Crowdsourced data: Can you trust it?

Sentiment data can drive sales, guide product development, and enhance customer service. Be sure to vet the source and motivation behind it.

“Social media has given consumers so much more power than they had before it became prevalent. Their complaints are public and their complaints are amplified through social media channels.”

—Joel Gurin, senior advisor at New York University’s Governance Lab and author of Open Data Now

Consumers are not shy about sharing. Globally, they generate 500 million tweets1 and 6 billion Facebook “likes” a day2. Marketing intelligence can be gleaned from this, as well as other forms of crowdsourced data. With the right sentiment analysis tools, you can measure the tone, attitude, and linguistic nuances behind subjective information. That can give you a good picture of customer opinions on your product and company.

“We’re living in a culture of crowdsourcing, where more and more people are willing and interested in sharing what they know through social media,” says Joel Gurin. He is the founder and editor of OpenDataNow.com and senior advisor at New York University’s Governance Lab. Yet the question remains: How reliable is crowdsourced data?

Fact or fiction?

Data management tools have come a long way in helping crowdsourced data fit into data warehouse and business intelligence environments. Marketing efforts have shifted in parallel from attempting to harness this valuable information to assessing its quality and authenticity.

Gurin points to an example involving Yelp, the crowdsourced business review website. When they discovered businesses were trying to hire people to write positive reviews, Yelp had employees respond to several of the ads. When the culprits were identified, Yelp placed a “Consumer Alert” icon next to each business that had offered to pay for praise.

Brand protection

Another approach to vetting the accuracy of crowdsourced data is through the use of reputation management services. Gurin cites Reputation.com as just one of the firms that’s helping companies improve their online image. They do this by tracking, analyzing, and improving online reviews, social media, and business listings. You can increase the volume of positive reviews—and downplay negative or inaccurate ones—by asking loyal customers to write reviews. This way, real people are communicating real opinions that help the brand.

Use social media as a form of customer service to minimize the impact of untrustworthy, consumer-generated data and rapidly counter complaints. You can turn an unhappy customer into a more loyal one with a public apology, a digital coupon, or free products. And, simultaneously, you will be encouraging an audience of current or potential buyers to form opinions of their own.

“Social media has given consumers so much more power than they had before it became prevalent. Their complaints are public and their complaints are amplified through social media channels,” says Gurin. “Some of the fallout from that is that the complaints may not always be accurate. But it does give marketers a chance to respond.”

With time, crowdsourced data will become an even more powerful tool for savvy marketers. This will happen as tools to leverage crowdsourced data are refined, especially in the realm of sentiment analysis, Gurin says.


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