• Transform magazine
  • June 05, 2020


Social media: A rich seam for quantifying emotions


Alastair Herbert, managing director, Linguabrand

Language-based branding and research consultancy Linguabrand quantifies underlying emotions in client conversations and the verbal identity of the brands talking to them.

Language is a rich resource, revealing our emotions and thinking. Linguabrand’s psycho-linguistic software quantifies these underlying emotions. This is a huge step forward in understanding both how brands are thinking and how audiences are feeling.

The outcomes are conversations that build stronger relationships and measured brand positioning.

Recently, Linguabrand were supplied with two sides of an online discourse between those recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and those long-diagnosed with the condition. The discourse was analysed automatically and measured against Linguabrand’s ‘Emotional Background Benchmark.’ This provides a comparison with emotional levels you’d hear in a normal spoken conversation.

The results were astonishing. Social and emotional contexts previously only guessed at were now quantified, leading to a major changes in communications.

It was immediately apparent that MS is a massive, problem-centric transformation. Both the newly-diagnosed and existing patients are strongly inclined to move away from the problem rather than to move towards answers.

In this respect, we’d guess it’s little different from any other conversation around debilitating or life-threatening conditions. Those newly diagnosed are heavily focused on themselves, but this focus returns to normal levels as they come to terms with the condition.

Family is by far the most important social frame. The impact of MS on family life, present and future is extremely important. This has major implications for communications from drug companies. They need to include the family instead of talking to the patient alone.

Additionally, negative emotions were 50% higher than average levels for both patient sets.

Sadness is the overwhelming feeling for new MS diagnoses, coupled with high levels of anxiety. As people accept their condition, sadness levels fall by more than half; but anxiety actually increases. This is an important finding, because anxiety is a focus of ongoing medication. Understanding and reducing anxiety should be a key metric for medical communications.

Anger levels are half the level of a standard conversation. Perhaps there isn’t room for it amongst the sadness and anxiety? But it suggests that both patient groups are open to a conversation.

People with existing diagnoses encourage the newly-diagnosed. They talk much more about success and show higher levels of confidence. However, they are also much less sure of themselves. Marry this finding to the increasing levels of anxiety as the illness proceeds and this sounds like putting on the proverbial brave face. Behind all their encouragement lies anxiety and doubt.

These findings, and more, enabled Linguabrand to make specific recommendations on patient communications.

Healthcare professionals are strongly led by scientific fact. Bringing a metrics-driven approach to emotional data encourages them to understand, measure and manage patient relationships better. This could have a significant impact not only on patients’ quality of life, but potentially on their medical treatment.

Social media data is free of many research biases; it’s not question or process led. People take part speaking in their own voices, in their own time and in their own space. They select themselves rather than being offered a proposition to opt in.

Privacy is clearly important. Individuals are never revealed, indeed many don’t use their given names, and in big data it’s the collective that is important.

Understanding that language reveals emotions is remarkable in itself. Scaling this up through software will change the way research works. This converts social and mobile-based free-text from unwieldy, unstructured data into a quantified emotional insights.

Alastair Herbert at Linguabrand is moderating a panel discussion on tone of voice and perfecting brand language at theTransform conference. Speakers on the discussion are: Kate Eden, head of brand, Cancer Research and Jon Hawkins, head of brand language, BT. To see more about the conference click here.


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