I read about the Twitter political index via “the Web’s Psychic” on the Daily Dish with some interest. The index tracks Twitter sentiment about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – not just about them, but about how they rate to the topics of the day that Twitter tracks. It works like instant poll information – what you see on Twitter is a decent indicator as to what traditional pollsters are coming out with a bit later – it may even be more accurate than the polls. Savvy watchers are even looking this and at other sites to try to glean who the GOP VP pick will be.
This data mining may be a sea change in the standard horse-race-watching of presidential politics. In the olden days (say, 2004), if you wanted to see if a candidate was trending up or down, you would commission a series of polls. The pollsters would call people on the phone (somehow, always at dinner time), collate the data, and use that as the basis for a trend article.
The Twitter political index, and the Wiki-monitoring are operating from a completely different place. Instead of going out and asking questions, they are listening to the conversations that are already happening. There’s a problem with this – people lie to pollsters. When you know you’re being asked a question for a reason (an election, a worker satisfaction survey, etc.) you are more likely to give a certain kind of response. There is a similar concept in quantum physics – the very act of active observation changes the behavior that is being observed. In this case, the act of surveying can change the answers the surveyor receives.
So that’s some interesting stuff about politics – how can this knowledge affect businesses?
Most internal business feedback is formal – a survey, a performance review, a round-table where people go into a room, sit at a round table and throw around ideas. I’m not suggesting that surveys are pointless – far from it – but if formal methods are all you use, you may be missing the whole picture.
If you have an organizational problem, the odds are that your employees are talking about it. If your product needs a feature, someone already knows what it should be. Your people need a platform.
Are you listening?