By Randy Hlavac
Lecturer Professor – Northwestern University
Medill Integrated Marketing Communications [IMC]
In today’s competitive marketplace, you cannot afford to lose precious market share & spend millions of dollars handling a crisis that could have been averted. As an instructor of Social Marketing at Northwestern University & the CEO of Marketing Synergy, I have had over 10 years of experience working with the most advanced social monitoring systems in the world & integrating them into the management systems for clients ranging from the Fortune 100 to start-ups. Recently, I was involved in a project which illustrates the power of social monitoring software to spot a crisis before it happens.
Tracking Sentiment Shifts is the Key
Lexalytics’ analysis software takes comments made on blogs, social networking sites, forums & thousands of other social media and identifies the people & companies in the discussion, the topics being discussed, and the terms being used in the conversation. From this analysis, Lexalytics then determines the sentiment of each component in the conversation. For a single Tweet or Facebook post, the sentiment score indicates whether the conversation is positive, neutral or negative for each person, product and topic being discussed.
When you use a social monitoring system, sentiment becomes a very useful business tool. In my Northwestern social classes, I teach social monitoring starting with a very simple, free tool called SocialMention. You can type in a company or topic [I used Lexalytics] and this free software tool returns actual mentions about Lexalytics and calculates some key statistics. While the tool only uses discussions from today, it does show key information helpful to your business.
On the left are actual, real-time conversations about Lexalytics. On the left, are four key statistics from the analysis of all of the conversations. While all are important, the most useful is the Sentiment metric. For Lexalytics today, the Sentiment Score is 54 to 1. This means there are 54 positive comments to every negative. To see what your business’ score is and to see the definitions of the four measures, try it yourself. Try it for your competitors too BUT AFTER you read this blog!
People talk on Social BEFORE they take action
Sentiment becomes a potent tool when there is a significant shift in sentiment about your company. In my experience, these shifts are initially unseen at the company level because they involve a small group of peers talking “trash” about a product or situation. Because the conversations are small and often about very specialized subjects, they can easily be dismissed by the company as unimportant….a big mistake.
Last year, I had an opportunity to speak to the marketers of LEGO. To show them social monitoring, I used a highly sophisticated tool to classify different conversations into a layered word cloud. Looking at it, you can easily see conversations about the LEGO movie, Star Wars, Batman, Duplo and other topics being discussed online. All of these top conversations are highly positive and were very interesting for the LEGO marketers.
At the very bottom of this graphic was a very different story. It was a very small conversation, just starting out, where people associated with GreenPeace were initiating a conversation about LEGO. They had recently learned LEGO was using Shell Oil to manufacture their blocks. They were in early discussions – with totally negative sentiment – about whether they should confront LEGO about their use of Shell Oil.
My presentation was done in June of 2014 and, at that time, the conversation was so small, it was not considered important by LEGO. By October, it was a major crisis. Based on pressure and videos from GreenPeace, LEGO was forced to shut down 3 of its largest manufacturing facilities and stop using Shell Oil products. What was a small conversation in June was a full-fledged crisis by October.
What You can Do to Avoid a Crisis
Based on this example and many others I have worked on, there are three action items I would recommend you consider to improve your ability to identify and head-off crises in the future. They are:
- Listen Specifically – Many organizations use social monitoring systems to track their company overall but don’t take the time to identify the sentiment by specific topics.
- Look for Sentiment Shifts – Measure these topic areas every week to identify shifts in sentiment. When one occurs, quickly compare discussions before and after the shift to see what has changed & why they are talking.
- Act Quickly – When a sentiment shift occurs, you have a short time to act. Examine the specific conversations, develop a plan to address them, then contact the individuals in the conversation to engage directly with them. Addressing their concerns or misunderstandings will manage the problem BEFORE it become a crisis.
Today, peer-to-peer conversations spread quickly and, if negative, can easily spin out of control. With a properly developed social monitoring system, your organization can see crises as they develop and use these real-time capabilities to quickly avert a disaster.
Randy Hlavac teaches social & mobile marketing at Northwestern University and is the author of a how-to book on social marketing titled “Social IMC – Social Strategies with Bottom-line ROI ”. Randy is a frequent speaker on digital marketing, social & mobile marketing and social monitoring. Randy is also CEO of Marketing Synergy – a digital consultancy located near Chicago IL. Seth Redmore of Lexalytics speaks to Randy’s graduate digital, social & mobile marketing [DiSoMo] classes about the power of social data analysis.