Serious Social Media Listening Opportunities Abound for Retail Brands

Kimberly Surico |
 09/22/16 |
8 min read


There’s no such thing as taking social media listening too seriously – though some may not take it seriously enough. Brands now have access to insights capable of propelling all aspects of business forward, from revenue to innovation of new products. There’s never been a better time to be a retailer.

Bringing the past into the future

There was a time when it wasn’t so easy to gather intel on what consumers liked, didn’t like, wanted, needed, etc. Before social media, the only way to know what consumers were thinking was to ask them using time-consuming methods like telephone outreach, mailed surveys, or demographic focus groups.

These methods provided worthwhile results, but they cost a lot to organize and analyze – taking months to deliver insights brands could put into action.

That doesn’t mean these tactics have become extinct. Focus groups still have value to offer, but there are a few downsides inherent as well. For one, focus groups aren’t typically customer-centric, which makes the intel collected a little less useful when applied. We’re living in the Age of the Consumer, and that means everything we do has to center around their desires and needs.

And the time factor still poses a problem. Even with digitized technology, it can take time to analyze focus group results after the fact. In the meantime, social feeds will have refreshed hundreds of thousands of times, providing information brands can easily take advantage of – in real-time.

The reality is, social media provides an always-active focus group you can source any time you need to know what your brand should do next. External focus groups – the kind taking place in conference rooms and marketing offices – are better reserved for special circumstances, or for touching base with consumers not using social media. But that number will certainly continue to dwindle over time, so don’t wait too long to bring social analytics into the picture if you haven’t already.

Always be listening – and get more

What’s awesome about social media and applying social listening tools is how much more you learn about consumers – and what you can do with that information. It’s not simply about knowing consumers like your brand or products – though that’s always good information to have. What social makes available is a wealth of data capable of changing your brand’s trajectory entirely. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.

For example, social has completely transformed customer service. Now consumer complaints happen on a global stage, with everyone watching and waiting to see how their favorite brands will behave.

Ignore complaints at your peril. Social flames are quickly fanned and a single tweet about a bad experience is easily amplified by consumers eager to share how they too had an issue with your brand and have since switched to a competitor.

How you handle complaints is as important as how quickly. You’re performing for an audience –always – on social. You have an opportunity to show everyone watching that you care, so tread thoughtfully.

kohls exchange

At the same time, you don’t want customer service to only happen when there’s a problem. Great customer service, and creating a great customer experience, is also tied to interacting with consumers regularly. Recognizing when they compliment you, and thanking them, is just as important as being there when they speak up about an issue.

And that’s just one aspect of social connection that impacts your brand.

Consumer intelligence is just as crucial – and easily done. When you turn the social data lens away from your own brand, you gain by learning exactly what consumers love (or don’t) about your biggest competitors. And you need to do this, and to be ready for anything – because what you discover may surprise you.

The danger of assumptions

Many a brand has been brought to its knees by assuming a “business as usual” attitude based on the idea that being at the top means they’ll stay there. To avoid being one of them, ditch all your assumptions about your audience – who you think they are, and what you think they need. Let go of the idea that anyone’s love for your brand is pure and unwavering, and take a look at the larger conversations happening beyond your own social backyard.

This is important because we constantly see unexpected shifts in our own research into varying brand categories. Our brand new 2016 Retail Industry Report offers a few examples of these kinds of unexpected results.

We looked at 60 leading retail brands in 11 categories to analyze top social trends and overall social performance. Monitoring more than 430 million social posts across social networks –including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and millions of other sources – between July 28, 2015 and July 27, 2016, we measured:

  • Volume of conversation
  • Awareness (as a measure of earned impressions)
  • Reach (a measure of owned impressions)
  • Net sentiment and brand passion

Included categories were:

  • Pharmacy and Convenience Stores
  • Discount
  • Big-Box
  • eCommerce
  • Clothing
  • Luxury
  • Shoes
  • Athletic
  • Department Store
  • Grocery
  • Office Supply

This research uncovered a number of valuable insights for all brands to benefit from.

For instance, Amazon ranked the highest in mentions and awareness – not a big surprise, given their popularity, and the growing popularity of eCommerce overall. But here’s what’s interesting: Tiffany & Co. was the most passionately and positively discussed brand.

So what does that mean, exactly? It means being talked about a lot doesn’t mean all the conversation is good. So relying on volume alone can get you into trouble. You have to monitor sentiment if you want to keep consumers on your side.

Follow your passion

Sentiment is a more important metric to have a handle on than mentions – because social is driven by emotions, and not all mentions are equal.

Our Brand Passion Index™ calculates consumer emotion using two key values: Net Sentiment (whether feelings are positive or negative) and Passion Intensity (the strength of those feelings). These values are crucial to determining courses of action.

With negative sentiment you want to know where potential problems exist, and how massive they could become. It may be that lying low is the right move – but you can’t know that if you don’t know the intensity of the negativity.

With positive sentiment you want to know which consumers love you so much they could be brand influencers. Not all will qualify, even if they love your brand – though anyone sharing positive sentiment should be acknowledged.

Passion is so important because there’s not necessarily a direct correlation to high mentions and high positive Brand Passion.

To illustrate: Our sentiment report findings showed an overall Net Sentiment of 58%, with a 69% Passion Intensity. Both of these metrics are measured on scales of -100 to +100.

What this indicates is a mixed bag of emotions and attitude toward the retail industry. And that picture becomes even more interesting when broken down by category to show volume of mentions compared against Brand Passion. Mention volume by category breaks down as follows:

retail mention of volume

Now look at Brand Passion – which we calculate by combining Net Sentiment and Passion Intensity to indicate overall favorability. For instance, low Net Sentiment and high Passion Intensity indicates some serious hate, which would show up as a lower Brand Passion score compared with a brand receiving the same high passion but with a high Net Sentiment score.

Here’s the breakdown for Brand Passion by category:

retail brand passion index

Even though Luxury Retail was grouped in with the Clothing and Discount categories, comprising 1% of volume of mentions, Luxury Retail alone had 61% Brand Passion – the highest of any category.

And which brand was highest with regard to being positively and passionately discussed? Tiffany and Co. Interesting, considering Department Stores and Big Box hold so much more mentions volume, and 13 other individual brands had higher Mentions, Reach and Awareness rankings.

The takeaway here? Aspiration purchases drive positive social conversations and brand image – people love love, and jewelry and love are deeply connected.

So don’t underestimate the value of having a devoted – if smaller – audience base talking about your brand with great passion. It can be far more beneficial than a large number of people talking about your brand apathetically – because the apathetic consumers are the ones most easily swayed to trying another brand if they’re not getting what they need from you.

Paying attention to consumer interests is in your best interest

Giving consumers what they want and need is the most important thing you can do as a brand on social. When you do, they love you. And when you don’t… well, they don’t. This is why it’s so crucial to always be aware of brand perception across the social landscape. If people aren’t in love with you, that’s table stakes – so you need to know that’s the case, and you need to know why.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of knowing what they care about. That information can be enough to give you a way in that changes their perception.

For instance, CVS has to take a lot of flak for consumers’ phlegm during the winter months – a time when Net Sentiment with strong language had a significant increase according to our report research.

Instead of letting their sentiment take a beating, could they change their approach? What would help their customers when they feel badly? Perhaps a change in messaging is in order – a more sympathetic or more personalized touch.

Or maybe they need something completely new in the mix. A little social media intelligence can point them in the right direction if so.

Imagine having your cough or cold syrup delivered when you’re too sick to go out? Is this a feasible solution? If so, they could innovate a new trend other pharmacies would strive to match.

All brands need to take to social in such times, listen to consumers, and let their desires inspire your strategy. The answers are always there.

As are other advantages – like engaging new audiences.

Learn how to connect

This was something Ford wanted to do when they became sponsors of the Dirty Girl Mud Run. With more than 1 million female participants since 2011, the annual event was a huge opportunity for the auto brand to engage this new segment, and ensure the success of future events they sponsored.

With the help of Branch Creative and Jackson Dawson they examined the perceptions and behaviors this specific segment had about the Ford brand. They held the “Ford Mud Mode Makeover Sweepstakes” via a microsite where consumers entered by answering a few questions – in the hopes of winning a $5,000 cash prize.

Branch Creative was smart enough to know it would take some trial and error to learn how best to connect to this new segment, so they used NetBase over the course of the year-long campaign to see which of three content options resonated with this audience:

  1. Stock imagery featuring the Ford and Dirty Girl logos
  2. Images of muddy Ford Explorers and Escapes
  3. Images of muddy participants with the featured Ford vehicles

Using NetBase’s social media listening tools helped Ford identify images of muddy race participants posing with Ford Explorers and Escapes as the content this segment was most passionate about. Promoting such content lead to 41,000 entries in their sweepstakes, and increased brand awareness and engagement.

ford mud run

Consumers are your best resource when you need guidance. They’ll tell you how they feel about your brand, about your competitors, about everything happening in their lives – and that’s what you need to use to reach them. That’s how brands like Kohl’s and Best Buy ended up at the top of their respective categories in our report – by staying tuned in to their audiences’ interests and concerns.

Staying on top is dependent on continuing to follow consumer conversations and sentiment, to be sure you’re first to know if things take a turn. No position is secure forever, but knowing where you are is the first step toward deciding where you want to go.

Download the 2016 Retail Industry Report to find out where your brand falls in the rankings, or reach out to take your social listening to the next level.  

E-Book: The Importance of Social Analytics for Consumer Insights

Image from Janine


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