31/01/2017 09:57 GMT | Updated 01/02/2018 05:12 GMT

Does Social Media Hold The Key To Public Opinion?

Every day, millions of conversations are taking place, both in person and online. In the days before social media, businesses and organisations relied on traditional methods including focus groups and surveys to capture public opinion. Nowadays, they have the option of using social media to tap into what people really think and feel about different issues.

Anyone working in marketing or research will know that traditional consumer insights are usually extracted using processes that can be painfully slow and expensive. In addition to this, researchers are often unable to avoid cognitive bias, which can skew results. Social media has become such a popular forum for airing our opinions that it can actually be used as a live focus group, from which invaluable insights can be drawn. There are no questions, just lots of answers and opinions.

This type of analysis has been thrust under the spotlight over the last few months due to the results of recent political events. Many of the traditional polls that ran before Brexit and the recent US presidential election predicted a different result to the eventual outcome. However, some analyses of social media data before the two events proved much more accurate.

Earlier this year, Jellyfish used social media monitoring tool Brandwatch to run some research into public sentiment surrounding the EU referendum. The study, which ran for three months, revealed that twice as many Twitter users were using the official Leave hashtags as opposed to the official Remain ones, suggesting greater support for the Leave campaign amongst users of the platform.

With the reliability of traditional opinion polls being called into question, there's a growing debate around whether social media offers a more accurate way of understanding what people really think and in the case of an election, how they are likely to vote. Of course, social media monitoring has its limitations too. For example, only 19% of the UK population actively uses Twitter and its popularity varies across different age groups. It's also essential that a human eye is applied to all social media analysis as most social media tools can't detect irony and sarcasm, which could therefore impact on any results.

Whether we're talking about political elections or the winner of Britain's Got Talent, social media can play a vital role in determining public sentiment. It's a forum where people are sharing their views in real time with no filter, giving businesses and organisations an invaluable insight into public opinion. As social media continues to play an increasing role in our everyday lives, its use as a way of listening to and reacting to public sentiment should not be underestimated.