We’ve all been there — a friend or loved one sends a text with the word “Fine” or, worse, the classic “K” to respond to an inquiry, and you’re left wondering if they’re mad at you or just quickly agreeing to your question. In the digital world, tone is difficult to translate (even when using emojis) and misunderstandings happen often.
It happened to Kevin Knull when he sent a well-intended text message to his wife and it was badly received on her end.
“All of us have done it — we read a text message and misinterpreted,” says Curtis R. Shoch, president and co-founder of Truthify. “We took that concept of having these badly-received text messages, meaning you don’t know the tone behind them, and we evolved it into a communication and marketing solution that really engages consumers.”
Now-CEO Knull and Shoch founded Truthify to bring emotional intelligence back into digital communication.
“Right now, the idea that modern day digital communication has been dwindled down to three words or less, or it’s an emoji or ‘like’ button,” says Shoch.
The smartphone app, available on iOS and Android, uses short video messaging to gather information on users’ emotions and opinions. The technology asks the user for permission to scan their face, then scans 14 times per second to analyze the 43 facial muscles and discern emotions.
A deep learning algorithm then classifies the user into one of seven emotions.
To read the emotions from the short videos, the Truthify team partnered with Affectiva, an MIT-incubated company that specializes in emotional artificial intelligence, which has a repository of emotional data from around 6.7 million people of various genders, ages, and ethnicities. They used the data to quantify and refine the accuracy of people’s emotional reactions.
That valuable data is also the biggest benefit of the top-tier of Truthify’s three plans — the Pro version, which allows brands and ad agencies to use its video messaging and feedback capabilities to test campaigns, share content and see customers’ emotional reactions.
“Brands haven’t had the means to quickly identify people’s true reactions to either their product, their service, and they’ve been relegated into traditional market research,” says Shoch. “We’re offering a mobile device solution to help brands and individuals gather feedback almost immediately in an authentic way.”
Once the brand posts a sample campaign or piece of content, they will receive a composite report of the audience that received that message and a breakdown of all the emotions and overall consumer experience and engagement. “A lot of these forms of test users, you have no idea if they’re watching your message or not, whereas with our app, we can say if this person was engaged and showing some type of emotion,” says Shoch.
Truthify also offers two B2C versions for those who just want to know what people think about their messages. One is a free version with limited capabilities, along with a premium version at $1.99/month for longer recording time and greater functionality to view more comments.
The Truthify team includes several features to protect the user’s privacy and prioritize security.
“Privacy is incredibly important to us and we took a very calculated approach to this. We’ve learned from the recent data privacy scandals and when you’re talking about someone’s emotions, that’s really important,” says Shoch. All feedback to brands or advertisers is anonymized unless the user has previously agreed to share it with the brand by friending them through the app. The choice to share an identity always remains with the user.
The Atlanta-based startup has spent the last several months testing the platform and tweaking the model to support its thousands of users worldwide. Now that they have a working business model, the team is ready to start fundraising to expand marketing reach and acquire more customers.
“The technology doesn’t know boundaries. Our emotional response is hardwired to the limbic part of our brain, that’s been there for thousands of years. It doesn’t care about age, ethnicity, or language and it caters to our global presence,” says Shoch.