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Why Negative Brand Sentiment Is A Good Thing

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We marketers love to seek out and show off positive brand sentiment. But when it comes to negative brand sentiment we’re not so apt to talk about it.

I’m here to change your mind about negative brand sentiment. Not only can it be a game changer for your business, it can help you better align with the voice of the customer (VoC).

You can become a hero just by being a Negative Nancy. Read on for how!

Defining Brand Sentiment

Brand sentiment, or sentiment analysis, is defined by the feelings that potential or current customers have about their interactions with your brand. I want you to think of sentiment analysis as a subset of social listening.

While you should (obviously) monitor your brand mentions, sentiment analysis goes a layer deeper to understand the positive, negative, and neutral emotions adjacent to those mentions.

Knowing your brand sentiment is one surefire way to identify differentiation areas for your brand.

For instance, marketing and sales departments often know what happened, but they have a harder time answering why it happened.

  • Why do customers buy from us?
  • What motivates (why do) potential customers to buy from our competitors?
  • Why is product or service X under or over-performing?

Knowing the answers to questions like the above are imperative to a business and this where negative brand sentiment plays an important role.

However, for this post, let’s focus on negative brand sentiment — and how to use it to your advantage.

Sentiment Scores & Natural Language Processing

First, you can get sentiment scores as a right out of the box functionality of most social media listening tools.

We think a best practice is to use it more tactically, with more nuance. We suggest this customization because the automated out-of-box functionality doesn’t completely capture the complexity of sentiment due to the limitations of natural language processing (NLP).

Limitations of NLP.

There have been significant advances in NLP. This is why you can “ask” Alexa or Siri things using your natural language style: “What is the weather in New York City today?” as opposed to “Alexa. Weather. Zip code 10012.” 

But, it does have its limitations –  you’ve almost certainly had the experience where things go haywire and Alexa doesn’t understand what you meant, because our natural language style is full of idioms and sarcasm and local accents. For example, the machines don’t yet know how to grade the sentiment in these two statements:

“This is shit!”

“This is the shit!” 

The machines will tag the second sentence as negative even though we know as humans that addition of the word “the” means someone is making a positive statement. Therefore some negative terms may be tagged as negative because NLP can’t navigate the context of the negative word.

Sarcasm is also a place for humans to be on the lookout. Imagine you’re an airline brand and you get tagged in a tweet saying this: “I love it when [Airline] loses my luggage after a ten-hour flight.” This isn’t a happy customer. But out-of-the-box sentiment scoring may score it that way.

So, humans are still needed to support the NLP tools. And that’s why we put so much emphasis on “teams, not tech” with regard to social listening – because NLP has a long way to go.

Setting Up For Brand Sentiment

Let’s look at the way sentiment is defined and how it rates conversations positive, neutral, or negative. Social media sentiment analysis applies NLP to analyze online mentions of your “listeners” and determine the feelings behind the content that was posted.

Essentially, the algorithms apply NLP and machine learning to public social mentions from various social media sources. 

Sentiment terms, or defining what’s positive or negative, can be relatively straightforward. Others might be specific to your industry. Either way, you should define your sentiment terms for both positive and negative. Below are a few common terms and examples:

  • Positive Brand Sentiment: best, love, amazing, perfect, thanks.
  • Negative Brand Sentiment: worst, hate, disappointed, bad, avoid.

Embracing Negative Brand Sentiment

Now, let’s lean in on the negative — because this is where you can seriously initiate change. 

First and foremost, during the pandemic, we saw brand loyalty wane even further; brands are losing clients more easily. By digging into the negative you may be able to improve retention and turn that trend around.

Secondly, if you are looking for acquisition, negative brand sentiment can be an opportunity to obtain new customers. The negative feedback is where, if you truly want to become a better brand, you go to make the changes your customers want to see. 

Similarly, you can also look at your competitors’ negative sentiment and find opportunities to differentiate yourself from others in your space. Ignoring negative feedback is not just bad (terrible!) customer care – it’s also such a missed opportunity. Feedback on social media is public – and the rest of the audience can see the feedback and your lack of response.

We often don’t want to look at the negative, and we really don’t want to look at it and alter the way things are being done. But if you want to institute change, this is where it happens. And nine times out of ten, when you show your customers a) we’re listening to what you said, even though it’s negative, and b) we’re making changes based on the opinions and feelings you gave, you’ll have an easier time getting their buy-in and hopefully getting them to remain loyal. 

Tracking Sentiment Over Time

How do people feel about your brand or your products this week, versus last week? Is our negative brand sentiment seeing a decrease or increase?

Social listening allows you to track sentiment in real-time. Thus, it’s easy to immediately see if there’s a significant change in how much people are talking about you. Or, if the feelings behind what they’re saying about you has changed.

Think of sentiment scoring like an early warning system. It alerts you to both positive and negative changes in how your brand is perceived through online conversations, in real time.

And since we know customers are eager to bash brands online versus commend them, it can be a major indicator that a communications crisis is about to rear its ugly head. Following the negative data is a smart move for marketers.

The Positive With Negative

By the way, this might be counterintuitive if you’re in marketing but, instead of showcasing what people like – the positive – to your stakeholders, you need to be brave and focus on what’s not working. Because that’s where there is room to improve.

Fun fact: No brand is perfect and there will always be room to grow. Yes, these are tough conversations, but they are the only way to transform your bad mentions into positive ones. And quite possibly, to turn disgruntled customers into loyal ones.

Sentiment literally reflects your audience’s opinions and feelings so it’s central to understanding the VoC. Therefore, digging into negative brand sentiment can be one simple way to understand your brand’s VoC.

Are you ready to be a ‘Negative Nancy’? Let us know how you’ve used negative sentiment to make positive changes at your brand.

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Brooke B. Sellas is the in-the-trenches Founder & CEO of @HelloBSquared, an award-winning social media, advertising, and customer care agency. She's also the Co-host of The Marketing Companion podcast with Mark Schaefer, where they discuss jaw-dropping marketing trends. Brooke's marketing mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout!
Category: Customer Experience
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