Based on a data from consumer behavioural firm 113 Industries, there exist specific segments of consumers that have yet to make a decision about whether palm oil is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and the industry needs to utilize AI tech to reach these consumers if it hopes to improve the online narrative surrounding palm oil.
The study covered datasets from 240,000 online posts on palm oil between May 2019 and April 2020, obtained from social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and MyFitnessPal. AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology was utilised to identify consumer behavioural patterns and build a model based on this data.
According to 113 Industries Director of Insights and Strategy Jenna Monocello Kerr who presented on the study at the recent Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar (POTS) 2021, the key to changing online consumer perceptions about palm oil lies in targeting the right, ‘undecided’ consumer segments and swaying them to the positive side.
“In our analysis, we found five major segments of users talking about palm oil online. An overwhelming 40.4% of these are what we call ‘Strong Voices’ who are very passionate about the subject either for or against, but the main segments that we believe the palm oil sector should be interested in are the Inquirers (14%) who are still unsure, and the Followers (9.3%) who just go with the trend i.e. if more people say palm oil is good, they’ll follow but is more say it’s bad, they’ll follow as well,” she revealed.
“These Inquirers and Followers are mostly still confused about palm oil and undecided about their stance. [They] are the people you need to worry about, because they could be influenced by either the positive or negative content creators [and you want them on your side].”
Kerr suggested that the opportunity in using AI lies in using this tech to identify Strong Voices who are strongly in favour of sustainable palm oil, then using their influence to push out messages that will quickly reach and influence Inquirers and Followers.
“Let’s say these Strong Voices post messages such as ‘If this land is not used for palm oil, then it will be used for another more devastating oil’ – [seeing such a message online] will be impactful in shifting the perceptions of Inquirers and Followers [and winning] them over to the pro-palm oil narrative,” she said.
As for the messages, Kerr also recommended that focus be placed on the positive benefits of palm oil as opposed to spending too much time on negating negative comments, as consumers were likely to respond better.
“Focus on positives like the wellness dietary benefits of sustainable palm oil, and the good ways that sustainable sourcing is saving the environment and supporting communities in need – don’t try to push how palm oil is ‘no longer unsustainable’ as this could easily turn the conversation negative,” she advised.
“When it comes to promoting the benefits of palm oil, we’ve also seen that consumers on a keto diet are actually a really strong opportunity here to push the healthy fat message – these consumers are very active online [and any of them who are] Inquirers or Followers will easily see these messages and likely be influenced positively.”
She did however suggest that the industry steer away from discussing government partnerships when trying to promote palm oil, as these ‘can be difficult to clearly communicate’ plus ‘may trigger political discussions instead’.
It was also suggested that different players along the palm oil supply chain make use of AI individually to figure out ways to get the best messaging out to consumers at each stage.
“For example, palm oil producers and food firms making products containing palm oil would both want to understand which consumer segments to best target and how to target them, but the former would want to [focus more on broader palm oil benefits] whereas the latter would want to know the best way to highlight the use of palm oil in products, the right messaging, influencers, and so on,” said 113 Industries President and Co-Founder Anupam Singh.
NLP language findings
The study also analysed the linguistics and words that were being used the most in online conversations held about palm oil.
“We determined the top 25 words being used during these palm oil discussions, saw that a lot of these conversations were centred around words like ‘deforestation’ and ‘rainforests’ as well as the term ‘sustainable palm oil’ as a whole,” said Kerr.
“[So to steer the conversations to a more positive aspect], it appears that the language which is really resonating is the term ‘sustainable palm oil’, so we would recommend that the word ‘sustainable’ be included as often as possible where able.
“The other language recommendation based on the NLP findings is to explore the use of the word ‘free from’ – so what I mean here is to use terms like ‘free from non-sustainable sources of palm oil’, as an example. This is really resonating with consumers in areas like skincare, and we definitely are seeing that it could be carried over to palm oil too.”
More consumers to be reached
Most glaringly though, Kerr highlighted that the palm oil supporters, naysayers and those that are still undecided all make up a segment of online users that is aware about the controversy surrounding palm oil – but the fact is that most people are not aware that there is even any such controversy going on.
“One of our main overarching findings was that the broad global population is actually not highly aware of the palm oil controversy – so what’s happening is that [despite the many conversations going on online], the average person really has no idea about it,” she said.
“[This means that] there is actually still a large segment of consumers out there, [and] a level of education and interest is required to get them to pay attention to palm oil.
“That’s not to say the uninformed population is not important here - they are online, [absorbing and] digesting information, so it is quite crucial to get ahead of any of those messages they are receiving [to send them the right messaging about palm oil].”