Why Social Sentiment Matters So Much – and How to Use It
Kimberly Surico |
 09/08/16 |
6 min read


It’s easy to assume social sentiment comes down to knowing and ensuring consumers feel positively about your brand – because, of course, everyone wants that. But there’s so much more you can do when you have a next-level understanding of how sentiment works.

What is social sentiment, anyway?

For our purposes, social media sentiment is a measurement of two key values:

  1. Net Sentiment – whether perception of your brand is positive or negative
  2. Passion Intensity – the strength of positive or negative feelings on social media

That’s a very simplistic overview of what is ultimately a fairly complex picture. Users don’t typically tweet “I love J.C. Penney!” or “I hate Kohl’s!” with such blatant clarity. If they did, Net Sentiment would be a really easy thing to calculate. Even so, such tweets wouldn’t explain why they loved or hated those brands. And they wouldn’t indicate the strength of those feelings.

Sentiment analysis is tied to language, and dependent upon how well your social listening tools process and decipher nuances of language – which constantly change, both in human life, and on social media.

There are a few layers to this parsing, but it starts with Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP takes into account all variances of human language to deliver precise analytics based on the way humans on the Internet actually speak. These variances include slang, sarcasm, local vernacular, dialects, netspeak, and emojis – all of which deliver context for the NLP engine to apply as it interprets the data. Not accounting for this context can skew your results in a big way.

Consider the tweets above, with a few tweaks:

“I love J.C. Penney!” At face value, this indicates a fan of the brand. But what if it was simply the tag at the end of a longer tweet that read: “They never have my size – I just love J.C. Penney…” This is actually a negative post – but if your social monitoring tools were simply looking for the keyword “love” it would be counted as positive. And that doesn’t help you gain awareness of, or solve, the customer’s problem.

Conversely, a consumer could share an image of their piled-high shopping cart and tweet: “Spending more than I planned, but it’s all on sale – I hate Kohl’s! ;)” That’s a positive post, but the keyword “hate” would flag it otherwise.

And sometimes there’s no real text to clue you in to consumer feelings – just your brand name and a string of emojis you need to interpret. Emojis are all about emotion, and can indicate major brand love – or the reverse – so you’ve got to have a tool capable of analyzing them accurately.

emojis tweet

The many sides of social sentiment

At first blush, social media might seem like a vast sea of useless selfies and food pics – but there’s actually a stunning level of breadth and depth you can achieve through mining social data, and comprehensive sentiment data especially. Here’s a look at how brands start, and where sentiment data can take them:

Competitive intelligence

Many brands start by monitoring sentiment to understand consumers’ perception of their own brand, their competitors, and their industry. With these kinds of beginning efforts, sentiment is looked at as merely a bellwether – but it’s enough motivation to dive in.

And it’s worthwhile. One personal care brand effectively used social listening and sentiment to uncover why a new competitor seemed to be swaying their audience away. They looked at aggregated and anonymized Facebook topic data surrounding their brand, the competitor, and other major players in the market segment to understand what was happening.

They categorized posts, likes, comments and shares in real-time, then analyzed by brand, by product feature (price, quality, etc.), and by sentiment.

Though the competitor’s sentiment was higher than they’d hoped, the personal care brand was still able to gain valuable insights to improve their own sentiment. They discovered which product features drove the most positive engagement from their audience, and focused on those features in marketing campaigns.

Additionally, they took note of how their competitor engaged with specific demographic groups. Doing this revealed a lot of engagement from women, a demographic the personal care brand had never focused on. This opened up an opportunity to engage an entirely new audience segment. Despite the competitive pressure, the brand was able to increase customer retention, and drive incremental revenue.

Campaign effectiveness and proof of worth

Once they see how sentiment performs under the social media intelligence umbrella, brands often move into applying sentiment as an indicator of campaign effectiveness. This is where real-time data is really your friend – providing a barometer of success while your campaign is running. If the conversation and sentiment isn’t what you hoped, you can change course in time to reverse the tide of public opinion.

You can even use sentiment to A/B test campaigns – with two different campaign ideas, or a single campaign across different channels, to see which gets the most engagement or positive chatter. Or you can save a lot of marketing money by testing campaigns on a local level before going national.

Perhaps best of all, sentiment data can prove your worth to potential clients and partners. It worked for Stance, who might not have snagged that Christopher Walken Kia spot during Super Bowl 50 otherwise.

Kia’s agency of record, David and Goliath, spotted the unique sock brand on social media and thought they might be a fit for the commercial. As a smaller brand, without the promotional budget of their larger competitors, Stance wasn’t taking anything for granted.

They ran a competitive analysis of their share of voice to prove they had the clout to amplify Kia’s messaging during a major event like the Super Bowl. They offered up their Net Sentiment score to prove they had more positive conversation on social than other sock brands, and Passion Intensity score to illustrate the depth of love their fans have for them.

They clinched the popular “Walken Closet” spot, along with a 654% increase in mentions, 98% Net Sentiment, and a 100% sell-out of their special edition socks within hours of the game.


Guarding your brand’s reputation

Of course emotions aren’t always happy, and goodness knows that’s true on social media – where distance and anonymity provide a safe barrier from which consumers can vent their frustrations. This is why accuracy of insights is so critical – because you can’t solve a problem you don’t know about.

You also need to know the nature of the problem so you take the correct action to solve it.

Customer service issues are always important to address quickly. Dissatisfied customers left waiting for a response can become quickly loyal to other brands – so use your real-time advantage to react to customer complaints when they happen. Empower your customer service team with protocols to follow, and you just may turn a disgruntled customer into a more solid fan than they were initially.

On the broader scale, negative social sentiment can be about product issues, or even lack of product. Specifics matter in determining whether a product is being used incorrectly – which might mean marketing needs to step in with a campaign that speaks to proper use – or if there’s a defect necessitating a recall. In that case the PR department needs to manage sentiment during the recall event, while R&D takes on solving the problem with the product itself.

And what if the worst happens, and you find yourself in the midst of a brand crisis? Understanding sentiment throughout a crisis is the only way to take the right steps to turn it around. This is how the Georgia Aquarium weathered the tragic loss of a beloved Beluga whale.

With the help of their agency, Ames Scullin O’Haire (ASO), the aquarium analyzed the sentiment of conversations about Maris, the Beluga whale that passed, so they could speak to consumer concerns at a press conference.


From a drop in Net Sentiment to -50 (out of -100 to +100), the Georgia Aquarium’s sentiment rebounded quickly to +90 once they addressed the public’s concerns.

Stay on top of sentiment for best brand health

This is the benefit of consistent social media monitoring, and sentiment monitoring – you can stay informed and get ahead of potential issues and crises. If you notice a spike in sentiment you can address it then and there, potentially saving your company millions compared to the cost of full-blown, red-alert mode when the proverbial “sentiment” hits the fan.

And you don’t have to be an expert at it right away. When we work with brands using our platform, we don’t stop at transactional tasks. We help them use the product intuitively, in ways that align with their business goals. We even help them integrate with other data sources, for more creative applications of social data.

The need for social data differs across industries, clients, and even internal departments. Marketing’s needs aren’t the same as Sales’ or R&D’s – but the beauty of social listening tools is their versatility in offering data tailored to the needs of each situation.

Sentiment data can be used to address anything from hiring needs to identifying white spaces not addressed in typical research. It can even help move a product to market faster.

Social data offers quick – but reliable – research for quick action, whether it’s standing on its own, or corroborating existing research. And sentiment is always a necessary part of the social data equation.

From understanding what motivates social sharing, to what drives sales – as long as consumers feel things, social sentiment will matter. So make it part of your process if it’s not already.

Want to see more ways sentiment positively impacts your brand? Reach out for a one-on-one demo of our platform.

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