Friday, May 27, 2011

Do Happy Social Networks = Financial Results?

Source: Sysomos; LiveCharts; Draftfcb analysis

Not much is strongly correlated to stock prices on the open market.

Sure there are indicators in the environment -- some leading, most lagging -- that can be used to predict what a given equity or index will do on the market. But the use of data to model and help traders, fund managers and other financial experts plan for future shifts in market prices has been a confounding exercise. Those who have cracked the code on marrying data to market performance are few (and chances are you won't be able to find them, as they're somewhere on their own personal island).

But the growing size of social networking and the immense power those networks are amassing has given new life to this pursuit. Add to the debate this small, albeit topical, finding I came across the other day.

While analyzing social network conversations around several leading United Kingdom banks over the first four months of 2011, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sum total of positive comments made about these UK brands (the orange line in the above chart) exhibited fairly strong correlation to the price of a well known UK financial sector stock index (the white line). Not perfect correlation, to be sure, but pretty strong nonetheless. "Number of Positive Mentions" was the first metric I correlated to the index price, but I quickly looked at every other metric I could make from the social networking data I had on hand: percent of total mentions that were positive; ratio of positive mentions to negative mentions; total mentions; total "authority score" of positive mentions; average "authority score" of negative mentions; average "authority" score of any mention; etc. etc. No other metric was as strongly correlated as total positive mentions.

Interestingly, much of the positive mentions came before the stock price increased. In other words, I wasn't just seeing a bunch of congratulatory noise following a market gain for the index. I seemed to be observing positive social network conversations that preceded a run up in stock price.

The thing that really had me thinking was the fact that this correlation exists and, despite the enormous participation numbers and gaudy growth social networks are experiencing, the platforms making up today's social networking landscape are all really, really nascent.

As social networking continues to mature and gain influence, there is no doubt that correlations such as this will become much more clear. As marketers it is our responsibility to get our clients well positioned in those conversations, so they can reap the benefits of today's social networking scene and -- more importantly -- ensure that they get a piece of the benefits that are soon to come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

U2, Lady Gaga, and The Smiths: More (and Less) The Same

What happens when different people use one language to convey thoughts, hopes, and emotions? You get very different uses of that language with different themes and tenor and tonality, as well as some striking commonalities.

This finding results from a bit of time I spent investigating how emotion expressed through the written word could be quantified. As a testing ground for this subject, I analyzed emotions conveyed through song and focused on three artists, U2, Lady Gaga and The Smiths, purposefully selected for their divergent musical styles and personalities. I then selected one classic album from each artist to compile a representative sample of their work: “The Joshua Tree (U2, 1988)”, “The Fame (Lady Gaga, 2008)”, and “The Queen Is Dead (The Smiths, 1986)”. The results of this analysis were at once expected and surprising.

Using a technique I derived from clinical psychology methods (one far from being perfected..but, hey, I'm working at it), I assessed the amount of emotion each artist has poured into their songs, the themes they expressed, the range of emotions they voiced, and the emotional strength of their words.

First, interesting in their own right, let's take a look at the words of the artists presented in traditional word clouds. Note U2's use of motion, the natural world, and possession ("run", "still", "raining", "hold", "without"); Gaga's penchant for non-words ("eh", "mum", "mah", "da-doo-doo-doo"); the way The Smith's explore self-loathing and despair ("kill", "die", "lonely"); and the universal theme of "Love" (in the case of The Smiths, the love Morrissey will "never know").

U2: "The Joshua Tree" (1988)
Bono’s thoughts of earth, wind, rain and fire more than double his mentions of love.

Lady Gaga: "The Fame" (2008)
Not only does Lady Gaga's music make the listener feel like dancing, she tells them to dance no fewer than 28 times over the course of "The Fame".

The Smiths: "The Queen Is Dead" (1986)
The top nouns and verbs crooned by Morrissey? “Never know / want / believe love tonight”. Characteristically uplifting.

Also interesting, if not surprising, is the range of emotions. Based on an "Emotion Scale", words expressing emotion range from “Strongly Negative” (presented here in dark red) to “Weakly Negative” (lighter red) to “Neutral” (white) to “Weakly Positive” (light green) to “Strongly Positive” (dark green). The distribution of emotional words that show up in the artists' song can then be graphed across this scale. U2 muddles in the red but balances out with expressions of dark green redemption. Gaga frenetically dances her way to the happiness of positive green emotions. The Smiths’ emotions, as to be expected, remain red and true to the sad negativity of their words. Interestingly, not one of these artists spends much vocal effort on vapid, neutral emotions. See the data here:

An analysis of themes explored by each artist reveals other interesting similarities and differences. The idea of “Connection” is critical to all, albeit expressed in different ways. More than half of all the emotions expressed in U2's and The Smith's songs can be classified under the "Connection" theme, as can nearly three-quarters of Lady Gaga's emotional words. While The Lady’s connection-theme is almost single-minded (ringing through the words "LOVE", "LOVER", "ALONE"), U2 couples its thoughts of connection with expressions of “Power/Control” ("DOWN", "BEATEN") and The Smiths ruminate on the “Pleasure/Pain” of their connections ("DIE", "KILL", "SAD", "SHOCKED"...clearly more time is spent on the pain-side of the equation):

But the thing that most sets these artists apart is how frequently they appeal to the listener's emotions in the music (i.e., what percentage of the words used in their songs can be classified as emotional terms). And the results were somewhat surprising. 

Indexed against U2's use of emotional terms (who had the heaviest use), Lady Gaga's "Emotional Density" is actually quite significant. What is surprisingly low is the "Emotional Density" employed by The Smiths.

Looking deeper into The Smith's lyrics reveals that Morrissey is a victim of his own introspection. Second only to the obvious use of the word "AND" throughout "The Queen Is Dead", the word "I" shows up fully 83 times in the album. That's more than 8 times per song! Add to that total extremely high usage of "ME" and "MY" and it is clear to see how emotional words become diluted in The Smith's lyric. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Impact of Cross-Culturalism on American Television

Imagine being in a room with your co-workers. Now let’s further imagine that they constitute a random sample of American television viewers. Ask them, “So what TV shows have you been watching this month?”

You’d likely hear answers that resemble the week’s top 10 Nielsen list: CSI, Modern Family, Real Housewives of [some outrageously interesting area of the US], etc.

These TV programs are popular, for sure.  But they also have other commonalities:  high profile network backing, primetime slots, intriguing personalities, diversity.  In fact, a majority of today’s hit television programs have more or less “representative” casts.  In other words, the proportion of minority cast members for many of these shows mirrors the adult population of the United States.  Contrast that fact with the blatant racial disparity that existed just a few decades ago.

Does that surprise you?

15 years ago, the status of diversity in television was quite different.  Shows with mostly Caucasian principal casting - shows like Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Roseanne - performed the best in TV ratings.  These hit shows featured few minority characters, and if they did, they were most likely a guest star or a character of minimal significance.

It would be logical to hypothesize that minority casting in TV, and by extension minority  influence, experienced a precipitous increase in just the last decade. Yet, data from the Screen Actors Guild shows that minorities have experienced an incremental and not precipitous increase in share within the casting market since 1998. 

How can this difference between perceived and actual minority casting be explained?

A Framework For Examining Diversity

Measuring diversity in terms of minorities’ share of casted roles is but one way to assess the state of cross-culturalism in TV.  And in this case, it’s too myopic of an approach. Clustering TV programs by level of minority casting provides more clarity to the situation. 

Take the last 50 years of popular TV programming, and you can cluster them into four  distinct categories of casting diversity:

When plotting the Top 10 television shows for every year since 1950, a few interesting trends become apparent:

Trend #1:  “White Only” shows constituted a majority of programs until the 2000s.   But since 2005, only one “White Only” program – Two and a Half Men – made it into the Top 10.

Trend #2:  “Minority Only” shows debuted in the Top 10 in the late 1960s, coinciding with the tail end of the American Civil Rights movement.  These “Minority Only” shows had a focus on the African American experience, and included shows like The Cosby Show, Sanford & Son, and Good Times.  “Minority Only” shows disappear from the chart in 1990, the last year The Cosby Show was rated in the Top 10.

Trend #3:  “Mixed Shows” display a spotty history in the Top 10 beginning in the late 1960s.  But they had a resurgence in the 1990s and have gradually grown to a majority of the Top 10 shows today.

Tokenism Over The Years

Although never constituting a significant share of the Top 10, shows with token minorities have been a constant since 1950.  While these shows do their part in contributing to the “melting pot” that is the American TV talent pool, these shows inhabit an interesting gray area.  Neither racially monolithic nor integrated, these shows stop short of highlighting minority stories with meaningful purpose.

However, shows with token minorities have changed over the years – from using ethnicity as a comedic foil, to using minority casting for more racial representation. This is yet  another symptom of the growing influence of minorities; insensitive portrayals of  minorities have given way to tolerable, albeit culturally muted, representations.

A Few Conclusions

Minority influence in television has increased over the years, though it’s not a matter of sheer casting numbers.  The evidence lies in the number of popular shows with mixed race casting – and the storylines related to diverse cultural experience – that have emerged in the last decade.

As such, it is important to keep in mind that this medium is the context in which we  connect our clients’ brands to America’s consumers.  

[Special thanks to Michael Barin, who researched and wrote this piece. Thank you, Michael!]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Raising The Bar: From So-So to Whoa!

Another great infographic offering from digital artist Almond Loh, Draftfcb's Director of Visualization here in Customer Intelligence, this one aimed at "raising" the traditional way of building bar graphs and providing simple ways to improve how you communicate data.