Are We Hearing Anything When We Listen To Social Media?



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Social media is, at heart, a communication tool. Unfortunately it is much easier to talk to many people than it is to listen to them. Social mentions tell us what is being said but not what emotion lies behind the words. Sentiment analysis, however, begins to provide a more nuanced way to listen to our social media audience and develop actionable insight from what we hear.

In theory, at least.

In practice our sentiment mining often simply scrapes the surface and, as a result, digs up nothing of real value. How can you use sentiment analysis to truly listen to your audience and build their responses into your action plans?

Let’s find out.

How can businesses start to truly listen?

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Stephen R. Covey (author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)

Sentiment analysis is now available, in some way, as part of the offering of nearly all social media monitoring tools. If used correctly, it can give your business the opportunity to not only hear what is being said, but also to gain insight, develop understanding, take informed decisions and translate these into effective action.

Sentiment analysis can get you listening to the heart of the matter rather than hearing the surface chatter. It can take you beyond traditional metrics, which can be all volume and little meaning, and help you reach an understanding of what your audience actually truly feels about aspects of your business and your brand.

In theory, at least.

In practice many businesses trying to analyse the many conversations that take place can become overwhelmed by the immensity of the data that this all creates. Typical responses to this are understandable but ultimately unproductive.

  1. To collect more and more data without ever really trying to make it tell a story.
  2. To collect less data by focussing on large areas and, as a result, only ever hear a garbled version of the story.

The result of both approaches is the same: after all that listening there remains no understanding and no actionable insights. This is technically known as a waste of time.

How can businesses start to actually act on their listening?

“We listened to what our customers wanted and acted on what they said. Good things happen when you pay attention.”
 John F Smith (Former CEO and President of General Motors)

Sentiment analysis requires the power to crunch Big Data. You need powerful software and deep analytical powers. Is your software powerful enough? Are you skilled enough to mine the data? Let’s take a look at what you need to do and how deep you need to dig before you start producing actionable insight rather than surface data.

According to Nexus Design & Print the first thing to bear in mind is that just cataloguing the number of positive and negative mentions is interesting, but it only indicates the presence or absence of an issue rather than helps you to understand how you can solve it.

Let’s imagine a nationwide clothing retailer has discovered negative sentiment surrounding its brand. What messages should it use to counter this? First it will need to find out where the problem lies.

  • Is it related to a recent advertising campaign it has run?
    • Which one was it?
    • What aspects of the campaign produced hostility?
    • Are there only certain sections of the audience it upset, and are they core to its market?
  • Is it related to its clothing range selection?
    • Which part of it: men’s, women’s, children’s or babies? Suits, jeans, tops, shoes, boots, shirts, etc.?
    • Is it the price, the style, the availability, the quality, the ethics of its supply chain?

Similar sorts of questions could be asked about a number of issues that affect the perception of a business and deep sentiment mining will help to unearth the roots of the business problem.

Paradoxically the deeper you dig the more answers you find to get your business out of its hole.

Is your business ready to work hard to listen effectively?

“Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”
Peter Nulty (National Business Hall of Fame Fortune Magazine)

Sentiment analysis gives us a chance to start hearing and acting upon what we learn. But it will take a lot of sweat to dig up those answers.

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