How Mapping Social-Media Chatter to TV Commercials Yields Insights

Tom Thai Explains What Bluefin Has Found in Its Tranche of Data

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Bluefin Labs is exploring the relationships between listener and speaker, orator and audience, marketer and audience, and mass media and audience by looking at about 3 billion social-media comments a month and, from that , filtering and mapping about 13.7 million comments that pertained to TV and/or commercials.

That mapping of social-media conversations to TV shows and commercials is called the TV genome; Bluefin was founded at MIT as a result of language-acquisition research MIT Researcher Deb Roy did on how his child had learned to talk.

"Mass media has a tremendous benefit in that it reaches many people at the same time, but one of the drawbacks is the feedback loop from audience back to speaker and communicator is essentially broken, or at least you lose much of it," said Tom Thai, VP-marketing and business development at Bluefin. The idea behind Bluefin is to offer a deeper look at the audience feedback, beyond numbers of viewers and demography. Put simply: It is focused on taking the conversations and chatter that happen in social media and tying them back to the stimulus that caused that conversation on TV -- either shows or ads.

The challenge in all of this: help machines understand the semantic layer, or the what the conversation is about. As he describes it, the first input is TV, the second input is social media. The space in the middle is the semantic barrier:

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Videography: Steve Raddock
Tom Thai at CaT

Based on the data, Mr. Thai had a few interesting tidbits to share about particular shows:

  • NBC's singing contest "The Voice" has lots of social-media engagement, in part because it actively promotes tweets from its judges and contestants and asks viewers to tweet along as well. Of that chatter, about one-third of the commenters were male and two-thirds female. The most popular judge in terms of social-media buzz was Maroon 5's Adam Levine.
  • VW's Super Bowl commercial starring a tiny, aspiring Darth Vader had a more even gender split in its online commenters -- about one-half were male, one-half female. In looking at the words most often associated with the ad, the top term (after "Darth Vader") was "love," the second most mentioned term was "cute."
  • Finally, in proving that the measurement approach didn't just work for big-event TV, Mr. Thai showed the comment measurement and stream for AMC's "The Walking Dead." One word often associated with the show jumped out at Mr. Thai -- the term "fucking" showed up somewhere midway down the list of common words mentioned in social media in relation to the show. Confused -- what could that mean? Was it good? Bad? -- he clicked in for more detail. Turns out the audience simply had a predilection toward the profane. In almost every instance, the word was used to describe how great the show was, e.g. "That was fucking amazing!"

"Beyond the top events and shows -- basically for every given show that happens on TV -- when you have access to this type of data you'll be able to find surprising and insightful things on the data," said Mr. Thai.

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