Computer-based analysis of billions of social media posts focuses on the economy's affect on...women's footwear.

The new IBM project uses women's footwear as an example of the insight that can be gleaned from analyzing social media to help drive business strategies.

History of the Heel

IBM's Dr. Trevor Davis, a consumer products expert, explains that economic downturns usually lead to higher heels as consumers seek a means to escape from the poor economy. "This time, something different is happening -- perhaps a mood of long-term austerity is evolving among consumers, sparking a desire to reduce ostentation in everyday settings," he says.


A review of the past 100 years of shoe trends shows that heel height normally increases as the economy takes a turn for the worse. For example, low-heeled shoes from the flapper era were replaced by high-heeled pumps during the Depression. During the most recent four years, however, heel height peaked at the end of 2009, somewhere between five to eight inches, and the kitten heel and flats made a return early this year.

Analysis of the Arch

The IBM project has implications beyond the footwear industry. Manufacturers from other industries could use social media analytics to plan future products, and retailers could tailor their product stock or advertising campaigns around similar research.

How was the study performed?

First, IBM used special analytics software to search billions of social media posts to identify individuals discussing shoes. This initial category contained tens of thousands of posts. Next, the software narrowed the list down to those who are key online influencers in the area of footwear – bloggers, for example. The software relied on special algorithms that rated the popularity of these influencers by zeroing in on the ones who sit in the center of large social networks – that is, writers of blogs that many other blogs link to and which in turn link to many blogs. These bloggers aren't traditional "experts" – they don't work in the footwear industry, for example. But they are passionate footwear enthusiasts with large followings.

Then the software looked for discussions of shoe height on the social media sites. Follow conversation about this study on Twitter with the #BlueHeels and #IBMBAO hashtags.