Noreen Hertz a British economist and author used social media conversations to predict who the winner of X-Factor would be. Hertz believes you can predict real-world outcomes using social media sites. She believes that using chatter from social media platforms will become a predominant tool for business forecasting. Hertz told CNN at Names not Numbers (an idea-sharing and network conference in the UK), “Over the past few years I have been really quite obsessed with how technology is changing the way that we make sense of the world.”
Last year, Hertz conducted a study to demonstrate how powerful of a tool social networks can be for understanding human behavior better. She said, “I was really interested to see whether we could make predictions or forecasts by listening in on what people were saying on social media. Because, if we could improve upon the political forecasts; if we could improve upon sales forecasts by listening in on people’s chatter on Twitter, Facebook, those sorts of media, that would be a really exciting prospect.”
She and her team which consisted of scientists, sociologists, and economists developed a research method and they were hoping it would allow them to predict who the winner of the talent contest “The X Factor” would be. The team developed a sophisticated algorithm that allowed the team to “listen in” on hundreds of thousands of tweets at the same time. They were able to understand the subject of the messages and also the attitude of the messages. With this information the team was able to accurately predict who would stay or go each week. Hertz said, “We were pretty much beating the bookies.”
Hertz has continuously challenged the prediction abilities of traditional forecasting models and made a career out of it. She says that the traditional forecasting models are nowhere near perfect. She supports her theory that the forecasting models don’t work in her book, “IOU: The Debt Threat.” In her book she recalls how “analysts in the Middle East failed to predict the Arab Spring and how “very few experts saw the financial meltdown coming.”
Hertz work is all about researching to give raw data some context. She says that her work is about understanding the culture, language, and psychology of social media users and that this information that will have a significant impact on business and government.
Her concepts surrounding social media analytics have the possibility to influence government policy, public security and economic growth. She focuses on confirming that most of the data used by corporations and governments as a practical measurement of what society wants is inadequate. She said, “Language is too complex for a computer to understand. It’s not going to be able to make sense of what people are saying en masse. We need a new type of discipline that puts together computer scientists and social scientists, who can add context to the situation.”
Even though Hertz has only predicted the winner of a national singing contest, her developments in this study have given us, for the first time ever, the ability to foresee events of the future by “listening in on what the world really thinks.”