities based on timing, search logic and privacy.

Tools of the Trade

There are a variety of tools to read and analyze the social conversation:

Social Media Platforms

  • Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all offer notifications for mentions, analytics for owned accounts and search functionality. There are more refined research tools, but this can be the fastest way to read opinions. Just beware that Twitter scrolling in the middle of a sleepless night can provoke nightmares.

DIY Tools

  • Subscription SaaS platforms allow searching in more refined and robust ways. These dashboards can yield results but take time to manage. They can be good for quick, specific searches. They are less helpful in creating context and rich insights without a significant investment of time.

Research Companies

  • There are full-service agencies that provide social research of all kinds. These research companies can offer richer analytics and insights but are often more expensive—and thorough analysis is slower than a quick search.

The Next Generation of Social Research

Facebook launched in 2004. Twitter started in 2006. Instagram emerged in 2010. These platforms have grown and evolved. So too has the research ecosystem that surrounds them. When Fizziology started in 2009, our core research was all performance-based. We answered question like “How did our trailer do?” and “Do audiences like our show?”

In the last decade, social research has expanded as radically as the social networks themselves. Some of this has been thanks to technological leaps forward, but much of it has been driven by clients who ask more challenging and important questions.

Here are a few of the ways producers are innovating through social research today:

  • IP Analysis and Discovery—Producers can understand the potential of IP through social or even discover the hot new property that specific audiences are talking about.

  • Talent Analysis—From analyzing a star’s fan base to searching for potential issues that could create publicity nightmares, social media research can unearth critical information around talent.

  • Audience Distractions—In today’s fractured media landscape, the scarcest resource is attention. Social research can help producers understand how their property fits into a landscape that includes theatrical releases, streaming series and films, television events and video game launches.

Social media gave audiences everywhere a voice. They will continue to use that voice. How to listen to it, interpret it and react to it will be an ever-evolving process. And one that—when done right—can help producers understand audiences better and faster than ever before.

Ben Carlson is the Co-founder and Co-president of Fizziology, a global audience insights company.


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