Seeing the wood for the trees: How machine learning can help firms in identifying relevant electronic word-of-mouth in social media


The increasing volume of firm-related conversations on social media has made it considerably more difficult for marketers to track and analyse electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) about brands, products or services. Firms often use sentiment analysis to identify relevant eWOM that requires a response to consequently engage in webcare. In this paper, we show that sentiment analysis of any kind might not be ideal for this purpose, because it relies on the questionable assumption that only negative eWOM is response-worthy and it is not able to infer meaning from text. We propose and test an approach based on supervised machine learning that first decides whether eWOM is relevant for the brand to respond, and then—based on a categorization of seven different types of eWOM (e.g., question, complaint)—classifies three customer satisfaction dimensions. Using a dataset of approximately 60,000 Facebook comments and 11,000 tweets about 16 different brands in eight different industries, we test and compare the efficacy of various sentiment analysis, dictionary-based and machine learning techniques to detect relevant eWOM. In doing so, this study identifies response-worthy eWOM based on the content instead of its expressed sentiment. The results indicate that these machine learning techniques achieve considerably higher accuracy in detecting relevant eWOM on social media compared to any kind of sentiment analysis. Moreover, it is shown that industry-specific classifiers can further improve this process and that algorithms are applicable across different social networks.

International Journal of Research in Marketing