According to Wikipedia a word cloud is a visual representation for text data, typically used to visualize free form text. This format is useful for quickly perceiving the most prominent terms and for locating a term alphabetically to determine its relative prominence.
Consultants often use word clouds in the analysis of conversations, online and otherwise, to help identify key issues, trends and opinions. Word clouds are a sexy way to visually display what can be highly complex discussion threads. They display the most frequently used words in larger type while less frequently used terms are smaller. It’s so very simple, yet so very useful.
Wordle is one popular free tool to create word clouds. It’s very easy to use and creates attractive graphics with numerous variations including colour, font and form (circular v rectangular). However, it has numerous limitations too. You can’t change the word list once a cloud has been created. For example if a respondent repeats the question asked in the answer (as is frequently the case) you can’t suppress those words which often gives an inaccurate representation of key words.
In communications, word clouds are best used in conjunction with ‘human’ analysis. For example, it takes a human to make the judgement about the overall sentiment of the data. Are positive words more prominently displayed than negatives ones? Are passive terms larger than active ones? Are there more nouns than verbs indicating respondent engagement levels?
It would be handy to be able to suppress the word Facebook, because before the analysis even begins, we know the content is about Facebook. You can see my blog posts have a strong focus on ‘users’, updates and comments. Also the word ‘new’ is dominant, indicating my focus on reporting new Facebook developments. ‘Hungover’ is a red herring. It’s a term I rarely use in my copy, but did on one particular post about embarrassing updates. The tone is neutral with no strongly positive or negative words featured prominently. The style is somewhat passive; the use of nouns greatly outnumbers that of verbs.
Do you use word clouds? Let me know how and they are used in your work.
- Using social media for research: Social Capital 2012
- Social media in call centres
- Three biggest myths of social media