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If you’ve ever wished for a crystal ball to know which trends would take off next, you’re not alone. Understanding both short- and long-term trends is crucial to brand survival. If you don’t respond to consumer whims, your competitors surely will – and you might miss the party altogether.

The next section of our Complete How-To Guide: Social Analytics covers how to identify and track trends, and the tools that enable you to do so.

What Makes a Trend Take Off?

Trends are dependent on one thing: passion. No trend blows up because consumers are apathetic or ambivalent. Trends gather steam when consumers can’t get enough of something or become obsessed with it.

Consider some recent short-term trends that took the world by storm for the duration they were “in”:

None of these trends have changed the cultural zeitgeist in any kind of permanent way – though it may be too soon to rule out returning TV shows at this point. The Ice-Bucket Challenge might be an exception, at least as far as changing the approach to online fundraising goes – but we haven’t seen anything nearly as successful since.

Trends, in essence, defy permanence – and yet, some trends are the tipping point for cultural shifts that change everything as a result:

  • The iPhone
  • Binge-watching
  • Allergy-friendly trick-or-treating

Whichever type of trend is emerging, if it could have impact for your brand, you want to know about it as quickly as possible – so you can take advantage of windows of opportunity while they present.

Here’s how to ensure you won’t miss out.

Spotting Trends

Trend-spotting is all about paying attention and investigating anything with potential to grow.

At its simplest, you can look to the left of your Twitter feed and find “Trends for You” based on your followers and other settings. Or you can visit Google Trends to see what people are searching on at any given moment.

Both these options give you a direction to start from – but they aren’t by any means definitive. Just because a topic is receiving a lot of attention doesn’t mean it’s a trend worth engaging with. You need a way to assess the passion mentioned above, and how it relates to your particular audience.

That’s where Sentiment Analysis comes in.

Separating the Trends from the Trash with Social Sentiment

Social Sentiment is the most important metric available to brands. It’s what contextualizes every other piece of social data. This is done using two values, combined:

  1. Net Sentiment – whether emotions are positive or negative from -100 to +100
  2. Passion Intensity – the strength of emotions from -100 to +100.

Together these measurements create a weighted value called Brand Passion. If you have a million mentions, but Passion Intensity is low, you know there’s not much enthusiasm behind them – even if Net Sentiment is positive.

However, when you have high Net Sentiment and Passion Intensity, even if you have a smaller number of mentions – let’s say 300K – you’ve got more to work with. A few thousand passionate people are more powerful than millions of people who don’t care one way or the other.

For example, if you noticed the sudden appearance of teal pumpkins on the shelves leading up to Halloween the past couple years, you might search on the term to find out what it’s all about. Sentiment is certainly high at 93%:

Sentiment for the term “teal pumpkin” in NetBase Pro

That’s because the #tealpumpkinproject offers a solution for the many families of children with severe food allergies. Displaying a teal pumpkin indicates non-food, trick-or-treat goodies are on offer.

If you’re a candy company, this is a trend worth exploring. How can you ensure you stand out in a world where candy is no longer the go-to on the biggest candy holiday of the year?

Start by looking at Social Sentiment – like Attributes – to understand the topics driving the emotions:

Words like “assure,” “safer,” “inclusion,” and “awareness” pop out right away. These are valid concerns for parents who want to keep kids safe, while ensuring they can enjoy a typical childhood experience.

Now imagine the potential for a brand like Nestlé or Reese’s if they added non-candy treats, packaged for Halloween, in support of the Teal Pumpkin Project.

It’s a great trend to jump on for stores that sell Halloween decorations and food as well. Making it easy for consumers to participate in something that matters to them is smart business.

Monitor for Sentiment Spikes

Not every trend is relevant to your brand, of course – though it’s worth exploring what you see and hear out in the world to assess potential using Social Analytics tools. What you don’t want to miss are trends that can definitely impact your brand.

To avoid that, use Social Monitoring alerts to keep on top of sudden spikes in emotion surrounding your brand, competitors, or keywords you choose.

This is something you should do anyway, to be aware of any reputational threats – which negative sentiment could indicate. However, it could also indicate negative opinions about a trend your particular audience doesn’t align with.

This is why Sentiment Analysis is so important. Just because your audience mentions something constantly doesn’t mean they want it to happen. It could mean just the opposite.

Tools like LIVE Pulses let you track trending topics to understand what they’re really about. That’s the information that lets you take action.

PR Agency Spong uses these tools for clients, with great success. For a food client they noted buzz around the brand’s gluten-free products, a trend the company had embraced, but wasn’t focused on. As Sentiment Analysis indicated greater love there, the brand made changes to expand the conversation around those products.

A look at Sentiment Drivers around the term “gluten free”

Look as Well as Listen

Applying Sentiment Analysis to terms and topics tells you a lot, but it’s not the full story. Be sure you analyze Social Sentiment within images as well. Social users share images constantly, but they don’t always tag brands in their images – which means you can miss a lot of information.

Not to mention, understanding the content within images can indicate trends as well. Before “athleisure” became a term, it was simply people wearing their workout clothes out into the world. Brands took note of this trend and developed entire fashion lines around the concept of clothes that convert from workout to life.

Keeping tabs on visual “conversations” clues you in to where consumer hearts lie as well as text does.

With trends, the idea is to get there first – or at least early. You can’t do that if you don’t know what has consumers buzzing. Social Sentiment reveals what consumers love and hate most, so you never have to guess at what they care about.

Follow Sentiment in real-time, and when you see patterns emerge, pounce – before competitors do.

Use your arsenal of Social Analytics tools to understand the deeper nuances of emotional drivers, and proceed accordingly. Who knows? You might just lead the next shift in the culture.

Be sure to check out the rest of The Complete How-To Guide: Social Media Analytics as well as its companion The Complete Guide to Social Media Analytics. Additional topics include:
Additional topics include:

Want to learn more about trend-spotting tools and how they work? Reach out and we’ll lead you through a custom demo.

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