Gone Social: of Movies and Social Media

(It’s been a few weeks since the last time you heard from me. I hope you didn’t miss our regular Gone Social updates too much–I know I’ve missed them. As a kind of full disclosure to this post / welcome back / explanation for my absence I thought I should preface this article by saying that I recently took a job at Fizziology, and I’ve been very busy trying to learn the way of the road for my new position. They’re a great new company–one I would have covered on DCT even if I hadn’t recently accepted a job there. I think you’ll agree that Fizziology is up to something interesting.)

People want to know what other people think about them, it is an (unfortunately) inherent part of having a consciousness that shares its language with interpersonal communication. Businesses, celebrities, and politicians especially put a lot of value in knowing how people perceive their brands, products, ideas, etc. Imagine having the tools –or rather, a group of analysts– to determine exactly what people think about virtually anything at any given time. That’s what Fizziology offers their clients: real-time social analysis and “business insights”.  In their own words:

Our proprietary data collection system pulls from Twitter (with full Twitter Firehose access), Facebook and blogs. We then use trained Social Media Analysts- rather than a keyword algorithm- to determine sentiment, refine true volume counts and provide insights. This allows us to not only triangulate relevant buzz and grade sentiment to a 95% accuracy, but spot trends, threats and opportunities in the social conversation.

The company has been around on the entertainment and Hollywood scene since 2009, tracking public mentions of each of the movies that has come out since then. Four weeks before a film hits theaters, Fizziology’s specially trained analysts begin observing mentions of and conversations about it and grading the public sentiment towards the film. They go a step further to provide details on what is driving the conversation;.Fizziology can tell studios if people like a particular character or moment in a trailer, as well as insights such as if the public feels confused about the premise of an upcoming movie, with time enough for the studios to change marketing strategies before a release.

Fizziology also measures the impact of social media on the movies’ ultimate success. Fizziology matches the statistical data of the social media activity with the earnings of the box office to gain predictive value and insights on how social network buzz can boost or hinder the number of ticket sales. With real people doing real time tracking of social media, the company also provides customers with in-depth reports on how certain events affect the amount, type, and mood of public buzz, such as movie news coming out of comic-con panels and odd scenarios such as when the popularity of the erotic novel 50 shades of Grey boosted opening weekend box office for the film Magic Mike. Whereas conventional box office estimates are still based largely on pre-social-media tracking and predictions, Fizziology can give its customers the upper-hand by adjusting predictions and analysis week to week based on what is happening and what people are saying.

There have been a number of other social media research companies that have sprung up since the late 2000’s, and even some who monitor the entertainment industry like with Fizziology. But what sets Fizziology apart from its competitors are the human analysts who actually read the content on social media, rather than automating computers to look for keywords and pre-assigned “trends.” In college, I took a computational neuroscience course that covered a number of different fields wherein people are creating computer models of brain processes. We talked about how IBM’s Watson was conceptually developed and trained, covered chess-playing computers that could beat grandmasters, and even discussed the recent development of face-detection software (soon Facebook will automatically tag pictures uploaded to the site based on a system that could intelligently recognize and identify each user’s face). We’ve taught our computers human logic and visual orientation, but if there is one thing that I learned from my computational neuroscience course, it was that we are still a long ways out from having computers capable of human-like linguistic understanding.

While scientists have certainly been making breakthroughs in computer linguistics, those breakthroughs hardly translate to realistic artificial intelligence (which would be necessary for a computer or program to “understand” what it was “reading”). Currently, there are neural network models that breakdown words and sentences based on a complex hierarchy of rules, and these have allowed companies like Google to begin to predict what we are searching and finish our sentences. However without the experience of emotion, a computer cannot be fed a list of tweets and be expected to correctly guess the authors’ sentiments behind each. Computers don’t have an always-changing bank of experiences and greater contexts to consider while reading a particular word or phrase; real people understand the nuances and irregularities of conversational language. A person knows the difference between “This movie looks so sick!” and “I can’t believe their making a Human Centipede 2, the whole idea is so sick!” A computer would have a tough time differentiating between the connotations of the word “sick” and accurately identifying the sentiment of the first example as positive and the second example negative.

I know what some of you may be thinking, “so this company pays people to invade my privacy and monitor what I say about movies,” and I can assure you that this is certainly not the case. Instead of spending hours stumbling through blogs and twitter accounts for relevant information, Fizziology uses a search service created by developers to pull public content from Twitter, Facebook, and blogs through API access. Essentially, Fizziology sets up virtual webs to catch mentions of and conversations about the films, actors, brands, and events they’re tracking. The developers work with Twitter and Facebook to ensure an accurate search of publicly-available social content, so for those of you who have followed my Gone Social tutorials on how to setup secure and private Facebook and Twitter accounts, you’re still safe. While many people take security seriously and value their virtual privacy, there are many others who are uninterested in or unaware of how to make their accounts private. If you’ve got a private twitter or a Facebook account that allows only “friends” to read your statuses and comments, Fizziology’s analysts have not and will not be reading your opinions on movies or whatever else they’re after at the time. If you’ve yet to lock down your social media accounts, you may be one of the millions of people contributing to the global conversation being tracked and analyzed by Fizziology. Fizziology is listening to what the public is saying and passing along what they hear to the movie studios, and the studios are actually listening! This is good news. Maybe one day the studios will hear us when we tell them to stop remaking Spider-man every 8 years.

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