Analyzing language – You’re doing it wrong

Dan Zarrella, the “social media scientist” at HubSpot, has an infographic on his website called “How to: Get More Clicks on Twitter”. In it he analyzes 200,000 link-containing tweets to find out which ones had the highest clickthrough rates (CTRs), which is another way of saying which tweets got the most people to click on the link in the tweet. Now, you probably already know that infographics are not the best form of advice, but Mr. Zarrella did a bit of linguistic analysis and I want to point out where he went wrong so that you won’t be misled. It may sound like I’m picking on Mr. Zarrella, but I’m really not. He’s not a linguist, so any mistakes he made are simply due to the fact that he doesn’t know how to analyze language. And nor should he be expected to – he’s not a linguist.

But there’s the rub. Since analyzing the language of your tweets, your marketing, your copy, and your emails, is extremely important to know what language works better for you, it is extremely important that you do the analysis right. To use a bad analogy, I could tell you that teams wearing the color red have won six out of the last ten World Series, but that’s probably not information you want if you’re placing your bets in Vegas. You’d probably rather know who the players are, wouldn’t you?

Here’s a section of Mr. Zarrella’s infographic called “Use action words: more verbs, fewer nouns”:

Copyright Dan Zarrella
Copyright Dan Zarrella

That’s it? Just adverbs, verbs, nouns, and adjectives? That’s only four parts of speech. Your average linguistic analysis is going to be able to differentiate between at least 60 parts of speech. But there’s another reason why this analysis really tells us nothing. The word less is an adjective, adverb, noun, and preposition; run is a verb, noun, and adjective; and check, a word which Mr. Zarrella found to be correlated with higher CTRs, is a verb and a noun.

I don’t really know what to draw from his oversimplified picture. He says, “I found that tweets that contained more adverbs and verbs had higher CTRs than noun and adjective heavy tweets”. The image seems to show that tweets that “contained more adverbs” had 4% higher CTRs than noun heavy tweets and 5-6% higher CTRs than adjective heavy tweets. Tweets that “contained more verbs” seem to have slightly lower CTRs in comparison. But what does this mean? How did the tweets contain more adverbs? More adverbs than what? More than tweets which contained no adverbs? This doesn’t make any sense.

The thing is that it’s impossible to write a tweet that has more adverbs and verbs than adjectives and nouns. I mean that. Go ahead and try to write a complete sentence that has more verbs in it than nouns. You can’t do it because that’s not how language works. You just can’t have more verbs than nouns in a sentence (with the exception of some one- and two-word-phrases). In any type of writing – academic articles, fiction novels, whatever – about 37% of the words are going to be nouns (Hudson 1994). Some percentage (about 5-10%) of the words you say and write are going to be adjectives and adverbs. Think about it. If you try to remove adjectives from your language, you will sound like a Martian. You will also not be able to tell people how many more clickthroughs you’re getting from Twitter or the color of all the money you’re making.

I know it’s easy to think of Twitter as one entity, but we all know it’s not. Twitter is made up of all kinds of people, who tweet about all kinds of things. While anyone is able to follow anyone else, people of similar backgrounds and/or professions tend to group together. Take a look at the people you follow and the people who follow you. How many of them do you know on personally and how many are in a similar business as you? These people probably make up the majority of your Twitter world. So what we need to know from Mr. Zarrella is which Twitter accounts he analyzed. Who are these people? Are they on Twitter for professional or personal reasons? What were they tweeting about and where did the links in their tweets go – to news stories or to dancing cat videos? And who are their followers (the people who clicked on the links)? This is essential information to put the analysis of language in context.

Finally, What Mr. Zarrella’s analysis should be telling us is which kinds of verbs and adverbs equal higher CTRs. As I mentioned in a previous post, marketers would presumably favor some verbs over others. They want to say that their product “produces results” and not that it “produced results”. What we need is a type of analysis can tell shit (noun and verb) from Shinola (just a noun). And this is what I can do – it’s what I invented Econolinguistics for. Marketers need to be able to empirically study the language that they are using, whether it be in their blog posts, their tweets, or their copy. That’s what Econolinguistics can do. With my analysis, you can forget about meaningless phrases like “use action words”. Econolinguistics will allow you to rely on a comprehensive linguistic analysis of your copy to know what works with your audience. If this sounds interesting, get in touch and let’s do some real language analysis (joseph.mcveigh (at) gmail.com).

 

Other posts on marketing and linguistics

How Linguistics can Improve your Marketing by Joe McVeigh

Adjectives just can’t get a break by Joe McVeigh

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Twumping Bachmann

Michele, we need to talk. I’ve been hearing these crazy things about you. I mean really crazy things. At first, I said to myself everything’s cool because these crazy things match your crazy eyes. It’s what makes them sparkle.

But there’s something bigger at stake here.

The fact is, Michele, you’ve been ignoring me. How many times does a normal Joe like me need to tell a Member of Congress to tweet their Congress member? I thought that’s what Congress members Members of Congress were good for. I also thought we were off to a good start. I followed you, you followed me, things were looking up. But where have we followed each other to?

It’s the 11th hour now and you still haven’t thrown the Hail Mary. I’m afraid I’ve lost faith in you. I’m going to have to Twump™ you. It sounds cute, but in this day and age, being Twitter dumped is like being really dumped. Like for real for real.

I wish you the best of luck in your craziness and your gay conversions. Here’s hoping your program will work on your husband. I know there are lots of gay men out there just waiting to embrace Marcus Bachmann.

[Update – Jan. 4, 2011] See what happens when you don’t tweet your Congress member, Michele?

How Do You Use The Twitter?

Just a quick update on the people following @congressmembers, the Twitter account I started so politicians would have a safe place to send pictures of their naughty bits and avoid their own personal Weinergate.. Yes, my childish mind really started a Twitter account for that (see the post on it here). But more importantly, get a load of these dopes:

1. Michele Bachmann – It looks like Minnesota’s least favorite politician is in it for the long run – in support of a safe haven for politicians to tweet pictures of their dongs and dongettes, that is. While it is probable that Ms. Bachmann does not handle her Twitter account, it appears that someone working for her either sucks at their job or has a twisted sense of humor. I’m hoping for the latter.

Still one of my favorite emails.

2. Ted Cruz – Here’s someone from Texas who’s trying to get in the Senate. Yo Ted, are you as awful at governing as you are at twittering? Or does Michele Bachmann’s best/worst employee also monitor your Twitter account?

3. LawyersforPerry – We want the Twitter! You can’t handle the Twitter!

4. ElephantAttire* – Did you ever wish your clothes could love Jesus and America and America Jesus as much as you do? Now they can! I actually think this is a great idea and wish I had thought of it. It’s like hemp clothing for everyone between Pittsburgh and Denver. You know, Real ‘Mercans™.

5. CJTaganos – Hands down the sanest one of my followers. CJTaganos uses Twitter for its true intention – professing one’s love for Vanessa Hudgens.

It’s possible that the conservatives on this list are following me because they get the joke, but does anyone really believe that?

*@AmericanJesusClothesRUs (aka ElephantAttire) is no longer following me. Even though our Twitlationship™ was short, I’ll never forget the wonderful moments we shared. They tried to hawk some GodLovesAmerica clothes on me, I told them they’re dipshits. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Michele Bachmann Follows @congressmembers on Twitter*

Michele Bachmann has become the first politician to jump on the @congressmembers bus. I applaud this move. It shows that she’s not afraid to take chances, be brave, and help the country move beyond Weinergate.

I am actively awaiting Michele to tweet me her twat, but until the sexual spirit moves her, why don’t you enjoy this lovely picture that appeared in my inbox today. I know I did.

I was going to update the previous post with this news, but I thought it deserved a post all on its own. Here’s hoping @SarahPalinUSA gets on board with this movement.

*Intended to be a factual statement… cause it totally is.

Introducing… @congressmembers

Friends, Congressmen, Countrymen,

Tweet me your dong.

I understand. You want to send people pictures of your wiener. You need to send people pictures of your ding-a-ling. But alas, not everyone wants to receive pictures of your pecker. What are you supposed to do when the pressure builds up? It’s too much for a politician to take.

That’s what I’m here for. I have created @congressmembers, a Twitter profile that promises to be a safe haven for your interwebs sexcapades. No longer will you have to worry about sending pictures of your sausage to young girls who may turn around and show them to ABC. Send them to me instead. I promise to not let anyone else see. You’ll get the release you need. No one will have to resign. And no one will have to do an interview with Meredith Vieira. And that’s what really matters.

The safe haven for pictures of wangs.

Look, as a bonafide, certified doctor. I can understand the pressure that you’re under. You’re sitting there in your office – smartphone in one hand, meat whistle in the other – and no one to share your excitement. With the Twitterverse is just a finger tap away, what’s stopping you from tweeting a picture of your winky to that cute girl who follows you? She looks reasonable. Hey, she’s in college, that’s saying something, right?

No! Don’t do it, congressman! You don’t want to go down that road. Why don’t you tweet your pork snake portfolio to me instead? It’ll stay between the two of us. Promise. Really, no questions asked. You’ll feel satisfied that your smartphone didn’t go to waste and I’ll feel satisfied that some poor, innocent college chick didn’t have to see your one-eyed warrior.

There. Now isn’t that better?

For the non-congressmen out there reading this, I’d like to take this time to note that @congressmembers is not solely for males or politicians. Hey there, Elena Kagan, gotta feed the need to show someone your Supreme bush? Deliver unto me your vaginal verdict. Why, hello, Brett Favre, upset that no one is talking about your Viking horn anymore? Throw me a long dong pass.

Look, we all know the craving. And we all know that Twitter was originally called TwouserSnake*. Think of it like homosexuality – once a sin, now a sensation. Tweeting pictures of your private parts is the same thing. You just need to wait for the rest of society to catch up. Until then, there’s always @congressmembers.

Weiner-gate solved. You’re welcome, America.

*Not intended to be a factual statement.