Getting Sentimental about Social Media

Knowing how much return your business on the World Wide Web is giving you is exceedingly important, as a growing number of businesses like yours are jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon; not only that, the sheer depth and breadth of business or commerce that has moved to online sites and other media like mobile phones is immense. Undoubtedly, the hottest media for both businesses and users today is social media.

Social media has made user sentiments – what they think, believe, feel and more –an essential tool for businesses to measure success. Of course, the other important factor is ‘quantifying’ this success. As in, what is it that your business is getting back in return through social media and positive user sentiment? Profit or Brand Value, or something else?

Click through clicking for businesses?

A number of experts and observers of the social media trend think of factors like click-through rates, page statistics and advertising impact as indicators of success.
But the pool of social media experimenters is wide and not everybody feels the same. Partly because these number-based or ad-based indicators do little to convey what the consumers are feeling when they view a brand’s site or its products online, or through social media.

Alternative views on this issue have emerged that turn measuring user sentiments an art – unscientific yet insightful. Could these alternatives be more accurate?

Business crowd-pullers

Some authors who have theorized on the subject believe in the notion of following the crowd. The fact is that when it comes to social media, consumers are the media. Their influence is deeply entrenched in it, giving them great control over the media.

They ‘like’ brand pages on Facebook, ‘dislike’ ad commercials on Youtube, write reviews and also buy products, giving them enormous power over businesses.

Businesses always know what the consumers are thinking online, and it is very easy to lose their support. Therefore, it is important for companies to listen to what the consumers are saying. And really ‘listen’. A great deal of semiotics or symbolism can be found behind both positive and negative feedback online. Businesses need to analyse them and react accordingly. Positive feedback spreads widely anyway, but companies might want to offer a little push to spread the word further afar. Unfortunately, negative feedback also often goes viral. Brands should work to contain it and also work on the feedback if it is valid. It is this ‘interactive’ behaviour rather than intrusive behaviour (spamming, pop-ups) that really seems to be taking customer-business relationships to the next level.

The middle ground

The fact is that we’ve all become increasingly averse towards commercial intrusion, whether it’s in the form of spam in our inboxes or telemarketing calls. We don’t like them. And yet, if businesses must survive, if we must find products and brands that are useful to us, then their communication must reach us somehow. Turning this negative sentiment (‘we don’t like spam, ads etc.) into a positive one (for instance, ‘that’s a cool idea’) is a path that everyone has been looking for, but few seem to find. It seems to be the Holy Grail, if you will, of measuring user sentiment online and finding commercial success through social media and the web. Many experts have described it as a ‘middle ground’ or a ‘via media’ to get through to customers. Getting  these positive sentiments in return can become an important instrument in implementing new or tweaking existing marketing strategies.

Commerce is not all in e-commerce

On social media, it is not just the profits your business makes, but various intangible factors that determine the user sentiment. Some experts say every interaction with the user must be considered an experience of the user with the brand. For instance, a poorly designed website or a social media account that’s barely updated is a poor service experience.

The design of a website can be seen as the crucial first step, the virtual 30 seconds to make the first impression, if you will. A website that’s boring or complicated could cause an early departure of the user, nipping in the bud many potential customer relationships.

Even in the 1990s, experts knew that the ease of navigating a mouse can be termed as ‘user experience’.

Reliability, Security and Responsiveness

Users want businesses that are reliable. They need to be assured that their information and personal details are secure. Increasingly, online audiences are sensitive to responses and feedback. If companies respond to online feedback, consumers feel reassured. It is these factors that customers are looking for before purchasing products from your business.

Look at social media companies itself. Facebook, for instance, allows its users to determine the level of security they want. On Twitter, responsiveness is a crucial factor – tweets of customers often express their feedback and concerns.

Ouch! Tackling Negative user sentiment

In recent times, Search Engine Bing proved how destructive reckless marketing and promotional campaigns could be. In the aftermath of the Japan earthquake, Bing came out with a promotional campaign, where it promised a donation of $1 to Japan for every person who tweeted about Bing. And this donation could go all the way up to $100000. This campaign seriously backfired, as users found it exploitative of the disaster for promotion of their brand. Within a matter of hours, the campaign had to be shelved, and to control the damage created by negative user sentiment, Bing made a donation of $100000 without any caveats. How much this exercise really helped is an interesting question to ask?

In contrast to Bing, various companies, including Google made outright donations to Japan thus continuing to build on positive user sentiments.

Bing is an interesting example as it shows that the reputation and positive sentiments can be ruined with a bad campaign or strategy. It also goes to show how smart and perceptive users are. Their sentiments cannot be messed around with for profit!

The ‘subjectiveness’ of sentimentality

Social media is playing a critical role in not just helping businesses market their products but also in helping them measure user sentiments, which is and always has been a very important factor. Social media has become a big market research lab, where companies can find out if their strategies are working, if not, what can be done to make them work.

That it is so vastly different from traditional advertising, where message flowed in one direction – that is from the Brand – with little or no feedback from the user, makes social media a huge experiment.

Businesses will end up making many mistakes of judgement, like Bing, and occasionally getting it right with the users, before finding that elusive middle path. It’ll be a while before user sentiments are perceived accurately by businesses. That sentiments can be subjective makes it even harder to grasp. Despite this, Social Media is being increasingly seen as a great way to measure user sentiments.

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