March Madness Hashtags, Predictive Analysis and You

March Madness Hashtags, Predictive Analysis and You

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Every time there is another major television event, especially one involving winning, the question of analytics and predictive analysis once again rises to the top. Can you predict winners using only trackable social tools and crowd mentality? Can you predict winners by cultivating and tracking a select group of hashtags? Most brands and marketers would love to say yes to that question, and many do. The fact is, we live in a linear time frame and unless the fix is in, there is nothing that can be tracked that will predict anything other than how much time you’ll spend tracking things.

As a Business Analyst for the last 15 years, I’ve been tasked many times with forecasting and predictive analysis based on a shoulders height pile of variables. While many of my predictions have come true, or at least come close, the harsh truth is that it is all just educated guessing. As I transfer my skills to marketing, I see a lot of the same questions being asked, expecting a lot of the same answers. So yes, you can predict anything you want to predict as a prediction is nothing more than a guess. Being right is a completely different animal altogether. In the marketing world though, you don’t always have to be right — at least not in any long term sense — you just have to convince everyone else you are.

So let’s take a look at March Madness. There are 64 teams (though a few less by the time you read this) which creates a few trillion combinations of winners and losers. Yet, here is why you may think that predicting winners will work — because you’ll be predicting the winners. Saying the Florida Gators will go to the Final Four is no stretch of the imagination. They have been on a tear this year, Billy Donovan is running a tight ship and while they let Kentucky keep it super close in the SEC Championship, they pulled out the win to keep that number one seed. Basically, predicting Florida or Kansas or Wichita State or Arizona to win it all is like predicting the sun is going to shine today. Sure, there might be some clouds and it might rain where you are, but the sun will still be there. You really want to show everyone that you are a predictive genius? Predict a team to win that has less of a probability of winning.

Kentucky has 40-1 odds of winning it all. A good team, they will face some tough opponents on the way. Compared to the 9-2 odds for Florida, that prediction could make you look like a superstar if it pays off. That’s right, predictive analysis is basically gambling. You are guessing on the outcome and the higher the odds, the greater the risk/reward scenario. But do you really want to waste time and energy trying to predict the winners? Or would you rather pretend like you already saw it coming? Like I mentioned in my previous post on March Madness, with sporting events — you have to pay attention. So while you might not be able to perfectly predict the winners, you sure can track what people are talking about. The Hashtracking March Madness leaderboard is up and running.

Craig Kanalley over at the Huffington Post last year compiled a list of the most predictable hashtags for the tournament. The most obvious ones are stated below.

Official Hashtag: #marchmadness

Other Major Hashtags: #BigDance, #bracketology, #brackets, #collegebball, #marchmadness14, #myfinal4, #NCAA, #NCAA2014, #NCAAbrackets, #ncaatournament, #ncaatourney

Those are just the major ones and don’t change year to year. Then there are round specific hashtags that also don’t change (since the tournament structure stays the same) such as #Sweet16, #Elite8, #FinalFour / #Final4 and #NationalChampionship. Then of course there are team specific hashtags, which will increase in volume and frequency as teams move deeper into the tournament. The thing about tracking those though, is you have to be aware of all the variables that might be used for the same team. Such as the eventual winners of the tournament, the Florida Gators. They could be #gators, #FloridaGators, #UFGators and so on. Teams like Ohio State and Oklahoma State (most likely as OKState though) share an abbreviation (OSU), adding another variable to any team specific tracking. Don’t forget about all the noise in the hashtags too, especially when you are talking about city or state names. Specific team names will probably be much better from that point of view.

The Hashtracking Leaderboard should give you early indicators what is trending, so if you are actively marketing during the tournament, this should assist with being able to quickly hop on and participate with trending hashtags. For instance, when an underdog is looking at upsetting a higher seed (watch out for ND State), you will see a spike in that teams hashtag no matter the fan base. Everyone loves an underdog.

All variables considered, predicting or even tracking hashtags around a sporting event can be a daunting and time consuming task. Thankfully, there are powerful search tools (like our leaderboard) to give you real-time results so that your marketing materials can take advantage of what people are talking about it. Even after the games are over, people will still be searching and reading about the games. There is no reason to think targeted posts tagged correctly (such as this one) won’t draw some traffic. For the sake of argument though, and for the sake of my brackets, just hashtag everything #FloridaGators because that is who will be winning it all.

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