Sentiment Analysis: What Do Your Customers Think of Your Business?

by Ken Mueller on November 28, 2012 · 18 comments

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One of the first things I’ll do before even meeting with a prospective client is a little bit of homework. One of the things I’ll do is a quick sentiment analysis. This is where I do some searches, use a few tools, and see IF people are talking about the business in question, and then WHAT they are saying about the business. Are they saying good things? Or is there a lot of negative chatter? In some cases, it might even be a mix of both.

I’ll do some general Google searches and Google alerts. I’ll check out appropriate review sites, such as Yelp or Urban Spoon. I’ll do some basic searches of Twitter and other social networks. I might even use some sentiment analysis tools that can be found online, but only sparingly.

Sentiment analysis is a part of brand and reputation monitoring that is incredibly important. It helps you understand the perception (or perceptions, plural) that people have about your business. It gives you a benchmark as to what kind of work you have cut out for you as you move forward with an online communications plan. Are you digging out of a hole of negativity? Or are you starting from a good position of positivity? Which perceptions can you build on, and which do you need to work on?

For what it’s worth, I believe that sentiment analysis can only be properly done by a human. Automated tools can help you collect some of the data, but it’s important to put a human eye on things to properly interpret sentiment. Here are a few tips on gathering and interpreting sentiment data:

1. Online tools generally can’t sense sarcasm and subtleties in language – A popular Facebook meme is the “said no one ever” meme. An example of this would be, “Your incessant posts about politics on Facebook have made me fall in love with your candidate…said no one ever.” In testing this on various automated tools, this statement was ranked as a positive sentiment, when in actuality it’s a negative statement.

2. Online tools generally can’t interpret your choice of words – This is similar to the first point, but most of the online tools look for positive and negative words, i.e. love, like, always, never, not, and so on. But with today’s loose use of language, the negatives aren’t always negative, nor are the positives always positive. We’ve all heard the word “bad” used in the sense of something actually being “good” and that’s a rather simplistic example, but our word choice isn’t always easily interpreted by an algorithm. Consider these two sentences:

“I will never eat at Joe’s Bar & Grill again.”

“I will never eat anywhere but Joe’s Bar & Grill again.”

Clearly the first statement is negative, while the second is positive, but based on structure and the use of the word never, several of the online tools see them both as negative. So even if you use a tool to monitor your brand, you need to read through such statements to determine the real sentiment behind the words.

3. Context is critical – It’s important to understand the context of when something is written. A statement made at one time might weigh differently than a statement at another time. What other factors might have influenced a particular online statement? It could be as simple as the time of day, time of year, the weather, or something else, that might color one’s impression of a business. For instance, if I go into your restaurant at 2 p.m. and have to wait an hour for someone to take my order, it’s a lot different than going to that same restaurant when they are a lot busier during a meal rush. At that time, I might think that a one hour wait is reasonable.

Also, I’ve seen 3-star reviews (out of 5), that on further reading seemed like positive reviews. One person’s 3-star review might be another’s 5-star review.

4. Consider the source of the statement – I know of several locals who go out of their way to write negative things about businesses. So much so that they wear their curmudgeon status like a badge. Also, is the negative review coming from a real customer, or a competitor who wants to tear you down. On the same note, a positive review from your mom shouldn’t be considered as heavily as one written by John Q. Customer. Having said that, you also need to figure out what level of influence each individual might have. A statement by one person might carry more weight than the same statement by another person. And remember that the concept of “influence” can be fluid and relative.

5. Consider the timing of the statement - One of my clients is still battling some bad reviews from several years ago. What’s unfair about this is that the business had a different owner at that time, and the business has changed drastically, for the better. It’s now our job to encourage more positive reviews. That bad review might not be legit for the current owner, but it still might color the perception of someone who has no knowledge of the business and is looking online for guidance.

6. Understand that negative often outweighs positive – We are rather negative creatures. Most of us are more likely to voice our negative opinions online than our positive opinions. We like to talk bad about something we think is bad. With that in mind, remember that the negative statements might just represent a vocal minority. Now you have to encourage the rather silent majority to speak up.

7. Dig deep – Don’t just look for the obvious statements. Search for every configuration of your business name (including misspellings) that you can think of: Joe’s, Joe’s Bar & Grill, Joe’s Bar, Joe’s Restaurant. If people refer to you in some way, look for it, even if it isn’t your correct name. If your business name has changed over time, you might even need to search for the old name.

Do your research, and do it well. Don’t rely solely on automated listening tools, even if they promise to provide true sentiment analysis. Understand who your customers are and what they are saying about you. This will give you an understanding of how your brand is perceived, and what foundation you are building on (or tearing down).

How have you monitored your brand and researched the sentiment related to your business?

 

 Sentiment Analysis: What Do Your Customers Think of Your Business?
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14 comments
jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

I'm reminded of something that Jay Baer said once - your clients have a printer and toner, too. They need you to interpret the raw analytics reports, provide context and sift through the numbers for actual insights. 

Gotta do the work! 

girlseeksplace
girlseeksplace

What if there is no feedback? What do you do if you can't gauge how people feel about your business?

LizJostes
LizJostes

I love that the focus of this article was about how this is one of those things you really, really CAN'T leave to a tool. People want an easy solution for every single thing, but some tasks actually require - gasp! - a human!

Erin F.
Erin F.

This is a good explanation of sentiment analysis and how to use it. (I also admit curiosity when I saw your question the other day about sentiment analysis tools. The mystery is now solved.) Your post seems like it would pair well with Sean McGinnis' series about reputation management.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@girlseeksplace That can be tough. Some say that they'd rather have negative feedback than no feedback. But with my clients, if there is no feedback, it's my job to work with them to ensure that they get feedback, and GOOD feedback. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@LizJostes I think we go in cycles. With all this social media stuff, we started out doing it all ourselves, then we went overboard on automation and tools, and I *think* that now we are realizing that that doesn't work, and that we have to bring back the human element. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Erin F. It was interesting that I got very little response there and elsewhere. And yes, this is definitely a part of reputation management. It's important to know what is being said about you, or not.

krisbradley74
krisbradley74

@KenMueller @Erin F.  I also saw your question on Facebook, but I couldn't think of any tools.  We did cover Sentiment Analysis in my Full Sail University class about a month ago, but I don't think we shared any tools.  Great post Ken!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@girlseeksplace Sure thing. Drop me an email at inklingmedia@gmail.com and we can set up a time to chat.

GetAboutMe
GetAboutMe

@KenMueller @krisbradley74 @Erin F. It's interesting how something that has been discussed and researched for so long is only just breaking through into the mainstream. Most of the tools out there are either prohibitively expensive, or free and terrible for ongoing analysis.

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