Social media has come a long way. In the past decade, the way enterprises have used it has transitioned from a “let’s try it” sort of dabbling approach, to appointing social media teams to manage a consistent social marketing presence, and now… a shift is happening yet again.

Companies are seeing beyond what they thought social media was or could be, and looking for new ways to derive insights from social data and incorporate it into other aspects of the enterprise. Could one of those ways be through emotion?

Yes, according to a webinar by Adweek and NetBase, which explains that understanding how consumers feel about brands – and how deeply they feel it – can help brands predict when, where, and on what consumers will spend.

The Value of Sentiment

Brands have long sought engagement from their customers and prospects – posting content and soliciting likes, shares, retweets, etc. Additionally, they track mentions, impressions, and keywords to gauge social success. But while measuring that information is relevant, it only tells part of the story. In fact, without sentiment in the equation, the story you’re getting may be a complete lie.

Imagine a tweet that says, “I just LOVE how @Brand’s helpline disconnected in the middle of my call.” If you were tracking mentions, impressions, and keywords like “love” this would be counted as a positive mention. But obviously it’s sarcastic, and the consumer’s issue remains unresolved.

The emotion is important for providing context and really telling the story. But that’s not the end of it. You also need to know the intensity of the emotion. Imagine if Romeo had only liked Juliet? How boring would that story have been? Positive and negative sentiment can be expressed in varying degrees, and when you know what they are, you can act accordingly and even predict what’s going to happen in the future.

Fortune Telling For Your Brand

No brand has a crystal ball – of course. But common sense tells us that when there’s a problem, we should correct it, yes? Brands have customer service departments for this very reason. When a customer calls to complain, the CS department launches into action, handling the problem and doing everything possible to retain that customer’s loyalty and business.

But what about the people who don’t think calling customer service is worthwhile? The people who just gripe online and then shop elsewhere? What net sentiment data offers is as close to a crystal ball as you can get – a chance to identify those people and their issues, and to address and correct them before they go viral.

How? Here’s an example to illustrate both sides of the coin:

Lululemon – In November of 2013, after months of bad PR due to a yoga-pant recall that the company was slow to effectively solve, the brand’s founder Chip Wilson made an already bad problem worse by blaming women’s bodies for the problems. Uh-oh.

There was a lot of social chatter about the company, but it was resoundingly negative. Net sentiment fell to below 50 (net sentiment is measured on a scale from -100 to +100), the lowest level of any athletic brand we’ve seen.

Lululemon did the right thing in recalling the pants, so how did things go so wrong? Well, had they been paying attention to net sentiment right along, they would have known how strongly consumers felt about what they viewed as a lack of quality on the brand’s part. From there, they could have predicted:

  • Disappointed customers forced to shop elsewhere might find a brand they liked better
  • Customers willing to give the revamped pants a try when they were back in stores might need some extra TLC from the brand to regain trust
  • Consumers who were not yet customers might be less willing (or unwilling) to try the brand

Had they known the intensity of consumers’ emotions, they could have launched a pre-emptive strike on social media. But they didn’t.

Now, consider this: If you were one of Lululemon’s competitors, regularly tracking net sentiment about yoga pants, you’d have been able to predict their dip in sentiment as well, and target your messaging to appeal to their displaced customers.

Understanding how consumers feel is the key to putting out fires early – not just because it keeps the issue itself from growing, but because it shows consumers you care enough to acknowledge and solve whatever they are displeased about. Which makes them feel good.

And customers that feel good are the ones most likely to advocate for your brand online, and stay loyal to you when other brands try to swoop in and seduce them away.

Adjust Your Sail to the Winds of Change

Recognizing singular events that correspond to short-term dips or increases in net sentiment is easy enough – but when changes in sentiment linger over the course of a few months, that’s an indication of a shift in consumer preference; something many brands miss until it’s too late to course-correct.

If you’re paying attention and following net sentiment, however, you can shift as well so your brand doesn’t lose ground at the whim of fickle consumers.

Just appeal to their emotions and give them something to love.

Do you track net sentiment as part of your social data? What have you learned from these insights?

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