Sentiment Analysis of Big Data: Smart? Or Shameful?

What you are posting on Facebook, tweeting, or sharing on other social media is most likely being scanned by sentiment analysis software. Why? To analyze what you’re saying to reveal your emotions and feelings to serve ads and customer complaints.

So is this smart? Or is it shameful?

This is the topic of my blog at Target Marketing Magazine titled Can Big Data Really Reveal Our Emotional Feelings?

A recent Wall Street Journal article on the topic of big data (Marketers Want to Know What You Really Mean Online: Sentiment Analysis Aims to Decipher the Nuances of Social-Media Posts) cites several examples of how sentiment analysis works. The article goes into more detail, but in summary, the process works like this:

  1. Software now can break down tweets and status updates to extract the literal meaning of what’s being said. This step is called natural-language processing.
  2. The software determines the emotion behind the statement. Was it written in earnest, or was it snarky? Was the emotion strong, that is: enthusiastic, angry, or sad?

This technology has been used by pharmaceutical companies, hair product companies, food companies, political organizations, and even for the State of the Union address.

The CEO of a sentiment analysis software company is quoted in the WSJ article as saying that “right when a person is first diagnosed with cancer, they are the most optimistic. So he advises pharmaceutical clients to target ads based on the emotion the person is experiencing in the moment.” 

Is this smart? Or shameful? My mother is currently dealing with cancer and this feels to me like an example of cold-hearted marketers tapping into raw emotions and feelings of a vulnerable person’s emotional state-of-mind. I’m more personally involved, obviously, but using big data to mine for sentiment analysis on someone just diagnosed with cancer feels shameful. 

On different and more appropriately used level, sentiment analysis can be effective when monitoring social media for complaints. It enables marketers to more quickly address a complaint and correct a problem for the customer. This feels like a powerful and appropriate use of sentiment analysis.

In my last blog, I shared this thought-provoking quote from contemporary literature author Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If we take to heart Maya Angelou’s quote that people will always remember how you made them feel, taken across an emotional line in the sand, marketers would be well served to remember that the good feeling of the moment could quickly turn into a negative your customers and prospects will never forget.


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.