Analyzing Sarcasm: With Social Listening, It Can Be Done
Kimberly Surico |
 03/29/16 |
3 min read


When analyzing consumer sentiment, there’s one thing that can often skew your results: sarcasm.  But with the right social listening tools, you can get an accurate read of user’ intent to inform your actions.

Navigating social nuances

On Twitter, sarcasm and snark rule the newsfeed. Tweets that mean the exact opposite of what they say are more common than you might think. But getting to the heart of sarcasm can be difficult. Why? Some actual humans don’t even understand sarcasm, so teaching a processor to sort it out takes time.

Consider this tweet:



The text alone doesn’t give much information on sentiment surrounding the iPhoneSE – though the slow-clap GIF clearly gets the “what’s the big deal” sense of boredom across. This tweet would likely be classified as slightly less than neutral, by leading social tools, and likely neutral by less sophisticated social tools.

A leading social listening platform can decipher most everything. Let’s look at how social listening tools can interpret the subtleties.

Understanding human language

As sarcasm is largely about tone, it’s a language issue – one that requires a processor able to understand it (ours does). Human language is full of clues that provide context to flag a distinction like sarcasm – and those clues show up on social media as well, if you know where to look:



If the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is taking keywords at face value, the words “thank you” and “lovely” might leave them thinking they had a happy commuter on their hands. In this case the hashtag is pretty blatant, so there’s no doubting the rider is being sarcastic here. But social listening software can catch more subtle clues as well.

Social body language

Of course, not all clues are verbal – i.e., text – especially when you’re dealing with a 140-character limit. In face-to-face conversations, sarcasm can be punctuated with a wink, or an elbow-jab to clarify meaning. What’s the social equivalent?


Emojis pack an emotional punch – and often serve as a sarcastic punchline. For example:



If the full text wasn’t enough of a clue, the crying emoji at the end seals it: This user doesn’t hate National Puppy Day. She just hates being away from her own sweet pup. Here’s a dog lover your pet-related brand can approach.

What did you say?

Emojis can be quite complicated – sometimes replacing text almost entirely. Aside from decoding them to cull meaning from sarcastic tweets, being able to decipher them period is crucial for brands.  Otherwise, you’re missing half (or more) of the conversation. And – as the example of emojis as a sarcastic twist proves – it could be the half that matters most.

Another reason emojis are of supreme importance is stated in the first half of the word – emotion. Intense emotions are the ones you should be most interested in – as the users expressing them are likely to be your biggest brand advocates, or your biggest detractors. It’s smart to keep an eye on them.

Case in point, using a cry-face emoji – as above – to express a strong desire is common, like a toddler throwing a tantrum in a supermarket for a toy at the checkout line. If a consumers is conveying their dismay at not being able to afford your product – maybe they need to know about how your loyalty program could help them earn discounts, and all they have to do is retweet from your app.

The opportunities abound when you are able to understand what social users are really saying. Sarcasm is not easy to detect, but with the right social listening tools it can be a revealing part of the equation instead of a nonentity. And that’s worth getting excited about – for real.

Want to give our Slanguage Tracker a test drive? Reach out for more information.

Image from Heather

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