What went well (and not-so-well) last quarter – or even last year? Creating a social analytics lookback informs future planning. And it helps brands learn from challenges, repeat successes and continue to grow in this ultra-competitive online environment.
How is a social analytics lookback different from reviewing traditional data? It’s not focused on end results but on what powered those results. The fuel to the fire, so to speak, or the reasons why a campaign failed to ignite.
And it all starts with “why.”
Understanding “Why” Behind the “What”
Every year, we have planning meetings with clients to strategize about upcoming programs and campaigns, and as part of that process we analyze how our campaigns performed the previous year. It’s a time to analyze conversations about the brand, particularly those around events, initiatives and all of the articles we’ve published. In some cases, it can be a huge, though extremely informative, undertaking.
Altogether, it forms the basis of a strategy for the coming year’s efforts. We sort out what went wrong, what went right, and what we can do better the next time around. And part of that conversation includes competitor data.
Capturing Competitor Lookback Data
As part of our process, we look at competitor activity as well. We seek answers to a series of questions designed to flesh out how these competitors did during this same time period, including:
- Was there a new product launch? A new competitive campaign?
- How are consumers, media and other stakeholders reacting to new products, services or campaigns? How are they reacting to existing products, services or campaigns?
- What features and benefits are consumers looking for—and finding with competitors?
- What conversations is our target audience having about competitors?
- Have there been any noticeable shifts in competitor sentiment? If so, what is causing those shifts?
One other thing we seek to understand: Where does the passion lie? We can create a competitive snapshot, like the one seen below from NetBase’s 2019 Industry Report: Restaurant Brands, for the ‘Fast Casual’ category. These snapshots help brands visualize share of voice, online love and how strongly people feel about a variety of competitors in a brand’s category:
After reviewing this general intel, it’s time to dig deeper.
Getting Specific with Social Analytics Insight
Once we’ve captured general audience concerns or unmet needs, we drill down to specifics around the topic in question. What did conversations around our events look like? Beyond that, which areas experienced the most online buzz? Were there conversations focused on our Twitter Chat, a new product launch, our competitors’ offerings or features that resonated or fell flat? Maybe all of those things. We typically choose one piece to explore at a time to get to the heart of what’s driving each.
Our goal is to learn how people are talking about those topics. This goes beyond the overarching passion we explored above, taking us deep into the particular language an audience uses.
Language is Everything
It’s important to understand specific hashtags and trending terms in context. Each segment has the potential to create its own unique subculture. Gaming provides a ready subculture example:
As the digital age facilitates and propagates more of these niche groups, each with its own unique subculture and communications conventions, it’s increasingly important to be culturally relevant, in whatever context ‘culture’ is defined—for a few reasons:
- Relating to an audience isn’t easy. There are plenty of competitors who may offer inferior service but superior audience understanding. And they’ll win.
- It’s important not to offend your audience, and demonstrating a willful lack of understanding has the potential to do just that!
- Understanding audience word choice can be a window to hot conversations in which your brand should be participating, like “#SmallStreamersConnect” in the example above.
This information can form the foundation of a brand’s next big idea, or it may hold marketing gold just waiting to be discovered. Either way, we know it holds valuable insights, hidden in the details. This is why our agency budgets time to extensively explore and re-examine the social analytics data.
Understanding Specific Language
When we understand the specific language a segment uses, it helps us offer better guidance to our clients for future planning. It’s also a great general understanding to bring to our work on smaller research projects. There are times when we’re just trying to understand which hashtags we should use, and in those cases, insights help us immediately cut through the noise to identify hashtags that are:
- Unique to our brands;
- Different from what our competitors are doing; and
- Meaningful enough to resonate with audiences.
Why? Because language really is everything. And when we understand the language of a segment, as well as what is/isn’t culturally relevant, current trends that we may have misunderstood or missed entirely reveal themselves—as do potential crises that we may have missed and other important engagement opportunities that are starting to brew.
Real-Time Crisis Response
When it comes to corporate communications, risk management, unsurprisingly, is a huge concern. Agencies need to be on top of conversations as they unfold in real time. If something that we could have responded to in the moment gets out of control, it becomes an opportunity we’ve lost to take control of the conversation—and that should never happen.
Spikes in the volume of brand mentions are easily identifiable by a researcher skilled in a particular category’s variables:
Clicking through and understanding the context of these spikes in mentions around a brand or campaign requires a solid baseline for analysis and consistent monitoring.
Without these key insights, a brand is left to sort out context from scratch in the midst of a bigger situation—and then it’s too late. Companies need to have a sense of what’s happening in their space, and around their brand, ahead of time. How else will they notice an otherwise innocuous, or even a slight but meaningful, shift?
Fortunately, we capture insights for our clients well before a campaign launch. We come prepared with any available data from previous social analytics lookback efforts to guide us as well.
Real-time Relevancy & Engagement
These insights allow brands to elevate their real-time engagement to become proactive rather than reactive. And this is where we see many brands getting stuck these days. Online conversations move so fast that these brands struggle simply to keep up, never mind getting out ahead of the buzz
Aligning a brand’s overarching business strategy with its communication strategy is important to take into account as well. The best creative campaigns are built on context. Social analytics is a key part of our overall research to power strategy that will generate the desired audience impact.
This also goes beyond issues management because it affects every piece of a brand’s communication strategy. Understanding the movers and shakers in a category and engaging with them, in real time, as they’re having relevant conversations—this is an easy tactic to overlook. But it’s such a powerful way to generate goodwill and enhance brand awareness. As is connecting with everyday audience members, selectively, in ways that power the overall brand. A lookback tells us what we need to work on there as well.
It’s all really about how everything connects and how to capture the most relevant conversations for analysis and future interaction. Looking back at what worked/didn’t work to inform what to do moving forward is the next best thing to a crystal ball. The insight available is that predictive. Reach out and I’ll show you how!
Emily Bunce is Director of Insights at G&S Business Communications, an independent communications agency serving B2B and B2C clients. She specializes in finding the hidden nuggets, connections and trends that inspire creative, on-target strategy. In her role advising account teams and clients, Emily conducts and analyzes primary, secondary and social research to help clients align communications strategies with business strategies.