On days like this predictions abound. And most often those predictions come from the pundits, the ones "in the know." But what if the real power of prediction is not in the opinions and the bias of pundits but in the data?

One the most amazing things about the internet is its ability to quickly determine the sentiment of large populations just by listening to what people are talking about. Of course, listening is nothing new. Anyone building a successful business will tell you that the single most important skill to develop and info into a culture is that of listening to the customer. 

What if I told you that was wrong? Anathema, right? Customers always come first! That's only partially true. The problem with always putting the customer first is that you build an echo chamber which reports that same old biased view of what you should be doing to grow your business based on what you have been doing, while growth comes not only from customer but from those who are not yet customers. 

Companies often try desperately to hang onto customers when their overall business is shrinking and suffering, They put in place loyalty programs and incentives for customers to stay, but they are oblivious to the sentiment of the larger market which is fleeing to other alternatives. It's like trying to give cabin upgrades to passengers of the Titanic--while it's sinking!  

Instead, what if you could listen to the entire market, current and potential, in order to direct your resources and align your decisions with where the growth was? What if you could predict the many ways in which the marketplace is changing but which no individual customer, focus group, marketing genius, or existing community of customers could adequately express?

That's precisely the objective of social listening; to understand the collective sentiment of a marketplace based on what the data is telling your. It sounds simple but it's amazing how few companies are doing it. Why not? Because we all want to believe that we are smarter than the market; that the data has nothing on us. Because, if it did, what would our value be?

Which brings me to the Oscars. (You knew I'd get there eventually!)

Using a listening analytics platform, Sprout Social captured data around the three major Oscar categories of best picture, best actor in a leading role, and best actress in a leading role in order to project tonight's Oscar winners. Although this is just for fun, it's a great illustration of how powerful social sentiment can be in understanding a market's perspective.

In each category they scoured the web for the number of mentions and the positive versus negative mentions. The results are in some cases straight forward and in others fascinatingly close. 

For example, the data shows that Call Me By Your Name is the projected winner among fans, garnering 152,880 total mentions, 64,758 positive mentions, 18,095 negative mentions and 46,663 net positive mentions (that's the number of positive mentions less the negative mentions.)  The Shape of Water and Lady Bird follow close behind with 48,039 and 34,268 positive mentions respectively. However, Dunkirk had more total mentions than Lady Bird, but just about 7,000 fewer net positive mentions. Although Get Out had more net positive mentions than Dunkirk! 

None of that is likely to usurp Call Me by Your name, but from a marketing standpoint it provides insight into how close sentiment is about movies that may not be getting an Oscar but are none-the-less neck and neck in terms of popularity. 

Even more fascinating is the ridiculously close net positive ratings for the category of Best Actress in a Leading Role as compared to the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role. Make your own inferences here but the bifurcation of opinions is at the very least a fascinating look at how polarized sentiment can become. 

Call Me By Your Name  152,880 64,758 18,095 46,663
The Shape of Water 115,578 48,039 12,304 35,735
Lady Bird  64,063 34,268 7,249 27,019
Dunkirk  73,586 33,085 12,988 20,097
Get Out  56,196 32,136 9,802 22,334
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) 89,552 37,152 4,698 32,454
Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) 28,527 16,405 1,785 14,620
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) 15,057 8,337 2,573 5,764
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) 2,007 593 589 4
Meryl Streep (The Post) 549 196 183 13
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) 404 188 34 154
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards) 202 81 22 59
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) 131 70 15 55

*Data provide by Sprout Social

So, will the data foretell tonight's winners? The practical side of this specific scenario is that the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences who vote on the Oscars can do whatever they want, regardless of what the data says. Are they likely to reflect the broader demographic captured in the table above? Probably, but not necessarily. 

Whatever the case, we are at a point when we need to spend more time listening to the data and less time in our echo chambers.