#Snowpocalypse Shows Why Sarcasm Causes Brand Confusion

By Mary C. Long Comment

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Brands on their game are well aware that they need to be monitoring as many channels as possible so they know how many people are talking about their brands, how often, and what they’re saying. The really forward-thinking brands understand that it’s important to gauge the intensity of those interactions as well – to know not just that people love their brand, but how much they love it.

But it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Passion for your brand is far from a “set it and forget it” metric. Because context can take the consumer sentiment you thought you were measuring and swing it in the opposite direction, where love becomes hate. Which means you need to know your demographic well to really interpret the data you’re collecting.

Take Bostonians. If you’re wondering whether they’re passionate, just mention the New York Yankees and you’ll have all the evidence you need. Tough and proud, the people of Boston – and just to clarify, everyone from Massachusetts is “from Boston” – are sentimental about their sports teams, no-nonsenseness about most everything else, and they can take whatever the world cares to dish out.

Except snow, apparently.

This February’s weekly blizzards are testing their mettle. Not surprisingly, their frustrations are being regularly vented via social media – which makes for a great test case on how net sentiment can be misinterpreted if you don’t know your audience.

Social media analytics firm NetBase put their highly intuitive sentiment analysis to work to assemble some data about the state of Bostonians’ #SnowRage, using several different hashtags, terms and phrases associated with the recent snow storms. And they discovered some interesting tidbits:

  • There were a large number of mentions about the snow storms in the past month – no surprise there
  • Emotion-based word clouds showing strong sentiment for the words “like,” “love,” “enjoy” and “incredible” – curiouser and curiouser!
  • With a net sentiment at -16 percent, a passion intensity of merely 11 (out of 100) doesn’t quite match up – definitely confusing!

Check it out – quite a contradictory data picture, isn’t it?

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If you were looking at pure number of mentions of the storms, close to 300,000 is impressive, especially when you consider that could translate into 2 billion potential impressions.

And if you were simply assessing the keywords that got the most play on the emotion spectrum – something any brand would deem top priority – you might think that Bostonians are having a blast, “enjoying” and “loving” the snow.

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But if you know Bostonians, you could guess that any mentions of “like” or “love” are more than likely sarcastic. The other angle you might discover in looking at lesser words in the emotion-based word cloud is that Bostonians are overall more annoyed, inconvenienced, and tired of the never-ending snow than hating or loving it. So maybe they’re not passionately despising the snow, but that low-level negativity is still not a good sign if it’s your job to sell it to them. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this person is more upbeat about their chemo infusions than the snow!

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The takeaway is that you have to interpret the data you collect based on what you know about your customers. You can’t eliminate that human component. Because computers don’t speak sarcasm; nor can they recognize the impact of a general state of dissatisfaction, even if it appears not to be that intense by the numbers.

In Old Man Winter’s case, Bostonians are more than ready to switch brands. Lucky for them pitchers and catchers report on February 20 — which means Opening Day, and spring, isn’t far behind.

Top image courtesy of Svitlana Grygorenko / Shutterstock.com.

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