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It’s All Symbolic

March 21, 2024by The Signoi Team

The proliferation of imagery and video on social media has created both an opportunity and a challenge for brands.

  • The opportunity is to tap into this rich vein of content to understand what people are posting about your brand, or about your category, and of course to use your own brand’s account for marketing and engagement.
  • The challenge is to be able to analyse, monitor and make sense of all of this in a meaningful and consistent way.

It looks like the dominant social media streams are now Instagram and TikTok. Twitter/X is still around of course but the content has… shall we say… changed… so that for researchers it’s not such a reliable source of data. The new kid on the block, Threads, is still an unknown quantity, so we are left with Instagram as the most reliable source of social media data. There is Pinterest as well of course, but that has a subtly different focus.

Overall, it’s clear that images and videos now dominate social media. And analyzing those can be a challenge compared with the relatively simple analysis of social media text in Twitter or Reddit. For one thing, there is a lot more data and for another their content is very different from text based social media. Text is a bit more direct in meaning, whereas images and video can be a lot more symbolic. Cute dogs, endless cats, food (lots and lots of food), the endless beaches. There is meaning behind the content that is not just the immediate impression.

We’ve noticed that an increasing number of clients are coming to Signoi with a need for a fast and reliable way to decode what’s going on in terms of visual language and how it may or may not speak to their marketplace.

That’s why we have developed our unique “quantitative semiotic” (QS) analysis. Traditionally semiotics (the study of signs – it’s all a sign…) is the domain of human semioticians. And they are very important and very skilled. But there are limits to what they can do. They can perhaps analyze a couple of hundred of images, maybe 20 videos. But what can they do when faced with 20,000 Instagram posts or 500 videos? That’s where we come in. We can analyze thousands of images or videos using our unique QS tools and techniques.

For instance, let’s take Jungian Archetypes. These are a set of “types” or “characters” that are extremely popular, mainly because they are quite simple to understand. 

The full list of Jungian Archetypes are: rebel, jester, lover, caregiver, everyman, innocent, ruler, sage, magician, hero, creator and finally explorer. We can recognize these “archetypes” from everyday life, we can use them to describe people and also use them to describe things (like advertisements). And they have become very popular in the advertising world as a “shortcut” to quantify advertisements for instance in terms of deeper meaning. Once the analysis is run, we find images often cluster strongly according to these archetypes, providing a short cut through the maze of visual social media.

You can immediately see the intuitive similarity of the images in each of the clusters – they are not all the same by any means, but there is a consistency of semiotic tone and meaning that short cuts our interpretation in an intuitively human way.

From these various dimensions, the AI creates a map to represent the territory. A two dimensional representation (of what is a many-dimensional space) is shown below. All the clusters are distinct, but some are further away from others. The map represents the ‘visual space’ occupied by the images. It goes without saying that every project produces a different structure and a different map – it all depends what you feed in.

In sum, the quantitative semiotic AI behind the analysis can deal with tens of thousands of images, and delivers as standard:

  • Clusters of meaning, highlighting a manageable number of core themes within the imagery, as well as subthemes that may embody emergent codes.
  • Archetype analysis and Universal Energies, showing what the imagery is transmitting in terms of characteristics and human motivations.
  • Territory maps, showing how themes relate to each other within a category, and how brands position within this.

That’s just an example of one of the sets of archetypes we use to analyze videos. So if you want to understand the signs and signifiers you and your competitors are transmitting, or any other matters relating to visual analysis, please contact us!

Get in touch today to learn more about what this powerful new approach can do for you.

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