Joy, frustration, anger, love: these and many more are all in a day’s work for the average social media feed. We might make fun of the status update or the tweet, but in fact they form a complex emotional web, reflecting the feelings of millions of users everywhere across the globe.

Imagine you could map those feelings against locations, times and dates. What kind of picture would emerge? A recent project by the CSIRO developed in partnership with the Black Dog Institute attempts exactly this: to navigate feelings, using powerful analytical tools.

‘We Feel’ is a project designed to understand how emotions fluctuate over time due to changes in social, economic and environmental factors such as weather, time of day, news of a natural disaster or announcements about the economy.

The project displays in real time the current emotional state of the globe, evaluating 32,000 tweets per minute with language-processing software. “We look for up to 600 specific words in a stream of around 27 million tweets per day, said Dr Cecile Paris, Research Leader in language and social computing at CSIROs Digital Productivity and Services Flagship. “We then map those feelings to a hierarchy of emotions which includes love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear.”

Evaluating social media for an emotional snapshot isn’t new, but the scale of projects like We Feel is bigger than we’ve ever seen. Experts like Coca-Cola South Pacific social media manager Annabel Brown are excited about the technology, but take with a grain of salt its accuracy as a genuine social barometer.

How We Share

"It's a bit of a no-brainer, the idea of listening to social media conversations and then drawing insights from what people are posting publicly within those platforms, to get a sense of the overall sentiment of a group” said Annabel. “We definitely do it at Coke. Is it a true representation? Im not sure. People can be very sarcastic - its hard for automated tools to pick up on the meaning behind words because they rely only on the words used and don't consider tone or expression.”

What projects like We Feel might be great for is continuing to expand our understanding of the role of emotion on social media platforms. “We’re always interested to know when people are feeling positively – moments of happiness, for example,” said Annabel. “In terms of social media. what issues or events are people talking about when they’re recording feelings of fear, joy, or happiness?”

Of particular interest to Annabel and her team is whether people are likely to engage in the most human of activities: sharing. It’s an important consideration when coming up with ideas for social media content, or discussing what has previously been successful.

“We believe that for people to share something, the content has to reflect well on them as a person as it becomes part of their online identity. Most users do not want their online identity to appear negative, so they are more likely to share positive statements and content,” Annabel explained. 

“If people are talking about exciting things, then their friends are more likely to engage with that. We use data like this to help inform our strategic plans; but people are too complex for it to be the whole story.”

 Follow Coca-Cola on Twitter at @CocaColaAU, and check in on the emotional state of the Twittersphere at http://wefeel.csiro.au/