The kids are heading back to school any minute now – if they haven’t already – and parents around the world are rejoicing. But what’s the best way for brands to capitalize on this brief window of retail glory?

You should be studying both History and Current Events

The back-to-school season comes along every year, but that doesn’t mean it should be “old hat” for your brand. The only constant is change, as they say, and whatever was going on last year isn’t necessarily an accurate predictor of this year. After all, last year there was no Pokémon GO, to name but one example of fads that emerge and take over the collective consciousness.

Your social media analysis of the back-to-school audience has to include what’s happening right now so you can reach consumers on their level. You can’t do that if you don’t know a Pikachu from a Daryl Dixon, or if you think Eleven is just a number.

If you’re going to promote your company’s super cool backpacks, you can’t just say, “They’re 20% off, moms!” You’ve got to talk about how they have plenty of room for all the things kids carry, including that awesome Walking Dead lunchbox you also happen to sell – or whatever is the thing your audience is into. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

So does that mean historical data doesn’t matter? Absolutely not. Historical data is what gives you a starting point and roadmap to follow. Who was your audience last year? How did they respond to your ad campaigns and why? What worked well – and what didn’t? This is all important information. But you can’t simply reproduce your efforts verbatim. You have to make adjustments based on the current landscape. It may be that you’ll stay on a similar track – or you may need to take an entirely new trajectory. Only real-time social data can tell you.

Make some new friends

Social media intelligence also tells you who your audience is – and it may be bigger than you think. Your starting point is the audience you assume is yours, e.g., “moms.” But what about dads? They’re also in the mix and not only expect to be included, but may hold it against your brand if they aren’t:



And what about students old enough to have social accounts? They appeal to parents to buy what they want. And those old enough to buy for themselves – like high school and college students – are part of your audience too. So parents and Gens Y and Z are your first concern, but then you’ve got to branch out.

So how do you do that?

Listen to what consumers want

Psychographics are your biggest way into understanding what your audience is all about, and finding new audiences. Unlike demographics – which cover big picture items like gender, age and geography – psychographics delve into attitudes and behaviors of consumers. By looking at psychographics you learn what’s really driving your audience, what they love, what they want, and how to talk to them.

Why does that matter? Well, because it’s what consumers demand. They’re not on social media to be bombarded with ads – they’re there to interact with friends, family, colleagues, thought leaders, etc. So your approach to promoting your brand has to fit into that reality. And just as you would in a live conversation, you’ve got to start with listening and finding common ground before you throw out a sales pitch.

This is what social media listening is all about. Finding out what consumers are talking about so you can join their conversations. You wouldn’t walk up to people chatting at a party and barge in with, “I can get you a great deal on back-to-school supplies!” Social marketing takes the same finesse as human-to-human interaction.

With that in mind, your social analytics software needs to use keywords that matter to your brand as a starting point, and build from there. You want to know all about what consumers are reading, watching, listening to, eating, and doing. Where do they like to go, what charities do they care about, what kind of pets do they have – it’s all necessary information. It’s your way into their conversations.

And it’s how you find others sharing those interests who might be part of your target audience – even if they don’t fit into your presumed demographics.

Focus on the feelz

But it’s not just the topics that matter. It’s how consumers feel about those topics. Emotions are at the heart of all social posts, so you need to understand where consumers stand. What do they love? You really want to talk to them about that. What do they hate? You really want to commiserate or solve the problem.

Rock Orange agency helped one e-tailer have its most successful back-to-school campaign ever by using NetBase to discover the concern their audience had with regard to backpacks: fit, durability, and health of children carrying overloaded packs. They also identified personalization as a trend, allowing them to spotlight “plain” backpacks ripe for personalizing.


IMAGE CREDIT: Personal Creations

They wouldn’t have gotten a 29% increase in share of voice if they’d blindly promoted their product without understanding what the mom segment of their audience cared about.

And where does your brand fit into this data? It’s important to know how consumers feel about your brand, yes, but you can’t stop there. If you want to know why they love or hate you, understanding all the other things they’re passionate about – good or bad – helps clue you in.

Don’t be schooled by the competition

As important as it is to understand your own brand’s place in the social spectrum, you also need to broaden your focus to include how consumers feel about your competitors, and why.

Maybe your competitors’ product is inferior, but they make their audience feel more seen and appreciated. Step up your social game to show consumers you’re just as in tune with their needs – and with a better product to boot.

Or maybe your competitors are missing out on an opportunity to answer an unexpected consumer need. You want to be sure you know about it so your brand can be the one to save the day.

The point is, don’t make it all about your brand as you’re surfacing insights. You’re ignoring critical information – that’s readily available – if you do.

Add a language to your course load

As you’re surfacing insights, be sure you don’t overlook other aspects that factor into your social data equation. It’s not only about text and keywords. You have to remember that social language is different than English 101. Here are some additional considerations you can’t ignore:

Netspeak/slang. Character limitations and smaller keyboards have inspired a whole new language built on abbreviations – and your analytics platform needs to understand them, even if you don’t. “IDK,” “RL,” and “DM” aren’t just letters.

Sarcasm. This is often tricky in “print” – versus in person, where inflection gets the meaning across – but a state-of-the-art social listening platform should be able to tell the difference between literal words and actual meaning based on context. Without that ability, you might ignore posts by people who actually love you, or count as positive posts that are actually negative.

Emojis. Sometimes sentiment isn’t contained within the text of a post – because social users let emojis do their emoting for them. If your software can’t account for these emotionally-loaded little icons, you’re missing out on a lot of data – and possibly your biggest influencers.

Hashtags. Similar to emojis, hashtags punctuate posts, providing additional information that simple keyword analysis might not pick up. Hashtags also categorize conversations and alert consumers to posts they’re interested in, as well as alert you to conversations surrounding the topics you’re following. #BackToSchool is a solid one to use – but others may not be as effective. Use social listening to find the hashtags of most interest to your audience.


Gearing up for the holidays

There’s another reason to make sure you hit your stride with back-to-school marketing. Because though consumers may complain about early Halloween marketing sharing space with back-to-school campaigns, the reality is, once the school year starts the holidays aren’t far behind. For brands it’s smart to look at the back-to-school season as a holiday pre-season.

This is the best dry run you’ll get prior to the holidays, after all. So make the most of the social intelligence coming your way during this busy shopping window. Look at the trends emerging that could carry into the holidays, and get a handle on customer service issues before Black Friday comes and you’re even busier.

One food and beverage company used social monitoring to do exactly that. Though they knew they did well servicing customers through their social care platform, they wanted an aggregated view of customer care across all social channels so they could validate and drive strategy.

Using NetBase’s social media listening tools they gained instant insights of real-time and historical data to understand customer care issues, and easily communicate this data to stakeholders.

A detailed view of customer opinion and sentiment on products and services gave them a way forward – which was to provide additional training for their East Coast locations to better proactively address customer concerns for greater satisfaction and loyalty. The training resulted in immediate improvement in customer satisfaction feedback.

This is exactly the kind of confidence you want going into the last quarter of the year – and back-to-school is a perfect opportunity to work out the kinks while you have a large, actively spending audience.

Social listening isn’t a trend

Of course the ideal situation is to use social media intelligence every day to uncover consumer passions in real-time, and create messaging that will bring your brand the engagement it desires.

Just as back-to-school time serves as a primer for the holidays, every day serves as primers for each upcoming season and opportunity that presents. Pokémon GO isn’t a back-to-school fad – but it can be applied to back-to-school marketing. Whatever the next thing is, it could inform a new marketing campaign, or even a new product. That’s reason enough to be first to know.

So what’s the lesson? Always be learning. No matter how smart your brand is, there’s always more to know when it comes to consumers on social.

Ready to learn more about how NetBase helps brands stay on top? Get in touch!

Guide: Social Media Best Practices Guide 2016: Love List Brands


Header image from Ty Hatch


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