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With so many consumers spending on back-to-school gear in the coming few weeks, there’s sure to be an uptick in social media discussions about the brands supplying said gear – which equals a huge opportunity for brands to collect some serious social data about themselves and their competitors.

Back-to-school is the perfect time for brands in multiple categories – from clothing to office supplies to electronics – to find out:

  • How they compare to competitors
  • How they’re perceived by consumers in multiple demographics
  • What trends are emerging that could lead into the holidays

Yes, the holidays. They’re only a couple months away, so waiting until then to pay attention to social data might leave your brand out in the cold come Black Friday.

Don’t be surprised

Another area brands want to pay attention to is WHO their competitors are. You might think you’re well aware, but I’m not talking just about the ones you know and always watch, but the ones you don’t even realize are having an impact – or could if you slip up.

When I write industry reports in any category it constantly surprises me who makes the social conversation universe, as I look to see how the consumer defines the Category.

For instance, if you’re a major company selling fruit baskets – like Edible Arrangements – would you take Etsy seriously for selling a personalized fruit basket? Probably not, but you should.

As another example, you most likely wouldn’t see Nike as a beauty brand, but NetBase published a Beauty & Skincare Report recently that proves otherwise. Beauty is also defined by what we wear and how we feel. So competitors can turn up in the least expected places – and they should factor into your marketing equations as you think more broadly about the fight for each dollar in a category defined by the consumer

Once you have identified the market place that competes for your customer, you will want to know what drives people, how to win them over. This is where deep social listening helps you uncover consumer emotion and passion.

Feelings vs. Formulas

Forget likes, @mentions and any other metric that “counts heads.” Those are great for telling you that “this many” people have flagged that they know you exist. But is that good or bad? If you want to know what consumers really think, really feel, and how that informs where they spend their money, you need to be digging much deeper into the drivers and the emotions behind the numbers.

Consumer emotion, or sentiment, is your way in. Sentiment is what provides the context for your keywords. Coupled with advanced human language processing, sentiment decodes whether social users are really saying they love you, or are speaking sarcastically, meaning they actually hate you. That is how technology works for you ‘more like a human, and less like a robot’.

Think about that for a second. If you search on the keyword “love” but it’s used sarcastically, it shouldn’t really count as a positive, should it? So that’s where sentiment comes in, to provide the right context and give you the full picture before you take action.

Meanwhile, the intensity of sentiment tells you how MUCH social users love or hate your brand. Which gives you at least two opportunities:

  1. To fix problems experienced by the most vocal consumers and turn them back into fans of your brand
  2. To leverage your most vocal SATISFIED customers by turning them into brand advocates, who share on social on your behalf

Timing is everything

This type of social listening is what you want to use all the time, and back-to-school is a particularly opportune moment to mine for insights because it’s a concentrated period of spending in multiple categories across multiple age groups. It’s the closest thing brands will get to the holiday shopping season prior to.

And the last thing you want to be doing during the highest sales volume period of the year is figuring out where you stand. So take the time now to do a dry run. Look broadly at the categories your brand comprises and find out who is occupying consumer minds.

Ask yourself if you know your competitors, or if you need to get to know them and change up your tactics to remain competitive and relevant. Now is the time to find out.

This post originally appeared on Commpro.

Image by Tom Petrie.

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