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Posted by Zach Hofer-Shall on March 6, 2012
A few weeks back, I wrote a post denouncing the idea of predicting the Super Bowl using social data. I had some fun pointing out the questionable research practices behind using consumer opinion to "predict" the outcome of a sporting event. One key issue I argued was that in sports, the public opinion has no influence over the event outcome. But what about using consumer opinions to predict a political election? This can work, right?
USA Today has an article running in parallel with Super Tuesday, aptly asking that same question: Can Social media Predict Election Outcomes? If my post's title wasn't enough of a spoiler, if you read that piece, you'll find a few quotes from me speaking out against the concept. Because, although predicting an election using online opinions is a much more plausible concept than predicting a football game, it's not going to work. And here's why:
This brings us back to my original argument of social data: It's only as valuable as the other data you combine it with. Integrating polling data with social media numbers could show us some interesting outcomes. But alone, it only tells us what's going on online. So as the Super Tuesday results start rolling in (and some sources start to claim their social predictions as correct), let's remember that correlation is not causation.
So what can you do about this? First, if you're going to use social data, focus on its relationship to other key data. Learn about its relationship to your business metrics. Second, if you're a social data vendor, I challenge you to see what better insights you can find with social data. Prove the value of social media as a data source, not just the fun things we can learn by counting keywords. And most importantly for US readers, when November rolls around: vote.
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