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Sentiment and Intuition

In 1946, the Federal Reserve approached Dr. George Katona, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, and asked him to help create a survey to measure Americans' assets.

A trained psychologist, Katona believed that emotion played a key role in the economy and was keen to collect data to prove his theory. If he could find a way to measure the way people felt about money, he might be able to predict the way they spent it.

The Fed rejected his idea — after all, how do you measure feelings on a mass scale? — but Katona found a way to get the data he needed from the survey anyway. Instead of asking people how they felt about their personal finance or the economy, he probed with broad, general questions like, "Are you better or worse off financially than you were a year ago?" and "Do you think you'll be better or worse off in a year?" The simple questions revealed just the emotional feedback he was seeking.

Katona collected this data for years before anyone cared about his "subjective" measurement. But when the idea caught on in the 1970s, he already had decades of data to map against the stock market and so was born the Consumer Sentiment Index.

Does it work? Can you actually predict the economy based on how people feel about their money? When the team at NPR's Planet Money took a look at the data, they found that consumer sentiment dropped just before the 1980 recession and again before 2008 recession. The data isn't perfect but adds important context to otherwise objective and historical data.

The goal of content marketing is to create trust over the longterm. Great content marketers keeps brands top-of-mind when consumers are ready to buy. Sentiment — or how people feel about your brand, product or blog — is one of the key measurables for content marketers to consider. If you can influence positive sentiment, you can more accurately measure how your content will perform in the future. And that is much more valuable that measuring how it performed in the past.

There are complex ways to do this and plenty of companies can draw conclusions by analyzing big data. You likely don't have time or money for that but don't worry, it's not necessary.

I use a simple method I call Anecdotal Reporting. Every time someone says something nice (or not so nice) about my content, I save it in Evernote. Blog comments, tweets, links, Facebook posts and personal email are easy places to look. The Evernote Web Clipper makes it extremely easy to grab the data you need and organize it one place. You can use tools like Google Alerts, Open Site Explorer and Mention to alert you when people reference you.

Do this for a month and you'll begin to notice trends. You'll find that a certain post really resonated with readers or that some topics are controversial. I don't what you'll learn but I know you will learn. In addition to the insight, you'll have a repository of small wins that you can reference when you need ideas for new content or a little inspiration. It's a constant reminder that you are actually helping people.

Sharpen the Saw

The primary reason to measure sentiment is to hone your intuition, an unconscious reservoir of the most important data you have access to. While intuition is largely unmeasurable, it's often the edge that separates good content marketers from great ones. Intuition is sharpened by experience, meaning anyone can improve.

The best content marketers have the sharpest intuition, not the best data analysis skills. Research from psychologist Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer indicates that data can actually be a distraction when it comes to decision-making.

My research indicates that gut feelings are based on simple rules of thumb, what we psychologists term “heuristics.” These take advantage of certain capacities of the brain that have come down to us through time, experience and evolution. Gut instincts often rely on simple cues in the environment. In most situations, when people use their instincts, they are heeding these cues and ignoring other unnecessary information.

Intuition is born from experience alone but that doesn't mean you should be throw data by the wayside. What it does mean is that next time your gut gnaws at you, listen more closely.