Social Analytics and the Movies

Social media is both a blessing and bane for Hollywood. Social networks are highly effective ways to promote new movies and gauge consumer interest in films before, during and after their release. But social media is also fire-hose of information that companies are struggling to tame with a variety analytic tools.

On top of that, social media has evolved into a competitor for consumers’ attention, so it takes a deft hand to make proper use of it in order to drive business results, and not just add to the signal-to-noise ratio.

“The movie industry is a hits-driven business and as such is under a lot of pressure to win audience attention,” Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider said at the recent “Atlantic Meets Pacific” conference in La Jolla, CA. Social media provides a two-way communication channel with consumers that’s been impossible before this point. Studios use social networks like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to run outbound marketing campaigns. It also monitors the social universe to gauge consumer buzz and decide on the optimum volume and frequency of film promotions.

“While social media is a competitor for audience attention, it’s also a big opportunity,” Snider says. Like other movie studios, Dreamworks uses social media as part of its 360 degree marketing mix. “We use it to engage with our audience but also to cut our overall marketing costs.”

“The movie industry is unique in that it releases 3-4 new products every week,” said Jonathan Taplin, a professor at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC, which monitors consumer sentiment over social media. “There are millions of dollars at stake and studios need to get the marketing message right. If a studio spends $3 million for banner ads on Monday, they need to monitor what happens in social media over the next 2 days and adjust accordingly.” Mediums like Twitter give studio execs that instant feedback.

Feedback from the social sphere might indicate that a movie is already receiving considerable positive buzz and so a studio might cut back on TV advertising. Studios can release film previews on YouTube to see what audiences like about the film rather than conducting more costly focus groups,” said Rod Smith, an IBM fellow working on the Annenberg Labs social sentiment project. IBM has donated technologies such as its Big Sheets data visualization software to help researchers crunch the numbers on Twitter sentiment for upcoming and recently released movies.

Social media analytics is playing a big role in how movie studios capture business intelligence. “I used to think of analytics as a very mature and predictable industry,” Smith said. “But we’re entering a new era of business analytics and predictive modeling using all sorts of unstructured data, not just SQL.”

Understanding how the public perceives a specific movie can help studios decide which films to make in the future. Smith points out how the positive social media buzz received by the BBC-produced “Downtown Abbey” costume drama affected the green-lighting of the upcoming cinematic remakes of “Anna Karenina” and “The Great Gatsby” films.

Tools Galore

There are a number of point solutions that let marketing pros track consumer sentiment once a marketing campaign has begun. But those tend to look at soft metrics such as Facebook “likes” and Twitter retweets. Facebook-specific tools include SocialDon, PageLever, AllFacebook Stats, Wildfire and Facebook Graders. Twitter analysis tools range from Twitsprout and Twitanalyzer to TweetStats and The Archivist. Some are free; others use a premium pricing model for software or services. All of them aggregate data from Facebook and Twitter to help companies see how their accounts are doing in real time or historically.

Keeping track of these various data streams and then integrating them into a more comprehensive business intelligence dashboard can be a challenge. Crimson Hexagon, a Cambridge, MA based maker of social analytics (which counts Paramount and CBS Films among its customers), has found itself working with as many as ten other software vendors in the areas of blog analytics, Twitter and Facebook social engagement tools, and opinion analysis software.

The complexity can be staggering, which is good reason a number of these point solutions are being acquired by larger software companies, which proceed to graft the various tools onto a single platform.

The vast amount of information that exists in social media about films, actors, and third-party product tie-ins can provide an instant barometer to how people are reacting. Being able to collect and crunch that data quickly means a company can craft a response and alter a marketing campaign in a way that results in business success. “The real time aspect of social media is especially critical to the movie industry,” said Abe Kazemzadeh, CTO of the Annenberg Lab.

Social sentiment analysis can be decrypted to show geographical, demographic, and use case data that can be correlated with box office figures, he added.

SAS Institute has been in the business of extracting meaningful insights from business data for 35 years. The Cary, N.C, software vendor is bringing its analytics and predictive modeling expertise to the world of social media. “Social is just another stream of unstructured data to us. We see it as an opportunity and challenge to integrate it with other business insights such as web behaviors, campaign interactions and purchase histories,” said Wilson Raj, global customer intelligence director for SAS.

SAS has a dashboard that puts social media into a business context.  The dashboard incorporates data capture and integration of social conversations, product ratings, and CRM data. It then performs data mining of social sentiment, topics by industry, and consumer segments. The offering boasts a GUI-based Media Analyst Workbench that lets business professionals look at different product and marketing concepts, as well as the consumer conversions around those concepts. The suite also includes an Intelligence Portal for reporting data, exporting it to other systems, and triggering and responding to events.

So as social media evolves and matures, the movie studios will continue to take advantage of the unique opportunities it offers to refine that virtuous circle of consumer awareness, engagement and business results. And the tools that help studios understand consumer behaviors that drive business results will continue to become both more sophisticated but also more second nature to the business and technology pros that use them.


Image: Fer Gregory

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