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Tweeting for the movies

The year before last I had the privilege of supervising a master’s dissertation on how web-based social media “buzz” can predict how well movie releases fare at the cinema. It was an interesting project and in the limited search, analysis and time allowable for a master’s dissertation, the study proved that a significant correlation exists.

In narrowing down the list of social media tools to analyse, Twitter was placed on rejected pile.  Little did either of us predict the success that micro-blogging would progress to.

Now, some researchers at Hewlett Packard really have taken Twitter to the movies. Read all about it here. They have taken it on themselves to study 3 million tweets, much more than any master’s study could lend to.  The key finding is that Twitter banter can very closely predict the box office success of a movie even before it opens at the cinemas.

The researchers used “sentiment” analysis and a series of algorithms trained on Amazon’s “mechanical turk” to decide if a tweet was positive, negative or neutral.  The proportion of positive, negative or neutrals over time in the lead-up to a movie release reveals a lot.

The study reveals how powerful the collectivism facilitated by online social media can be. Online word-of-mouth can have profound ripple effects that have a very wide reach. Getting people talking online is increasingly a way of generating buzz about a product of service.  Be warned, however, the buzz could be negative.  On the other hand, the expression ‘all publicity is good publicity’ comes to mind.

Online social media and their associated UGC (that’s User-Generated-Content, not the cinema chain) have provided an extensive collective intelligence. Tapping into and analysing it is the challenging and fun part. Twitter-for-the-movies is a really good example of this challenging fun.