Aaron Gray // Greater Returns

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Musings on Web Analytics, product strategy + other stuff.

Why Sentiment Matters in Social Media Measurement

I originally posted this piece more than a year ago, but it remains relevant given all the attention on social media, social media marketing, and social media measurement.

Sentiment marketing, the practice of engaging consumers directly with the express purpose of influencing consumer opinion about a brand, is coming fast. Sentiment marketing is being enabled (or, maybe more accurately, made necessary) by the proliferation of social media and the inherent trackability of the conversations that occur between consumers online.

The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive continuous improvements to consumer sentiment about your brand. You could argue, of course, that sentiment marketing is just PR; same practice, new channel. It’s related, for sure. But this is different. A radical change has occurred: consumer conversations and the dynamics of consumer influence (word of mouth) are happening on the network. Word of mouth, influence, and shifting consumer opinions now happen at lightening speed across intertwined networks of connected people. This is fantastic if you are the purveyor of a darling brand, and can be hell if your brand has some tarnish. There are multiple upsides, though: sentiment and influence can now be measured directly and in real time; you have the opportunity to engage directly with consumers and influencers to impact sentiment.

If You Can Track it, You Can be Accountable for It

Practically speaking, this means that marketers can now directly attribute to their work both positive and negative changes in consumer sentiment. With measurability and attributability will come accountability. Marketers and advertisers will increasingly be held to account for their impact on consumer sentiment. The days of being able to defend lack of measurability and hide behind “it’s a brand effort” are numbered.

This brings brand marketing and PR a whole lot closer to direct marketing. Direct marketers have been able to easily track and measure the performance of their work, in real time, allowing them to make midstream adjustments to programs that under perform. Direct mail, infomercials, call centers, and e-commerce are all deeply measurable, and the people who do marketing in those areas are held accountable for their performance. Brand marketers, on the other hand, if doing any measurement at all, have relied on dubious backward-looking analysis of past programs and consumer attitudes that provides little actionable insight that can be put to use in tweaking today’s efforts.

More than Buzz

Many people are talking about measuring buzz. Companies have been built around the concept. Buzz isn’t new, however. The PR folks have always been able to measure buzz; it’s nothing more than media mentions. It’s equally simple to measure buzz online by counting mentions in the blogosphere. But buzz isn’t a particularly useful metric. What is useful is being able to measure against your goal. Remember what it is? It’s all about sentiment, and changes in sentiment over time. The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive or maintain positive consumer sentiment in the same way that a direct marketer drives for a continuously increasing conversion rate. (Or, in the case of a crisis, your goal is to slow and reverse the potential onslaught of negative consumer sentiment.)

Buzz doesn’t help you quantify performance against this goal. Think about it. If you’re Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol cyanide crisis in 1982, your buzz numbers for Tylenol are through the roof. But that’s probably not a good thing. You’re getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Or, are you? Maybe the sentiment of the buzz is positive because everyone is impressed that Johnson & Johnson is doing a great job getting the word out, pulling Tylenol off the shelves and has generally behaved like a great corporate citizen should. The only way to know is to measure sentiment.

A Slow Trickle

That’s an extreme example, for sure, but it illustrates the importance of sentiment over buzz. In truth, a crisis isn’t what brings down most brands. It’s like the slow drip drip drip of water onto concrete. Hard though the concrete may be, the dripping water will slowly erode it away until it’s worn a hole right through. Similarly, the slow trickle of un-noticed, un-engaged negative consumer sentiment can wear a hole in your brand that can be difficult or impossible to repair.

And that’s where the real value of sentiment marketing is: understanding current consumer sentiment and trends; and finding and engaging in the right consumer conversations to keep sentiment needle moving in the right direction and, if you can’t prevent the unforeseen crisis, building up enough positive sentiment to cushion the impact of one so that you might survive.

Filed under: Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Media

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