Business Consulting

Understanding Social Media Sentiment

There’s many a marketing manager out there that seems to live and die by their brand’s sentiment on social media. Social media sentiment can be useful metric to take a quick pulse check, but to use sentiment effectively you have to understand the context through which it is measured.

I’d wager a guess that many of the people using sentiment analysis have a tool that pops out a nice, neat number for them, but they don’t necessarily understand what created that number.

The majority of social media posts are neutral

I spent several months of my life reading EVERY single word that was posted about BB&T Bank on social media, as they smartly set up a social media monitoring plan prior to jumping into the fray. While I can say with authority that Americans hate very little else like they hate banks, the truth is that the vast majority of the mentions about BB&T were neutral. This is true for most companies, especially big brands.

If this comes as a surprise to you, think of any brand out there: Gap, Starbucks, M&M’s…how many times have you posted, or seen a post, that goes something like:

“Trying on clothes at the Gap”

“She was just sitting there eating M&M’s instead of doing her job!”

“Want to meet up at Starbucks?”

Each of these posts would show up in a brand’s social monitoring and contribute to the sentiment measure, but the truth is that these posts aren’t actually about the brand. And while the overall tone of these posts may be positive or negative, as far as the brand is concerned, these are neutral mentions.

Add in the countless mentions of news headlines, job postings, executive quotes, events, brand sponsorships and even stock price – all of which are neutral. Compared to that list, any complaints or kudos that the brand receives are just a drop in the bucket.

In fact Mention analyzed over a billion posts this year and found that 77% of all company mentions were neutral, 18% were positive and only 6% were negative.

When Sentiment is Useful

If you have a tool like Radian6 that provides you with sentiment analysis then create a dashboard (along with volume metrics) and use it to establish a baseline number. This dashboard can be a good tool to check the status of social chatter: if the numbers stay consistent, then all is well in your world. If your spot check reveals a radical change it’s a good indicator that something is brewing and you need to be on top of it. You can use the sentiment metric to quickly pinpoint the negative chatter and put together a game plan.

In a nutshell

Social media sentiment is a great metric to spot trouble, trends and pinpoint dissatisfied customers in order to help you identify and solve issues quickly. If you are going to use this metric I highly recommend spending time reviewing all of the comments that comprise your sentiment score so you understand the context of the numbers.


Nicole Krug’s business, Social Light is a digital marketing agency that specializes brand and marketing strategy. Nicole helps clients hone their digital marketing strategies to bring more exposure to their brand and boost their bottom line.

Prior to Social Light, Nicole spent 10 years in enterprise marketing and business development for brands as diverse as The North Face and BB&T Bank.

You can view her profile HERE.

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