How to Use Social Sentiment to Perform a Competitor Analysis

Carol Feigenbaum |
 01/24/20 |
8 min read

To succeed online, brands must have a big picture understanding of the landscape – and intel around competitors is a super important piece of that puzzle. From understanding which brands are gaining on you, to what they offer your shared target consumers, there’s never been a better use case for Competitor Analysis Tools.

Our newly updated Complete How-To Guide: Social Analytics continues with a focus on how to perform Competitor Analysis, and what tools you need to get the job done efficiently and accurately.


Before you can do anything else, you have to identify who the competition is – and you really can’t assume anything. Business-as-usual is being constantly redefined in all verticals, and you never know where a competitor may spring up next.

Consider a seemingly simple category like groceries. It used to be stores like Stop & Shop versus Kroger versus A&P, etc. Now grocers must compete with stores like TargetWalmartAmazon Go, and even meal delivery services like Blue Apron.

On the flip side, these additional options are a CPG brand’s dream for increasing exposure and distribution. Whichever angle you’re competing from, opportunities await. But if your competitors are so varied and subversive, how do you identify them? By following the love – or, more technically, by using Sentiment Analysis.

Sentiment is the metric that tells you which social topics and conversations have the most value. It helps you pinpoint audience segments, channels of interest, and yes, it helps you identify competitors you need to take seriously.

Here are the components of a state-of-the-art Sentiment Analysis Tool:

  • Next generation AI-powered social analytics, which combines machine learning with deep learning and expert systems to uncover next-level insight
  • Automated theme discovery capabilities able to surface semantically similar terms and capture predictive intel ahead of the competition
  • Transparent results that can be explored to understand sentiment origins
  • Categorization of emotions from positive to negative; we call this Net Sentiment, and rank with values from -100 to +100
  • Measurement of emotion strength; we call this Passion Intensity, and rank with values from -100 to +100
  • Image Analysis capabilities, as it’s not just words that convey emotion. More and more people share images without text to get their point across; these images must be counted for analytics to be accurate.
  • Significant logo library, able to capture insight around your brand and its top competitors

These features deliver an unparalleled depth of understanding of what consumers love and hate most – a must in Competitor Analysis. Need an example? Let’s say you’re a sports apparel company.

Using a tool like NetBase, we can search on the term “activewear” to see what we get:

understanding activewear conversation for competitor analysis

Terms in green are positive, and terms in red are negative. The larger the term, the higher the conversation volume around it – though everything in this word cloud has broken through the overall social “noise” and is fair game.

There are several terms you’d want to know if you were in the activewear industry. Qualities people clearly like include:

  • “include Just My Size”
  • “stylish”
  • “accessible”
  • “wrinkle free”
  • “affordable”
  • “provide comfort”

And more.

When you investigate these terms, you’ll find brands like Chico’s, Park BoutiqueZyiaJoe FreshTarget, and Khloe Kardashian’s Good American line. No mention of Lululemon or Fabletics?

And what about larger brands like Nike and Adidas? They may be mentioned in a further exploration of the terms. The point is, if you assumed only the most well-known companies were your competition, you’d be ignoring a lot of brands that could grow to challenge yours at any time.


There’s another reason to look at sentiment based on keywords that matter to your industry. You’re not looking for what your brand does well – you should already know that. You need to know what others are doing well (or not), and whether that information should change your approach.

Let’s consider sponsorships for some sense of how this looks in action. NFL sponsorships can be tricky, so they deserve special attention – and they offer ready examples!

For instance, Bud Light’svictory fridge” campaign did really well. So much so that the brand made their own Influencers list due to their YouTube presence – helped by numerous news outlets sharing video about their campaign:

Bud Light victory fridge

If you’re a competing brand you’d want to know that – and consider using video to beat them.

In NetBase Pro you’d look at Popular Posts, Popular Media, and Influencers to see this information.

Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick is another viral NFL example. While some applauded Nike’s stance in backing Kaepernick, others questioned their labor practices and felt they had a long way to go before patting themselves on the back for being socially conscious. Especially with big voices, like The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, chiming in about being wary of corporate motives.

Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick is another viral NFL example that competitors could use in an analysis

For Nike, this must all be carefully monitored to ensure things don’t go off the rails. And capturing spikes in mentions is one way to do that. Take this search on the topic of “sustainability” for example:

understanding sentiment around sustainability for competitor analysis

But just seeing a fluctuation happening isn’t good enough. Brands also need to be able to click through and see what is behind the fluctuation:

fluctuation summary detailing reason for spike in mentions

Social insight is of little value if you can’t track something back to its source.

So, would Nike’s bold of a statement work for all brands? Certainly not. You have to follow sentiment and see what the blowback is.

For Nike’s competitors, there’s a lot of information there to exploit—and improve upon. And it’s an extreme example, perhaps, but it makes clear that the impulse to simply copy what another brand does is not a good idea. Competitive analysis informed by next generation artificial intelligence helps brands understand how their competitors’ actions are being perceived and why. Only then can you make an informed decision about changing your own trajectory.

Look at sentiment insights to see what consumers are passionate about – both positively and negatively – and why. Then look at your own audience to see if making a change will hurt or help your brand.


The Nike example is also a reminder to be alert to the failings of competitors – because they present opportunities to solve problems and win new customers. You may excel at the very thing they find lacking in another brand, but they might not know about you. Use Sentiment Analysis – and social engagement best practices – to let them know without turning them off.

One way to do that is to understand the conversation in your category. Ocean Spray did this in their quest to win the breakfast juice market. Wanting to stand out against more obvious choices like orange and apple, they looked to Social Analytics to understand sentiment around cranberry juice.

They learned there was embarrassment at the association of cranberry juice with certain medical conditions, but also that women enjoyed the juice as a means of hydrating after fitness classes, and as a colorful, non-alcoholic substitute for red wine at the end of a long day.

These insights prompted Ocean Spray to develop their new Mocktails line.

Mocktails drink creation made with social listening and competitor analysis

They crushed the competition by understanding consumer sentiment around cranberry juice overall. This allowed them to approach their product in a way competing juice brands weren’t.

Competitor Analysis can be as simple as understanding what your market favors, so you know where to focus your efforts. Any information you have that the competition ignores is a feather in your cap. Like knowing which flavors of ice cream are favored in Europe. If ice cream/gelato is part of your game, this is critical intel!

Dear Starbucksour infographic indicates you should focus on chocolate, pistachio, vanilla and Nutella – in that order.

Meanwhile, it’s not just consumer problems you can solve. Competitor Analysis also solves marketing campaign issues in real-time. Universal Music Group (UMG) put this to the test and helped Luke Bryan win an Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year award.

They used social analytics to understand how competing labels and artists were approaching their campaigns, then changed their strategy to rack up the most fan votes and win the award for their artist.

But it’s not only good for capturing known intel – it’s also great for surfacing insight around what might be headed your way next!


The biggest struggle brands face with competitor analysis is user bias. Let’s back this up. When using a powerful next generation AI-powered analytics tool, the insight is amazingly accurate and actionable. When using something chugging along on “old AI,” brands have lots more than user bias to worry about! Their insight is subpar, for sure.

But assuming you’re using a top-notch tool with robust capabilities, the thing your efforts need to focus on weeding out is human bias. And to that, you’ll need a tool capable of surfacing insight without requiring user input. It sounds very Sci-Fi, doesn’t it? Well, it is – and it exists.

AI Studio offers automated theme discovery, allowing brands to surface related insight and be alerted to trends that may not have hit center stage in your category yet. Imagine how valuable that would be? Brands are already sharing with us that it is.

Sustainability conversation in AI Studio

The true value here lies in the tool’s super smart ability to apply its best-in-class accuracy to your topic/category and find this a human operator would never have considered searching for. Or who may have searched for, but in a way that limited the results – and resulted in your losing out on the next category-defining idea!

For example, the sustainability conversation is certainly picking up steam – and it’s one that brands need to pay attention to. Having AI Studio monitor the trend in your category will tell you where the conversation is headed and alert you to related topics that you’ll want to be at the forefront of. Things you’ll want to incorporate into future campaign planning, for sure.

It’s another way to best the competition, while gaining a better understanding of your target audience.

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to beating competitors – except this: Everything counts, and sentiment is your constant. Sentiment Analysis reveals:

  • Which content is most engaging your audience—and those who are fans of your competitors. The channels your target consumers favor.
  • The most passionate interests of consumers loyal to your competitors.
  • And it reveals what makes them spitting mad as well.

Understanding all these points helps you to create a tailored customer experience to lure your competitors’ fans over to your camp. Ignoring any of these points gives an edge to other competitors bent on the same task.

Don’t forget about images, as the competition may not always be “mentioned” in words. Look to Image Analytics to know when and where competitor logos appear so you have every bit of context possible to inform your competitive strategy.

diaper packaging fail that could power competitor analysis

No mention of Pampers to be found above, but they should definitely address this. Meanwhile, HuggiesHonest Diapers, etc. can benefit from a free lesson in what not to do.


That’s yet another great advantage of Competitor Analysis – it shows you where other brands are spending money on failed ideas, and saves you from doing the same. Before venturing into any new territory, see if another brand in your category has done the research for you.

Really, there’s no limit to the ways you can use Competitor Analysis in your operations. Product development, store layout, customer service – your entire customer experience benefits from competitor insights applied smartly.

So be sure you’re taking advantage of Competitor Analysis Tools now that you know how. It’s what the competition would do.

Check out the rest of The Complete How-To Guide: Social Media Analytics as well as its companion The Complete Guide to Social Media Analytics. Additional topics include:

And reach out when you’re ready to add our Competitor Analysis Tools to your arsenal. We’ll give you a free customized demo!

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