How to Overcome Negative Brand Perceptions on Social Media
In the age of constant social media commentary, all brands are subject to the influence and change of public opinion. When a brand begins to experience negative perceptions -- especially with the instant impact of social media -- it is easy for panic to set in quickly. So how can a brand be smart and nimble in evaluating negative sentiment?

First, it is important for a brand to recognize and differentiate between two scenarios of negative feedback and commentary:

  1. Negative Sentiment in Crisis Situations
  2. Persistent Negative Sentiment

Crisis Situation - Riding Out Short Term Storms

A crisis situation is often the result of an offensive social media post or immediate backlash from a public message. Social intelligence analytics demonstrate this in the form of a large and immediate spike in negative sentiment volume, but a spike that lasts for only a short duration of time (think hours or days).

Crisis situations are becoming common, especially as more brands use social media. Take the case of American Apparel, and their misstep during Hurricane Sandy. They received massive backlash from the Twittersphere after emailing customers about a sale for “bored” East-coasters during the hurricane, which was offensive to many people. The data shows this response with a spike in negative sentiment after October 30th, 2012.

There are industry-accepted best practices about what marketers should do in cases like these -- and in most situations the next step is pretty obvious. Responding appropriately and quickly is your best bet. This approach makes consumers aware that the company is cognizant of the situation and addressing it. In the American Apparel case, after a company spokesperson explained the motivations and rationale behind the customer email, negative comments quickly died off within a week.

Persistent Negative Sentiment - Bigger Issue Worthy of Deeper Insight Exploration

Persistent negative sentiment, however, represents a continuation of negative perceptions. Social analytics in this case will show an immediate spike of negative sentiment following an event, but will be combined with ongoing elevated negative content over time with subsequent negative spikes. This is a much bigger concern for brands and it warrants time and analysis to determine long-term strategies to counteract the negative sentiment.

Because persistent negative sentiment is a bigger brand concern, it requires more explanation of how social intelligence can help a brand make smart business decisions.

For example, Monsanto has received a lot of backlash on social media because of genetically modified organisms (GMOs for short). To dissect this negative persistence problem, Monsanto needed to look at consumer comments and specifically negative sentiment over a significant period of time. The goal was to find out which prominent terms had surfaced and what trends were associated with those terms. In addition, they needed to evaluate the difference in conversations and sentiment within different social media channels. This provided the first key insight: over time, Facebook was becoming more and more prevalent -- eventually growing to 32 percent of the volume of conversation regarding Monsanto and GMOs, from only 1 percent of the conversation a year prior.

In addition, segmentation analysis found that different audiences had unique areas of perspective or focus for the negative conversation and comments. One of the most interesting findings that surfaced in this case was the difference between male and female comments about Monsanto and GMOs -- leading to different approach strategies for engaging with these two audiences.

At the core, the analysis found that female conversations center on the GMO issues from a health standpoint -- how it affects their kids, potential medical complications and mentions of doctors and research studies. On the male side, conversations are more politically based, with mentions of government and big industry. 

The bottom line is that the growing and persistent negative sentiment and association with Monsanto and GMOs warrants the brand to have an ongoing social intelligence program to identify the changing conversation threads, what motivators are behind those comments and how a brand can specifically engage with tailored messaging to different segments that match with concerns. This creates a need for content, engagement resources and ongoing analytics with an end goal of monitoring and testing to see how negative sentiment can be slowly reduced over time.

Cut Off the Negatives Perceptions

In the end, it’s vital to the success of every brand that negative perceptions are overcome when situations like this occur. Using social analytics to examine the brand and delve into specific areas can reveal great insights and lay the groundwork for next steps in solving the problem.

To prepare for and deal with negative perceptions, make sure to:

  1. Identify where, how and why people are saying what they’re saying.
  2. Inform yourself to be able to glean information from the data -- and know the story the data is telling you. It is important to have diligence and accuracy here!
  3. Address your detractors appropriately by developing a plan of action and crafting responses that are well-informed. This needs to be done quickly yet thoughtfully.

Title image courtesy of bloomua (Shutterstock)