The Complete Guide to Social Media Analytics

Kimberly Surico |
 07/30/18 |
9 min read

Digital tools like social media analytics offer brands and businesses an abundance of insights to apply in all areas of operations. But these insights only help if you know how to find and use them – and if you keep up with how they change as technology advances.

We’ve updated our Social Media Analytics Guide for 2018, to keep you in-the-know on the tools, metrics, and skills necessary to compete in an increasingly global arena.

The guide is a comprehensive series, featuring in-depth discussions about the following facets of social media analytics:

  1. What is Social Media Analytics and Why Is it Important?  
  2. What Is Social Media Monitoring?
  3. What Is Social Campaign Analysis?
  4. What Is Social Sentiment Analysis?
  5. Social Listening: What, Why & How
  6. What Is Image Analytics?
  7. What Is Audience Analysis?

Each section will explore how to use social media analytics tools to achieve specific brand goals and maintain optimum brand health. But first, let’s break down what social media analytics is, along with an overview of the facets comprised within it.

What is Social Media Analytics?

To understand social media analytics, we must first define social media – something that has expanded quite a bit since the early Friendster and MySpace days.

For starters, there are several more social networks for consumers to choose. Some of the most popular are, of course, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. There is also Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, Reddit, WeChat, and YouTube – to name but a few.

There are yet other social networks, which may not be as popular, but if your audience uses them, that makes them valuable. These include Flickr, Meetup, Weibo, ASKfm, and others. Geographical location often factors in to a social network’s popularity; just another reason you need social analytics – to know which ones your audience prefers.

But social data isn’t limited to straight-up social networks. Essentially, insights can be found anywhere on the web where consumers interact with other consumers. That broadens the definition of social media to blogs, review forums, news outlets, messaging apps, and more.

Social analytics tools sift through all this consumer data, sorting it and categorizing it to reveal what consumers think and feel – information that can be magical for your brand.

The insights mined through social analytics today are far superior to the simple metrics of counting likes, mentions, and comments just a few years ago.

Social data has become a complex and insight-rich goldmine brands use to inform every aspect of operations.

Still, there are always brands new to social analytics – whether because they’re a young business, or because they don’t understand the value social analytics provide.

Because you can’t make the most of an opportunity you don’t understand, here are the components that make a solid social analytics program:

1. Social Metrics

What used to be the entirety of social analytics is now a small – but important – part of a much more complex endeavor.

Counting – be it likes, retweets, comments, reactions – is simply a starting point. But it’s an important one.

If the most you’ve ever had is 500 comments on a post, and you suddenly see you have 5000, you know something is up. The reason we no longer stop at counting is because what it tells you is so limited.

Why do you have 10 times the comments? And what do they mean for your brand? You need additional tools to answer these questions – which we’ll get to in a moment. But if you have nothing else to work with, these minimalistic insights are still a great place to start.

Likes, comments, mentions, retweets, impressions – these all let you know people are interested in talking to and about you, even if you don’t have all the details.

Demographic information – the kind provided by built-in analytics through Facebook and Twitter, for example – also falls under the umbrella of social metrics. This data sheds light on who your audience is, but it’s far from comprehensive.

We’ll talk more about the importance of audience analytics further down, but if you don’t have the budget for more, be sure to use whatever analytics you have access to. Here’s a look at what Facebook offers for Pages:

These metrics aren’t specific enough to help you personalize your posts – which is important. They are, however, a necessary step in identifying who your audience is so you’re not stuck with assumptions. That’s better than nothing.

2. Social Listening

To really understand your audience, you need to do some social listening. This aspect of social analytics brings you face to face with what social users want, need, and desire. This is done by moving beyond the broadness of demographics to the specific detail provided by psychographics.

Psychographics encompass attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to give you a more fully dimensional consumer picture.

What’s being said about your brand is part of this, but you never want to stop there. Talking to consumers about your brand and nothing else is a quick way to turn them off. Social interactions must be just that: social, human, authentic. A promotional tone is most likely to fall on deaf ears.

Social listening clues you in to the topics being discussed by social users – and how impactful they are. It’s about learning what makes consumers tick and what they find important. The focus here is consumer-centric instead of brand-centric, so you can talk to consumers on their terms.

Social listening is how the International Peace Institute identifies high priority research topics for their audience, which helped them increase social followers across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, and grow their Global Observatory Facebook page by 1284%.

Here is a list of popular Terms that pop up when searching on “world peace” and “#worldpeace”:

This gives us some information about what’s being discussed most, and we can look at Hashtags, People and Emojis to learn more. But we still need a bit more to really make sense of this data.

3. Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment analysis is that bit more. It’s a crucial component of social analytics – so much so that it never stands alone. Instead, sentiment analysis layers in context for other social analytics tactics, like social listening.

Why does sentiment matter? Well, much like the limitations of social metrics, knowing a topic is popular doesn’t tell you whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Should you celebrate, or brace for a crisis? Social sentiment tells you.

Here are Sentiment Attributes for our “world peace” search from above, with topics and terms weighted by sentiment – indicating which conversations have gained the most positive sentiment, and which are being propelled by negative sentiment.

Now we can find out what social users are most concerned about, and why.

Again, this is about getting down to specifics, so you can individualize your messaging. But what about something like Facebook’s Reactions – don’t they do this job? Do you really need separate sentiment analysis tools?

Well, what does a heart Reaction tell you on Facebook? It could mean you love the post – or it could mean you are sending love to the person (like when someone announces a family death). You at least know it’s positive, and that’s something. But just as counting alone isn’t enough, neither is broad sentiment.

You need access to Passion Intensity – to understand not just that consumers like something, but that they are “in love,” “obsessed” and “devoted” to it. This is how you find influencers.

And you need the equivalent understanding about negative emotions to prevent crises – by being alerted to problems early via sentiment analysis.

Your sentiment analysis tools also have to be sophisticated enough to decipher the many ways consumers express emotion on social. Images, memes, GIFs, emojis, sarcasm, slang, and netspeak are just a few examples of the data brands need to sift through.

Anything less and your analytics won’t be accurate.

4. Audience Analysis

The combination of social listening and sentiment analysis opens the door to audience analysis. This breaks through old demographic lines and lets you create segments based on shared emotions and experiences.

The beauty of this is finding new audiences you might never have thought to target.

Its exactly how Arby’s discovered hunters were an audience segment passionate about their restaurant. Using audience analysis they learned the importance of celebrating a successful hunt with venison. And that’s how they came up with their venison sandwich.

If they’d marketed to all segments with the same generalized menu items, they’d not have won over this new group of diners.

You can have as many segments as it makes sense to target as long as you’re searching for feel-alikes and act-alikes – not “women ages 35-49.” When you look at your audience that way, you eliminate all the potential outliers who love those same things about your brand.

Audience analysis also helps you find the places online where your fans are most active. Like all social insights, don’t assume anything. You don’t want to invest time creating a Tumblr presence when it turns out your audience is all about Reddit.

5. Competitive Benchmarking

One of the best advantages of social media – and social analytics – is the wealth of competitor info at your fingertips.

In addition to applying social analytics tools to your own brand, be sure you search on any brands within striking distance of yours. Again, don’t assume you know which brands those are. Analyze your industry and category to spot insurgent brands – smaller brands succeeding quickly enough they could overtake yours.

For example, a search on Kylie Cosmetics reveals competitor Pat McGrath Labs is a big part of the conversation:

Why? Despite Kylie Jenner’s youngest self-made millionaire status, McGrath’s company just outpaced hers to become a billion-dollar company.

The best part of keeping your enemies closer? When you identify these brands, you have access to everything consumers say about them online. This opens the door for you to play the hero by solving problems and gaining new customers, as well as to spot and leverage industry trends for your own benefit.

This kind of social media intelligence allows you to be proactive with innovating your brand, ensuring you only make bold moves when you’re confident you have consumer support. It worked for 113 Industries and Ocean Spray – and it will work for you too.

6. Social Monitoring

This term is often confused as an alternate name for social listening, but it actually has its own job to do. Social monitoring is directly connected to brand health as a mechanism for alerting brands to reputational threats and negative posts with crisis potential.

Because things move so fast on the internet, the earlier you know something’s wrong, the better your chances of stopping a crisis from happening at all.

But it’s not just the threat of a viral disaster you want to watch for. Customer service issues can take on extended life if not dealt with quickly. You need software that alerts you to negative mentions of your brand, and a plan in place for how to deal with different stages of concern.

It’s not all about bad news, however. Social monitoring can also alert you to positive spikes, or industry trends – whatever you ask it to tell you. Set up the keywords that matter most for your brand, and never be in the dark when the social tide rolls toward your brand, no matter the emotions attached.

7. Campaign Analysis

Another specialized aspect of social analytics is perhaps the one brands are most familiar with. Campaign analysis and marketing endeavors were the early use cases for social data, and both still benefit from it.

The difference is how immediately data is available. No more waiting for a campaign to end to assess results. Now you can use social listening and sentiment analysis to guide your efforts in developing campaigns your audience will love. And you can follow the analytics in real-time to ensure love is the outcome.

If it’s not, you have the opportunity to change strategies and respond to social sentiment in the moment. This can save a failing campaign – turning things around before the resources invested are lost.

Chick-fil-A agency Moxie turned the restaurant chain’s breakfast campaign on a dime when they saw a high-performing piece of content: a chicken sandwich covered in honey. They applied the idea to create a breakfast-centric GIF: honey dripping slowly off a stack of biscuits.

It was the most engaged GIF they ever produced for the brand. And their breakfast is still getting a lot of love:

8. Image Analysis

Clearly, images are powerful – so they shouldn’t be excluded from your analytics. Especially considering how image-sharing has grown in the past few years. Every platform has brought images into focus – pun intended! – with some platforms devoted exclusively to them, like Instagram and Snapchat.

Facebook posts with images get almost 40% more engagement, while Tweets with images are retweeted 1.5X more, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing fewer text-only posts.

Not only that, in many cases images now stand in for text – which means if your social analytics don’t include images, you’re missing a lot of information.

Your CPG brand could appear in the background of an Instagram post – untagged – and you’d never know without image analysis. It’s a newer, and increasingly vital, piece of the social analytics puzzle.

Combining Tactics for a Comprehensive View

As you can see, social media analytics is a complex undertaking, with a lot of moving parts. Each tool has its purpose, and when combined with others brings you unparalleled insights.

These tools are worth the investment, as they will keep your brand healthy for years to come. Especially if you choose a vendor committed to innovating with the landscape.

We explore each tool in greater depth throughout this guide, so follow the links up top to learn how each can be used to achieve varying brand goals, and how to bring in data from non-social sources to round out your Voice of the Customer data.

Consumers are complex individuals, and the landscape is as competitive as ever for all brands. A thorough understanding of what social analytics can really do, and how to put the tools into practice to perfect your customer experience, is what will set you apart and keep your brand thriving for years to come.

To learn how to use NetBase’s comprehensive suite of social analytics tools, reach out!



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