What 15 years of emotional intelligence told us about youth media audiences

Stephanie Winkler

Stephanie Winkler is an Australian cultural researcher, and Head of Insights for VICE Media in APAC. She is a data-nerd with a passion for helping brands, creatives and publishers make an authentic connection with young audiences. Her work has been featured at Pause Fest, REMIX, Mumbrella, YMA and AdWeek APAC.

Taking people on an emotional journey through content is the most critical part of being a publisher. Which is why emotion lies at the heart of VICE Media.

Our youth media brand launched in Australia in 2003, nine years after debuting in Canada. Since then, the publication has earned a reputation for gutsy, fearless and provocative journalism, earning a distinctive voice in news across everything from politics and technology, to fashion, food and the arts.

It is vital for our journalists to be able to make an authentic connection with their audiences, especially in the crowded digital age. To enhance our understanding of what moves youth audience across Australia, VICE partnered with IBM and Brisbane-based consultancy, Max Kelsen, to analyse articles and reader comments on social media, and explore themes and subsequent audience emotions generated by our content.  

Using technology to analyse emotions

The project used artificial intelligence (AI) to explore 15 years’ worth of articles and social media conversations to draw out key trends and connections between the authors and readers. To do this, VICE worked with Kelsen, a consultancy specialising in AI and machine learning technology, to analyse over 166,000 articles by VICE writers, over 34,000 Facebook posts from the US and A/NZ, and almost 300,000 comments posted on VICE’s social media channels. 

Combining IBM Watson’s natural language capabilities with Max Kelsen’s AI platform otso.ai, teams were able to enrich VICE's content with measures for concepts, topics, sentiment and emotion. The process was used as a testing ground for the otso.ai product.   

Watson identified the emotion present in every article, post or comment, and uncovered common themes and associations across complex, unstructured data. The process took a few hours.

This allowed us to see how both writers and the audience felt about different topics, with emotions segmented into joy, fear, anger, sadness and disgust. For example, ‘joy’ was the most prevalent emotion over time throughout the study, mainly attributed to articles around music, art, fashion and entertainment.

Another interesting finding was sentiment and tone of a VICE writer often impacts the reader’s emotions. This revealed a strong correlation between the sentiment of the writer and how it subsequently transferred to the reader. This finding highlights the emotional impact our articles can have on readers, while demonstrating the value of certain topics such as culture, music and art in starting conversations on social media.

By understanding emotions in relation to themes, and how they might have changed over time, we’ve been able to pinpoint what topics build positive brand experiences for readers.

In Australia specifically, we found an Increase in mentions of science and related topics in recent years. Youth have shown increasing optimism towards topics relating to science, technology and innovation.

There was also a marked increase in the number of discussions around politics, mental health and drugs in the recent years locally, compared to 15 years earlier when VICE first started publishing. Increasing discussions around topics related to mental health, depression, anxiety and sadness were observed, and many of these topics seemed to appear in conjunction with themes like politics, which is a prominent part of the pop-cultural fabric today. 

To continue growing and connecting with such a rapidly changing audience, it’s important for us to be equipped with meaningful data to best understand them. These findings will not only help shape content Australian youth care about, but also provide important insights for brands on VICE platforms.

Tags: IBM Watson, consumer engagement, artificial intelligence

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