Sentiment Analysis is Rubbish

            Sentiment it is purely subjective to the reader.

This post is about sentiment as applied to news articles, TV segments, blog posts, social media comments etc. where it is used as a metric in corporate communications and public relations measurement programs.


No matter how you slice up sentiment analysis 3-point scale, 5 point scale – I’ve even seen a 7 point scale, it is ALL subjective.

I will go so far as to say it is subjective to the reader at that point in time, given their

  1. understanding, interest and engagement of the topic
  2. comprehension of the article
  3. preconceived bias toward the author, topic, focus of the article
  4. personal feelings, tastes and opinion

Still not with me here? Let’s say 10 people read an article, editorial or  blog post and agree that it is positive, negative or neutral overall but the 11th, 21st or 101st person reading the same content may have a different perspective.

I liken sentiment to the way people feel about snowfall.

You have people who think it is Positive when there is any kind of snowfall. (Skiers, school children…)

You have people who think it is Neutral because it will not impact their life in any way.

You have people who think it is Negative because of the work to remove it, the stress of driving it  and so on.

That is what makes Sentiment subjective.

Why do Public Relations & Corporate Communications put such a high value on Sentiment?


Public Relations and Corporate Communications need metrics to demonstrate their value to the organization.

Metrics should be actionable.

Sentiment is not actionable because it is subjective. Which leads me to state:

It doesn’t matter what a customer reads …what matters is what action or inaction they pursue.

Applying tone, tonality or sentiment (all the same thing) to a news article to determine how readers potentially felt about the brand, topic or messaging contained within is an exercise in futility.

The value in sentiment is to take it a step further:

  • Discover what the main point is that the readership may have found Positive, Negative or Neutral.
  • Determine if any of the identified points are actionable.
  • Determine if the customer took action based on the perceived sentiment.

What should be the focus if not Sentiment?


Using the following scenario lets see what the real focus should be.

You are a non-profit organization. One of your primary stated goals is to increase donations. A new initiative to increase donations has been launched and within a few days a very negative story is published about your non-profit.

What do you do focus on as it relates to the new initiative to increase donations?

The focus here should be to track what the donation rates were during the entire initiative. Depending on how donations are being requested track:

# of new donors

# of repeat donors

# of new volunteers

# of repeat volunteers

Depending on how this initiative is structured to solicit donations look for the opportunity to speak directly to potential donors, speak to volunteers and anyone else involved in face-to-face interactions with potential or recurring donors. Ask them why they chose to donate. Was there anything that influenced them to donate again (repeat donors).

You might be surprised to find that the perceived negative article had little to no impact.

Then again it might be the driver for why some people are donating- you definitely want to speak to those people.

There is always the opportunity that the perceived negative article kept people from donating. The only way to find that out is to reach out to your target audience and see why. Evaluate and act on the issues highlighted in the negative story.

The point is to look at sentiment as a starting point to action not as an actionable metric in and of itself.

What sentiment value would you apply to this post – Positive, Negative or Neutral? Why?



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