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Consumer opinions and feelings have always mattered – but since the rise of social media, access to them has become much easier to attain. Social media sentiment analysis is now a mainstay of social analytics, but what exactly is it? And why do brands need it?

Let’s start with the latter question.

Why is Sentiment Analysis Important?

In the early days of social media, people used social networks like Friendster, MySpace, and even Facebook – back when there was a “The” in front of it – to keep in touch with friends, colleagues and family.

The marketing potential was evident even then, but social media as we know it now serves a far greater purpose, to both consumers and marketers.

Social has become a place where consumers share their thoughts and feelings on any subject you can imagine – promoting their own expertise, or simply exercising their ability to express themselves.

It’s also a place where they look to other consumers for guidance on how to do just about anything, or which products live up to their hype, and which don’t.

Brands are only part of this equation at consumers’ will. What they say, to whom they say it, or whether they say anything about you at all is outside of brand control.

And yet, these opinions can make or break your brand. The only way to survive and thrive in this environment is to understand exactly what consumers feel, and why. With that information you can solve problems, correct misconceptions, provide desired products and services, and interact with consumers on their terms. Without that information, you are simply shooting arrows in the dark, hoping to hit something.

What is Social Sentiment Analysis?

How does social sentiment analysis help then? And what exactly is it?

Sentiment analysis is a layer applied to the rest of your analytics, to put them into context and categorize emotions by type and intensity.

Social listening, social monitoring, image analytics, customer experience analytics – all of these rely on sentiment analysis for accuracy and usefulness. So sentiment analysis isn’t something that stands apart from the rest of your analytics. It’s what makes your analytics worthwhile.

For example, a simple NetBase Pro search on the term “greeting cards” tells you there’s a lot of conversation about them:

Not a big surprise, given the various occasions happening this time of year. But what do these numbers tell us? Not much of anything, really. Sure, there are more likes than dislikes, but we still don’t know what’s behind them.

If you’re a greeting card brand, what are you doing right? And what are you doing wrong? Without sentiment analysis you’ll never know.

On the other hand, with sentiment analysis you have a ton of clues to explore further:

Terms like “artistic,” “gift idea,” “bespoke” and “personalized” give you a hint at what people respond positively to, while terms like “low quality,” “too expensive” and “have no plastic wrapping” clue you in to some negative consumer feelings.

Defining Sentiment

It’s not as simple as positive or negative, of course. Sentiment – as a true representation of human emotion – is a wide-ranging spectrum of varying intensity. And intensity matters.

When we calculate Brand Passion, we use a combination of Net Sentiment (a measure of positivity or negativity, from -100 to 100) and Passion Intensity (the strength of those emotions, from -100 to 100).

This tells us whether consumers like a brand, or are obsessed with it; whether they’re ambivalent, or truly despise a brand. This, in turn, reveals which data is actionable.

And that’s what you want, according to David K. Williams on Forbes: “As a business owner, you want data that is actionable – that shows whether someone liked their food or if they liked your menu.”

As Williams’ distinction indicates, sentiment analysis is about the details. And where and when to focus your energy.

People who like your brand don’t need immediate attention, for example. Capture the people obsessed with your brand, and they’ll help convert the less passionate with their own enthusiasm.

Leslie Odom, Jr. – and his publisher – says “Thanks, Yvette!”

And those who are ambivalent aren’t an immediate threat – but those who despise your brand might be. Focus on what is driving their hatred and fix whatever needs fixing.

That doesn’t mean you can ignore those with neutral emotions, however – they just need a different kind of attention. Do they just not care, or has something rubbed them the wrong way (and they’re just not sharing)? How can you connect with them?

To find the root of their ambivalence, look at the things that move them, and target them with individual messaging that speaks to those passions. It’s not about your brand – they know who you are from your @handle or page name. Make it about them – and act like a human, not a marketer.

Sentiment Analysis in Action

Sentiment analysis uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to break down the complexities of human language to identify emotional terms. This isn’t limited to English versus French versus Cantonese, etc. NLP parses slang and pop culture terms, as well as emojis, and even images.

Image analysis is one of the newer bits of the equation, but it’s no less important. In fact, as images stand in for text with greater frequency, the value of analyzing sentiment in images goes up.

A picture without text offers no data unless you have image analysis to recognize your brand’s logo, and a smiling face indicating positive emotion. You want that post – and all like it – counted.

And there are numerous ways to apply sentiment data once it’s in hand:

To Measure Brand Health

Like an EKG or seismometer, sentiment analysis shows you peaks and valleys of emotion indicative of anomalies in the graph of overall brand health. Being alerted to these spikes lets you investigate what’s behind them and act accordingly, keeping your brand on an even keel.

Sentiment for “Greeting Cards”

To Find Your Audience

Whatever you think you know about your audience, sentiment analysis can only improve it. Perhaps you know a certain segment of passengers likes your airline because of the points they earn. But when you apply this knowledge to Millennial business flyers, it turns out they get more excited about upgrades to first class.

You need to approach the way you market to each of these segments differently. Sentiment analysis lets you do that by revealing the common ground amongst members of your audience, allowing you to speak personally to each of them to deliver the experience they want.

To Identify Influencers

Consumers trust other consumers more than they trust brands and marketers. Thus, you need social influencers to spread the word about your brand. This is where Passion Intensity comes into play.

Find social consumers who share their love for your brand on social, and have their own devoted following. Whether you pay or reward them to speak on your behalf, or simply engage them with a public thank you, it’s important to know who they are.

Twitter influencers for AMC’s new show “Dietland”

To Identify Emerging Trends

Trends come and go, and not every trend is worth leveraging. Sentiment analysis helps you determine how invested your particular audience is in any trends that come along. And what, specifically, they feel. Maybe the best way to jump on a trend is by agreeing with your audience that it’s silly, or stupid. Only your social data will tell you.

To Inspire and Get Feedback on New Products/Services

The beauty of social media and sentiment analysis is how immediately you get honest feedback – both when you ask for it, and when you don’t. The best use of this is prior to launching something new – to be sure your audience even wants what you’re offering. Even better is when conversation between consumers sparks an idea you know they’ll love.

To Identify and Resolve Problems

Social media is the go-to for many consumers when brand experiences go awry. They may reach out to you for customer service via social channels, or simply rant to a captive audience about whatever problem they had.

In either case, sentiment analysis helps you see where negative sentiment is spiking, and whether the intensity of emotion is headed into the Danger Zone. The smartest brands set alerts for particularly damaging keywords, so they know immediately if something is about to spiral out of control.

But if you keep an eye on sentiment and resolve negative issues before things get to that point, all the better.

To Assess Competitors

Of course, how you’re doing is only part of the equation. Social is an open book – for the most part – so apply your sentiment analysis to competitors as well. After all, you share an audience, so it makes sense to know what consumers love and hate about other brands in your category.

You’ll save a ton of time and money by letting other brands do your research, or make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Making the Case to Stakeholders

With so many tools out there, decision-makers may be motivated to cut corners and get by with lesser tools. Budgets are real, but don’t let the bottom line be the bottom line without researching your options.

Comprehensive analytics tools are an investment worth making – especially those that include sentiment analysis, image analysis, and customer experience analysis. If you purchase tools that integrate with other systems – like CRM – you’ll get accurate data that quickly proves its worth.

If you’re still unsure, look at the top brands using social analytics effectively, and follow their lead.

Social doesn’t leave much time for trial and error, so you want data you can trust out of the gate. Sentiment analysis provides that – and offers solutions that stretch beyond the marketing department to benefit your entire organization. Talk about something to love!

For more on how NetBase delivers sentiment-based insights for your brand, reach out now!

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