9 Unusual Ways Social Media Is Being Used To Predict The Future

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Companies are getting smarter in how they use social media.

Instead of just using it for brand monitoring, one company called Gnip has been working with the likes of Twitter, WordPress, and other social media publishers to do all kinds of things, from tracking diseases to stopping wildfires.

While Gnip can’t reveal which companies it works with, it told us some interesting ways in which social data is being used.

Helping hedge funds.

Gnip works with 12 hedge funds that use social media information to analyse sentiment about certain kinds of investments.

Reporting crimes.

Instead of calling police, people in Mexico are reporting crimes via Twitter. As the New York Times reported:

Anonieta Salazar Loftin, a doctoral student in Mexican history at the University of Texas at Dallas, said this is how her relatives back home use social media. She said that anonymous crime-focused Twitter accounts like @balaceramty -- which is based in Monterrey and has more than 40,000 followers -- provide a needed public service.

Predicting election results.

Twitter and Facebook are playing an important role in predicting how people will vote. For instance, Ad Week reported:

For the New Hampshire debate, Likester gauged viewer reaction, and thus candidate popularity, by monitoring the candidates' official Facebook pages for a spike in Likes. The numbers came back with strong support for Mitt Romney followed by Michele Bachmann, who beat out Ron Paul. Though the debate garnered Bachmann more Likes for the evening, Paul is still ahead of the hopeful representative from Minnesota in overall Likes. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were far behind the top contenders.

Sure enough, Romney won and Paul came in second. (Bachmann had already withdrawn from the race after losing the Iowa caucus to Romney.)

Guessing where the flu will strike next.

Twitter can be used to see if there's a flu outbreak one to two weeks before regular surveillance systems.

Staying ahead of cholera in Haiti.

The 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti was a huge problem. A study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found that Twitter messages could have been used to predict cholera outbreaks more quickly than traditional methods.

According to SciDev.net:

Rumi Chunara, a research fellow at HealthMap and Harvard Medical School, United States, and lead author of the study, emphasised that these informal reports were available online up to two weeks before official government reports, which had to go through the traditional chain-of-command structure of public health.

This means they could be used to get earlier estimates of a disease outbreak -- 'gain early insight into an evolving epidemic' -- and help plan a response sooner.

Chunara highlighted that 'using informal media is cost-effective, rapid, and can be used to reach populations that otherwise wouldn't have access to traditional healthcare or would not seek it'.

Predicting hit movies.

The University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab uses social data to predict what movies will do well at the box office -- even before the movies are shown at the theatres.

Developing products.

Companies are using social data to figure out which features customers like and don't like. As an example, Gnip pointed to the Nike Fuel Band, which tracks people's physical activity.

Shipping products where demand is hottest.

A retailer selling the hottest toy at the holidays can look at geo-tagged tweets to see where demand is highest, then guide remaining supply to those areas.

Now, check out some of the other insights Twitter can provide...

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