Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What digital metrics don't say about brands

There have been a lot of discussions around sentiment analysis and metrics about brands on the internet. To address this area, there are a lot of companies that have designed software that help brands figure out sentiment and other related things in real time.

With fancy interfaces that look no less like a NASA control panel, these packages aggregate what people are talking in real time, process it and make sense out of it.

All this enables brands to figure out their online sentiment and the profile of engaged netizens. What it does not tell brands is the culture. The big problem with a sentiment metric is that it takes the social out of social media.

Social Media for a major part is about conversations. It's not about people talking in silos without any interaction. Conversations on the web form subcultures around brand and other consumption activities. These cultures cannot be understood by bots or information processing programs. You need people to understand them.

To make effective use of social media, you need to understand the subculture. That will help brands know why the sentiment is positive or negative. More than why, it will also give information about the context and evolution of interactions around the brand.

The narratives around the brand don't always stay constant. The web like life unfolds like an on-going narrative. These narrative change because of people and this change is again that can only be interpreted by connecting the dots, that are subjective in nature.

Dr. Kozinets and Dr. Handelman in a paper published in 2004 looked at anti-consumption from the lens of new social movements. They studies movements among anti‐advertising, anti‐Nike, and anti‐GE food activists. They fond collective identity of activists indulging in anti-Nike/GE/advertising activities was linked to an evangelical identity related to U.S. activism’s religious roots. Their findings explained the value of spiritual and religious identities in gaining commitment and highlighted movements that seek to transform the ideology and culture of consumerism.

While the above research was published as a theoretical paper, its methodology speaks volumes about what can be done. A Nike or GE looking at their social media sentiment could have never possible uncovered such a phenomena. They would have simply seen a negative sentiment.

Another aspect is context. A person keen on healthy foods is not really going to speak volumes about a wafer/cola brand. The relevance of netizens speaking about your brand is a major issue that I've seen has not been addressed by social media sentiment packages.

This again highlights the importance of cultures. A common theme or homophily forms many online subcultures. Internet and social media acts as glue in bringing people with similar tastes together. It is important to move beyond metrics to cultures that exist around brands on the internet.

Do you agree with this? Share your thoughts below.