10 Tips: Tap Consumer Sentiment On Social Networks

Facebook and Twitter can serve as real-time consumer focus groups, but watch out for 'channel biases' and think beyond your brand. Follow these 10 pointers for effective use of sentiment analysis technologies.

Doug Henschen, Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

July 9, 2012

11 Slides

Social media monitoring platforms and sentiment analysis technologies can help you manage and make sense of the deluge of brand-relevant comments posted on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. But there's no silver bullet in technology.

The hard part, as we note in our recent feature story, "Sentiment Analysis: How Companies Now Listen To The Web," is creating and executing on a realistic social media strategy. Consumers go through a multi-step journey when evaluating and experiencing your products, according to McKinsey & Company, so the trick is to monitor and respond to social comments the right way at the right time, amplifying positive sentiments, leading potential customers to product offers, and gently steering misguided critics toward reliable information.

Social networks have built in biases, so don't think of sentiment analysis as scientific research. The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets are careful not to present sentiment analysis results as reflections of popular opinion. And social media analysis can't replace conventional customer focus groups because you can't ask follow-up questions to understand why people hold certain opinions.

Social media analysis does offer many distinct advantages. For instance, it's a real-time, always-on resource that's an invaluable early warning indicator of crises and emerging trends. American Red Cross, for example, uses social media to find influential donors and volunteers with lots of friends and followers on social networks, and it spotlights influencer opinions to build community and enhance the bond with the charity.

Think beyond your brand when analyzing social media comments. Kraft Foods listens to how customers interact with its products and what new recipes they're trying rather than just counting positive and negative comments about its brands. In fact, comments often can't be classified as strictly positive or negative, and it's very difficult for sentiment analysis tools to understand the nuances of human language. Focus on responding the right way to the majority of clear-cut comments, addressing complaints and service requests, and amplifying the positive sentiments of satisfied customers.

It's also important to seize on viral social media attention--so long as it's positive. Procter & Gamble did just that in in late February when workers at the Daytona 500 were shown on national TV using Tide detergent to clean the track after a crash and fuel spill. The company quickly seized on the social media buzz by producing a related TV commercial within a matter of days.

This being an election year, perhaps the most valuable and timely tip is to focus on "swing voters," meaning the people who haven't necessarily made their minds up about your brand or products.

While sentiment analysis dashboards often highlight the red "negative" comments and green "positive" comments, Christopher Frank, co-author of the social media strategy guide "Drinking From The Fire Hose" says it's important to focus on the yellow "neutral" segment. It may be easier to sway this large group of potential customers than to change the entrenched opinions of those in the negative camp. Winning over the undecided customer is the key to a winning campaign. Now dig into our tips.

About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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