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Is there a right or wrong way to honor the memory – and 90th birthday – of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? It’s a big question – and not one you’d want to guess at if you were a brand or business choosing to do so to boost your image.

Social sentiment is the metric you always need to clarify what will or won’t fly in the court of public opinion – and you should always be prepared to be surprised.

Nothing but Net – Sentiment, That Is

Commemorative holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day offer opportunities for everyone to reflect on the past, while looking toward the future. In this particular case, it’s a federal holiday – one where schools and many businesses are closed in observance.

But while classes may be canceled for the day, in high schools and colleges around the country, basketball courts are open. The NBA also celebrates Dr. King’s legacy with a day of match-ups.

It’s easy to see how this might feel like sacrilege to some. The Reverend King’s life was cut short in a horrific and untimely way – and the work he began is far from complete. But this assumption doesn’t pan out when we look to social analytics through the lens of MLK Day and basketball:

The conversation is overwhelmingly positive, with Net Sentiment at 98% (out of -100 to +100), and Passion Intensity at 100% (out of -100 to +100). This isn’t just a reading of positive versus negative – this reveals passionate love for this pairing.

But what is the negative sentiment about? Is one topic getting most of the love, while the negativity is reserved for the other? We have to look at each individually to find out.

Here is Net Sentiment and Sentiment Attributes on a search of MLK Day terms alone:

There’s a bit of negative sentiment to be expected as racial and political discussions emerge, but the only mentions of basketball are positive. “Come out best matchup,” “ready for next game,” and “terrific MLK event” all reference high school basketball games slated for Monday, January 21.

When we search on basketball terms, here’s what we see:

There’s a bit more negative sentiment in this conversation because, well, sports fans are passionate. But there’s nothing related to MLK Day breaking through in the past week. Even terms that seemed like they might be related – like “no equal opportunity sport” – have nothing to do with the holiday.

But part of this could be because a lot of the games held on MLK Day are high school and college games. Changing the terms to include the varying names of these events, i.e., “MLK Classic,” “MLK Tournament,” “MLK Showcase,” and “MLK Invitational” reveals a very small amount of data – though sentiment is 100%.

So what about the NBA? They host several match-ups over the course of the day:

But there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of promoting these games – which is probably wise. It’s easy to misstep in a situation like this, where honoring such a prestigious life should take precedence over marketing your brand.

And, of course, each team is a brand unto itself, and must monitor social sentiment surrounding their own individual tributes on the day.

For example, the Atlanta Hawks have several events planned to honor Dr. King over the weekend preceding and on the observed holiday, including:

And more.

So what’s the conversation looking like for the team at press time?

Basketball fans were more concerned with the games happening in the week leading up to MLK Day, more than anything happening on that day. What a great reminder that social is a real-time “sport” of its own.

The Hawks, and all teams, will have to monitor sentiment throughout their events on Monday to find out how their tributes to Dr. King were received – and be ready to respond in any ways necessary.

This is social analytics in 2019. Here’s hoping you sink every free throw – but if you don’t, you’ll never have to wonder how your audience feels for very long.

Want to learn more about how social sentiment helps brands stay ahead of the competition? Get in touch and we’ll walk you through a demo of our tools!

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