March 22, 2012
With the abundance of social media outlets available, people now have a way to vent about any and all frustrations anytime throughout the day. A quick survey of our own Facebook newsfeeds will quickly reveal that we always know how our friends are feeling, thanks to their numerous updates. A recent study, however, reported that some of these rants may be quite useful when it comes to predicting and preparing for spikes in unemployment.
According to the study, researchers wanted to address two questions: could online discussions predict future job losses and could policy makers use the real-time content to better understand individuals and how they cope with unemployment. Half a million blogs, forums and news sites from the U.S. and Ireland were analyzed for two years. Unemployment-related content was given a mood score--for example, happy, depressed or anxious. Similar content, such as posts about foreclosures or evictions and increased use of public transportation were also studied to better understand how people coped with financial hardships.
As reported by The Bottom Line on msnbc.com, the study, which was conducted by software firm SAS and United Nations Global Pulse, showed that online user-generated content predicted spikes in unemployment rates in both countries. For example, angry and depressed talk in the U.S. predicted an uptick in unemployment four months out, while rants about foreclosures occurred two months after an increase in the jobless rate. According to the study, some other leading indicators of an unemployment spike included downgrading an automobile or a decrease in grocery spending. Some examples of lagging indicators were talk of reduced healthcare spending and vacation cancellations.
Anoush Rima Tatevossian, a spokesperson for the UN Global Pulse told The Bottom Line, "We don't have enough real time indicators of what's happening to people as it's happening." Researchers hope that the data will help policy makers not only evaluate whether the policies they created are actually working, but also allow them to implement policies in a more timely manner.
"This untapped treasure can provide real-time feedback on policies, improve public safety, enhance citizen relations and support important sociological research," explained I-Sah Hsieh, global manager, international development at SAS, in a press release.
Although the study looked only at forums, blogs and news sites, researchers said future studies should include data from Twitter and Facebook.
"We're already starting talks on that, particularly Twitter," Hsieh told The Bottom Line.
In somewhat related news, Forbes reported that the online bulletin board Pinterest may be a new tool to help people overcome unemployment. As Meghan Casserly pointed out, American Pinterest users spend an average of 1 hour and 17 minutes on the site, whereas LinkedIn users only average 17 minutes. While it is not yet the go-to network for headhunters and hiring managers, many argue that the additional online exposure--if done right--doesn't hurt. That being said, you may want to focus some of that negative energy into creating a professional Pinterest board instead of blasting your Facebook friends with yet another disgruntled update.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Can a country's online "mood" predict unemployment spikes?" sas.com, March 12, 2012
"Is Pinterest The New LinkedIn For Job Seekers?" forbes.com, March 20, 2012, Meghan Casserly
"Social media predicts unemployment spikes," bottomline.msnbc.msn.com, March 21, 2012, Eve Tahmincioglu
"Unemployment Through the Lenses of Social Media," unglobalpulse.org