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Financial trading companies are looking to social media to influence their decisions. For example, when predicting how well a new Electronic Arts Star Wars videogame would perform, Irish research firm Eagle Alpha digested comments from gamers on social media. Electronic Arts soon raised its sales forecast, citing “excitement” over the game, while Eagle Alpha made a large amount of money having already seen this trend online. Sometimes even a single tweet can have huge impact. Hillary Clinton caused a drop in biotech stocks with a tweet calling for greater regulation of drug prices, then single-handedly tanked stocks of private-corrections companies when she tweeted about prison reform.
Social media can also be used to help crime and security agencies identify risks. Many people turn to social media to live post about incidents – which means that there is social data on where these incidents have occurred. In order to flip this into a positive, there are now platforms that collect geo-tagged data from social media and feed it into a heat map of crime in an area. Hitachi Visualization Suite does just this and has found that it is one of the best ways to assess the nature of crimes in an area and therefore predict where the next incident is likely to happen.
Twitter has also been proved as an effective tool to track the spread of disease and could therefore help governments plan a response sooner. During the deadly cholera outbreak after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, a study found that online social media and news feeds were faster than, and broadly as accurate as, the official records at detecting the start and early progress of the epidemic.
HealthMap, an automated surveillance platform, meant that informal reports of the disease were available online up to two weeks before official government reports, which had to go through the traditional chain-of-command structure of public health. The authors of the study claim that this could mean we will see quicker, more cost-effective responses in the future, helping populations that otherwise wouldn't have access to traditional healthcare or would not seek it.
BrandsEye, a tool that looks at people's tweets, correctly predicted both the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the Trump victory in the US presidential election. For both votes, Brandseye measured which side had more tweets in its favour on Twitter - predicting that the more popular of the two on the social media platform would win. By comparison, the polls have been shown to not reflect the passionate reactions of many people, perhaps because people are less shy on social media than they are on the phone to pollsters.
Social media has proven to be a force to be taken seriously as the sentiment and news captured by the platform has real-life consequences. There are opportunities for companies to capitalise on this beyond just understanding customers and we’re likely to see more ways that our tweets and posts are used to predict and monitor events.