Trend Analysis: Top Commencement Addresses by Social Sentiment

Carol Feigenbaum |
 06/01/18 |
4 min read

Trend analysis is a key part of social analytics – and something all brands should practice. Since it’s graduation season, let’s use NetBase Pro to take a look at popular commencement addresses.

Why Care About Seasonal Trends?

Before we jump into the data, why should you even bother with an analysis like this? Sure, if you’re a college or university, you should know what kind of speakers and speeches go over well so you can book the right person for your next graduating class – but why should anyone else care?

For starters, a well-delivered commencement address can have long life on the Internet, like this one from 2014 which is still quoted –

– and has nearly 6.5 million views.

The other big advantage is: connection. When conversation volumes are high for any particular subject, you have the opportunity to join the discussion in progress. This opens you up to potential new audiences, as well as the chance to connect on a new level to the audience you already have.

And It doesn’t hurt that your brand comes across as current and in-the-know.

With that in mind, let’s see what NetBase Pro tells us when we search on the terms “commencement speech,” “commencement address,” “graduation speaker,” and “commencement speaker” with filters to include the terms “best,” “awesome,” “inspiring,” and “favorite.”

Michael Keaton Forever

Looking at Posts, we see a big spike on May 17, with high positive sentiment (80%):

Turns out that was the day after Michael Keaton delivered the commencement address at Kent State University, leaving graduates with possibly the best two words any speaker ever has:

The above video, tweeted by @Todd_Spence, took the top spot for Popular Media in our search – and no surprise. It’s pretty great.

Graduates often claim not to remember much of the ceremony or speakers, so a memorable soundbite like this is a smart move for any future speakers looking for ideas.

But when you look at the rest of the thread springing from Spence’s tweet, there’s a lot of discussion about which Batman is best, and even other commencement speeches with similar movie references shared. Spence is a major potential influencer for brands related to movies, comics, etc.

Who else made an impression?

Based on Popular Posts, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman’s Howard University address was also a big hit.

That tells you Boseman also has huge influencer potential – but so does the post’s author, Ashley P. Weston, who appears to be Boseman’s stylist, based on the comments. With 45K followers, beauty and fashion brands should get to know her.

What’s Driving the Sentiment?

As with all social analytics, you want to understand what’s behind the love – or lack of it – being shared. Here’s the Attributes word cloud for some clues:

Nearly all of the conversation is positive – though of course our search filters were positive, so that’s to be expected. This makes the negative sentiment breaking through worthy of greater pause.

The term “divisive” references an article about the lack of politically conservative keynote speakers. “How scary” refers to a segment from CW39 Houston’s Steve Simon, who questions the real-world impact of celebrity commencement addresses:

“If I gave a commencement speech, I’d do it for free and give advice and a reality that’s worth a lot. Things like, how to deal with how scary it can be out there, and how many months it could take to get a job while managing the stress over your student loans.”

It’s important to understand negative sentiment as well as positive – not just so you can relate to people on both sides of an argument, but to be sure you’re aware of any threatening or brand-damaging messaging out there.

Mostly though, the conversation is about being inspired – even when speakers aren’t celebrities:

Or getting great advice – something many wrap-up stories focus on:


As well as which commencement speeches were considered the best this season:

And what behaviors does sentiment inspire?

“Watch” is completely expected, given that social video is the best way to bring your graduation ceremony to the masses. This is one where colleges and universities certainly could hope to attract new students through the cachet of their speakers.

“Give” refers to instances of giving a speech, or speakers themselves promoting their upcoming addresses:

Again, we want to understand any negativity in them mix. “End” refers to Michael Keaton ending his speech – and when a speech is good, no one wants it to end. Which beats the reverse.

But though it’s not as prominent a part of the conversation, “banned” is still an important term, referencing a Catholic high school that banned the valedictory speech of a gay student for being “too political.”

Brands must always be careful not to get in the middle of political arguments – or at least have as much knowledge as they can before wading into the fray. Sentiment analysis is how you know where your audience stands.

Which Channels Are Trending?

As important as the conversation is where it’s happening. In this case, Twitter – which lately often takes a backseat to more visual channels like Instagram – is ruling the roost:

But there are a lot of news outlets in the mix as well. Maybe writing a post about commencement addresses and sharing it on Twitter will get your brand some attention?

Only you can decide if that’s the right move, and of course you need to view trend analyses in context against the rest of your social analytics. But when you have the right information in front of you, you’ll know better which actions to take than when you don’t.

That’s what social data is all about – giving you what you need to save the day for your brand. After all, you can’t be Batman – Michael Keaton’s already got that covered.

Have a topic you want to analyze to learn how our trend analysis tools work? Reach out for a customized demo!



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