Social Media Sentiment Analysis vs. Social Incident Response: What’s the Difference?


Social media marketing is a many-headed hydra. From content distribution and campaign management to social listening and social analytics, it’s challenging to find the right division of labor to tame each element of social media management. But when it comes to preserving brand health, social media sentiment analysis and incident response are two often-confused components of effective social media marketing.

Here we’ll walk through the difference between sentiment analysis and incident response, and explain how each should be addressed by your marketing team.

What is social media sentiment analysis?

At its most technical, sentiment analysis — which also goes by the names opinion mining, brand listening, or sentiment mining — is a form of machine learning that uses natural language processing to understand human attitudes toward a topic or subject.

In social media, sentiment analysis is a form of social listening used to understand the emotion, feeling, or attitude behind a comment online. It allows marketers and brand managers to understand the true meaning behind digital communication, which, of course, exists in the absence of the contextual clues we rely on to understand the meaning of words in human-to-human conversation, like vocal tone, facial expressions, and body language.

Why should my business track social sentiment?

Brands monitor social media sentiment to add a much-needed layer of context to top-of-funnel brand awareness metrics, like number of online brand mentions, number of comments, and branded hashtag usage.

Here’s one illustrative example:

Let’s say you’ve launched a new product, and as a result, there’s a spike in mentions of your business on social media. It’s tempting to equate more mentions with a successful launch. But is this reception really positive? Or are people mentioning your business to mock or complain about the new product?

Social media sentiment analysis allows your marketing team to understand if these mentions are positive or negative. Without it, your marketing team won’t be able to tell the difference between criticism and praise without manually reviewing every single mention. And for companies with large online audiences, or enterprises with many subsidiary brand accounts, reviewing every single online mention simply isn’t a smart use of time.

How should I use social media sentiment analysis for my business?

First and foremost, social media sentiment analysis is a leading indicator of brand health. If more people are talking about your brand online — perhaps raving about your product or services, and recommending it to their friends — then you must be doing something right.

Once you have a historical baseline for online sentiment toward your brand, you can also use social media sentiment analysis to:

  • Understand how your brand and content are being received
  • Identify influencers and thought leaders to help distribute and amplify content
  • Stay on top of real-time conversations, topics, and trends with hashtag and phrase tracking
  • Compare your brand’s audience sentiment against competitors and industry leaders
  • Track brand health and monitor the impact of product launches, new campaigns, press coverage, and more

What is social incident response?

Once you have social sentiment analysis in place and are tracking every time your brand is mentioned online, what do you do about it?

That’s where social incident response comes in.

Social incident response — which involves social customer service and incident management — is a related offshoot of social listening and sentiment analysis. Social media is, of course, an increasingly popular channel for customer service complaints. Research by McKinsey shows that 30 percent of social media users prefer social care to phoning customer service.

Notably, the health care, automotive, and consumer packaged goods industries saw the largest increases in brand mentions on Twitter in recent years.

On social media, customers expect around-the-clock responses to their issues as well. In fact, 32 percent of people who contact a company through social media for customer support expect a response within half an hour. Forty-two percent expect a response within an hour.

The upsides of a well-executed incident response strategy are well-documented. According to McKinsey, companies that improve their customer experience on social from “average” to “wow” can see a 30 to 50 percent improvement in key measures such as likelihood to repeat a purchase, purchase an upsell, or recommend your product to others.

The repercussions of poorly-executed incident response strategy are the stuff of a brand manager’s nightmares. Read Business Insider’s 7 Customer Service Nightmares That Went Viral if you’re in need of a good fright.

But should your marketing team own social customer service and incident response in the first place?

Industry research and marketing leaders cast doubt on this notion. Conversocial notes the following:

“At the corporate level, the ownership of the social media channel is shifting away from Marketing and Communications as engagement increasingly relates to inbound customer service-based topics. Rather than social being seen purely as a space for companies to deliver outbound marketing messages, it is the inbound customer queries that allow for meaningful points of engagement and the building of brand advocacy.”

Put differently, social incident response should live squarely in a customer service department, rather than a marketing department, because it is innately reactive in nature.

If your organization is low on headcount, and must place the burden of incident response on your marketing team, understand that this decision will come with a major time tax and opportunity cost, as it distracts employee time from proactive marketing outreach.

Advocates of a “flipped” marketing funnel, however, might disagree. It is an increasingly common practice for marketing, sales, and customer service and experience managers to “flip the funnel” to reflect the customer experience journey. This funnel outlines the process of turning customers into advocates, which in turn refuels the top of the marketing funnel by driving awareness and lead generation.

But again, cultivating customer advocacy and incident response are apples and oranges. While prompt social customer service can increase or protect brand affinity, it is rarely a proactive act of customer advocacy.

If you have a customer service function in place within your organization, consider incorporating social incident response within this team. Then lay the foundation of communication with your marketing, public affairs, and brand management functions as needed to escalate incidents relevant to brand health.

Which social media tools are right for my business?

We’ve compiled a list of more than 176 marketing tools, broken down by category. If you’re in the marketing for a social media tool, take special note of the social media marketing section.

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