IBM ties into social media chic

Its new Social Sentiment Index identifies trends in consumers’ interests.

Paul Demery

This might not be what retailers expect to learn from IBM Corp., the long-time provider of computer technology systems, but the company’s new Social Sentiment Index has pegged “steampunk” as a hot new trend in fashions identified by consumer buzz in social media.

“Steampunk is an emerging fashion trend,” Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions within IBM’s Software Group, said in an interview at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference this week. IBM, he said, is using technology from its suite of web analytics software, including Coremetrics and SPSS, to gather and analyze data across multiple forms of online social media, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. IBM will offer to feed that data to retailers to help plan marketing and merchandising programs tailored to current consumer buying trends, he adds.

The software behind the Social Sentiment Index is designed to sort through consumer-generated content on social media sites to identify when trends begin to show signs of becoming strong enough for retailers to address them with selling strategies, Hayman says. Steampunk, a “retro-futuristic” style that blends characteristics of 19th Century Victorian society with elements of science fiction, has been growing in popularity in recent years.  But it is only now beginning to reach a level of popularity likely to drive retail sales of apparel and other products—picture the image, perhaps on a T-shirt or sweater, of a man in a top hot straddling a spaceship—featured in a steampunk style, IBM says. It projects that the style will shift from limited and high-cost production of steampunk-related apparel, jewelry and other items to lower-cost mass production within two years.

The company, which has not released the names of any retailers who have signed up to use the Social Sentiment Index, offers several elements of an IBM “big data” technology platform, including IBM data warehousing and the open-source Hadoop analytics engine for processing large amounts of information. This platform, Hayman says, is designed to quickly process huge amounts of social media data to enable retailers to quickly identify market opportunities.

Trevor Davis, IBM’s consumer products expert, has used IBM analytics software to track mentions of steampunk in social media for the past few years.

The data, now compiled in the index, shows the following:

● After steampunk-inspired events at the New York ComicCon conference in October 2010, steampunk chatter in social media rose 296% year over year in 2010;

● Twitter is the top social network for steampunk chatter, with six times the number of steampunk discussions as found on Facebook;

● Consumers under 30 years of age initiate 63% of discussions of steampunk fashions;

● Blogs account for 55% of social media chatter on steampunk fashions;

● 33% of social media chatter on steampunk can be found on online gaming sites.


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