Feature Stories


Micro-Moments: Understand Digital Consumers from Their Live Tweets, Instagram Photos and Google Searches

By Wang Wenbo, Assistant Professor, Department of Marketing, HKUST Business School

Digital consumers are living their lives in micro-moments. These can be purchase moments, discovery moments or action moments in which consumers want to know, say, go or buy. They expect brands to address their immediate needs with real-time relevance. And thanks to mobile devices, micro-moments can happen anytime, anywhere. More importantly, they can also be measured and managed.

I-Want-To-Know Moments

Consumer expectations for “right here, right now” experiences have been accelerated by mobile search technology. According to Google, search interest in “open now” has tripled in the past two years.  At the same time, searches for “store hours” have dropped [1]. Mobile searches for “best” have grown 80 per cent in the past two years. Because they can, people are using their phones to guide them in making the right decisions, big or small, on just about anything.

People also take it for granted that information from a smartphone is tailored for them. The past two years have seen an interesting drop in location qualifiers like zip codes, neighborhoods and “near me” phrasing in local searches because people know the results will automatically be relevant to their location [1]. This may intensify the competition between firms for the already limited attention of consumers.  It looks increasingly likely that a few winners will predominate. Only those companies with the right geographic or timing relevance for consumers will prevail. 

I-Want-To-Share Moments

Posting photos online has become a daily routine for many digital consumers. It is no surprise to see a friend’s Facebook or Instagram photos that capture live moments at a dinner or get-together. Indeed, images are on the way to surpassing text as the medium of choice for social conversations. In these photos, consumers often tag brands. But what can firms learn from these posts?

A research team from New York University and the University of Washington [2] has shown how brands are portrayed on Instagram by mining the visual content posted by consumers. They first used machine learning to measure brand attributes (glamorous, rugged, healthy, fun) from images. They then applied classifiers to brand-related images posted on social media to measure what consumers are visually communicating about brands.

The study covered 56 brands in the apparel and beverage categories, comparing their portrayal in consumer-created images with images on the firm’s official Instagram account. They found that photos posted on social media contain rich information about brand positioning in the mind of consumers (see Figure 1). Therefore, firms should actively examine brand-related photos posted by consumers as a way of monitoring sentiment and trends relating to their brands.  

I-Want-To-Say Moments

YouTube comments, Twitter messages and Facebook timelines are, in text data format, the collective representation of I-want-to-say moments. Industries, whether young or traditional, have all realised the importance of understanding these moments. They want to know who says what - where and when - and to understand the reasons behind the comments. Tracking consumer sentiment by mining online text data has now become a big part of the marketing research industry. Amazon and Alibaba closely monitor consumer reviews on their e-commerce platforms. Facebook and Tencent do the same for their social network products. Insights based on such text data are used to improve targeting and consumer profiling for advertisers and others. 

Besides that, video streaming platforms are now more ambitious than before in terms of catching the I-want-to-say moment. The new feature on YouTube called “Live Chat” allows viewers to post comments while watching live sports, concerts, games and political events (see Figure 2). Comments from viewers are posted immediately on the right side of the screen and seen by others watching the same live stream,  — just like in online chats.

Youku, the leading video streaming platform in China which is owned by Alibaba, has an even more powerful version of the live chat function. Known as danmu, it lets viewers post their own comments and  give a “thumbs up” to other comments  for all types of video streaming, not just  live events. . In this way, it is possible to watch, say, a football game online, but not alone, chatting with other fans about what they feel and like moment by moment.

My research [3] has found that people actively comment while watching online videos. It is quite common to see a 40-minute episode of a TV show with two to three million live comments on Youku. Viewers share their feelings and opinions particularly around some peak moments in a video stream. For example, in the Hollywood movie Hunger Games 2 when the characters Katniss and Peeta kissed and cuddled, the volume of live comments on screen during a stream more than tripled compared to average.

Knowing what to read into these live comments can be highly relevant for company executives. Firstly, the volume and sentiments expressed in live comments give a clear indication of viewer preferences.  If the volume of comments co-move with the contents of a video the video is more likely to have high consumer ratings, more in-app purchases, and even high global box office

This is because a good video will immerse viewers as they follow its “rhythm” and hence their live comments will synchronise with the content.  Secondly, since live chats show viewers’ moment-to-moment feelings, the producers of content, especially entertainment programs such as reality shows, can see what has most impact. For example, based on insights gained from live comments on a current episode, producers can edit or highlight some aspects  for the next episode to provide better entertainment. Finally, knowing the moment-to-moment consumer viewing experience can improve the timing of commercial breaks within a video stream.

Micro-Moment Marketing

Your brand is not the center of your consumer's world. The key to micro-moment marketing is to embrace the idea that you have only a few seconds to grab the attention of consumers. In that short time, , the challenge for brands is to convey a concise message that is relevant and of interest. . The trend towards micro-moments highlights the importance of mobile content delivery and the need for optimised and speedy solutions.

[1] Google Data Jan - June 2017 vs. Jan - June 2015. U.S.

[2] Liu Liu, Daria Dzyabura, and Natalie Mizik (2017), “Visual Listening In: Extracting Brand Image Portrayed on Social Media", working paper.

[3] Qiang Zhang, Wenbo Wang, and Yuxin Chen (2017), “In-Consumption Social Listening with Unstructured Data: The Case of Live Comments and Movie Appreciation”, working paper.

Figure 1: Brand Image from User Generated Photos on Instagram
Figure 2: Youtube Live Chat on Fox News Live