How a Yale Doctorate in Sociology Led to a Gig in Social Media

Crimson Hexagon's Elizabeth Breese Applies Sociology Theories to Real-World Business problems.

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It all started with a paper on Jamie Lynn Marie Spears, Britney Spears' younger sister. In 2007, entertainment rags were obsessed with her pregnancy at age 16. A few years later Elizabeth Breese, a grad school sociology major at Yale, aimed to evaluate the media coverage for a paper she'd publish.

"I was trying to make patterns; I was trying to understand…what are the narratives that they situate her in?" The data categorization she came up with was far less-sophisticated than the algorithm-based systems Ms. Breese uses today as senior content and digital marketing strategist at social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon.

"I was trying to detect those textual patterns mostly by myself with a highlighter," she said.

A few years later at a party in Boston, where she is based, she learned of an algorithm used for opinion analysis from people who worked for her future employer. It sounded better than the highlighter system, and more sophisticated than software she had been using for the dissertation she was writing about the future of journalism.

Indeed, she realized they were using an algorithm and building software to accomplish what she had been doing by hand.

By 2012, Ms. Breese had attained a PhD in sociology from Yale, and fully anticipated an academic career. "Until I met people who worked at Crimson Hexagon, I was intending to be a college professor." She started with the company as a project consultant, and in January 2013 was brought on full time in her current role.

"I think that people increasingly are sort of forging careers that include academic inquiry and business life," she said.

Not surprising, her rich background studying sociology has afforded her a unique perspective on social media and how people use it -- and how it will evolve.

"One of the pillars of the theory I personally have as a sociologist is that humans and societies are oriented towards symbols. Symbols can be words, but they are also highly visual and highly tactile, and on social media they are often ... shared via images."

Ad Age: Do you think the concept of analyzing social-media data will persist or will our communication platforms meld to a degree that the idea of 'social media' becomes moot?

Ms. Breese: People will continue to share their opinions with their social networks, and they will continue to speak directly to brands, to give praise and to ask for help and service. Therefore, I think analyzing social-media data for business insights will be with us for a long, long time. Sharing on social media is the new water-cooler. It's the new small-town diner. Sharing ideas and opinions and talking about products we use and the news of the day isn't new. We will always find new ways to share information with each other.

Ad Age: What are some of the key differences you see between data derived from Facebook and Twitter? What should marketers think about contextually when evaluating the two?

Ms. Breese: On Facebook, people tend to talk with an audience of their friends and family in mind. On Twitter, people tend to imagine a larger and/or more diverse audience. That difference is key to what, when, and how people share differently on those networks. Marketers are also aware that they can access much more of the "earned" conversation on Twitter than they can from Facebook, because Twitter has a firehose and Facebook does not have an equivalent outgoing API of public posts.

Ad Age: When you were immersed in the world of academia, did you ever think about the amount of money and resources marketers put into analyzing consumers? What do you think about that?

Ms. Breese: Like most people, I had no idea. I like the work that Sara M. Watson does on data and privacy. She advises companies to do a gut-check to ask, "Would my customers feel creeped out if they know how I use their data?" As a consumer, I post about brands or companies if I want them to help me or if I want people to know that they are awesome. I think it is absolutely fair that they aggregate opinions like mine and make decisions based on the analysis they compile, and I have now seen first-hand how social listening improves products and ad campaigns.

Ad Age: How do you envision your current position at Crimson Hexagon evolving?

Ms. Breese: I like working in the overlap of marketing, product and business strategy. Taking new social media analysis products and technologies to market and explaining their value in compelling ways is really exciting, and I'm excited to do more of that at Crimson Hexagon.

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