The State of Social Report: The Context You Need for Marketing in 2018 Research

By Alex Jones on September 26th 2017

Our annual report on the state of social, The Social Outlook, analyzes 200 million online conversations to provide insights and benchmarks across 15 industries.

This report was born out of a simple, but commonly overlooked concept that we keep close to our hearts across our business: data without context isn’t useful.

Consider a golfer who sinks a hole in four strokes. Did the golfer do well? Can you accurately answer that question?

If we want to actually understand how well the golfer performed, we need more context.

We need to know what benchmarks we use to evaluate the quality of the golfer’s performance, and what potential confounding variables we should consider.

‘What is par?’ is a good start. Also, how well has the golfer performed in the past?

Without that context, data is literally just thatdata. Without more knowledge, there is no way to use data to either understand a topic better or improve your decision-making.

When it comes to social media analyses, or any big data analysis, context is paramount.

The Social Outlook aims to provide that context.

Benchmarking with context

In The Social Outlook report, we can’t exaggerate enough the necessity to understand your company in the context of your market.

While this seems like a no-brainer, companies typically get into the habit of limiting their competitor benchmarking to share-of-voice charts. However, in order to get insights that can actually lead to action, that data needs more context.

For instance, benchmarking the sentiment of conversations surrounding your company is a common part of social media and digital marketing reporting. However, these kinds of analyses cannot inform better decision-making without a broader view.

To see this in action, here’s an example. According to our research, nearly a third of the conversation about the insurance company Aflac was negative.

This might set off a red flag for the crisis comms and PR teams. But what action does this knowledge encourage the brand team at Aflac to do?

By itself, the answer is none.

Here’s more context from the report, the online feelings surrounding most financial service companies are more negative than most other industries; nearly half of all mentions are negative.

A screenshot from the Social Outlook. It shows a bar graph that looks at the sentiment surrounding brands across 15 industries, from luxury fashion to telecommunication. Nearly half of financial services and telecommunication conversation is negative.

This isn’t necessarily because financial services industries are less liked than other brands. When you step back and look at the industry as a whole, you realize that the way in which financial companies are talked about is different than most other industries.

As it turns out, when people discuss financial service companies (or cable or phone providers, or airlines), they are sharing issues they are having with the services the companies provide.

This is fundamentally different to why a person would discuss Neutrogena or Michael Kors.

If Aflac knew this context, they’d have two valuable takeaways from monitoring:

  1. People actually speak more positively about their brand and services than most of their competitors, and
  2. They should be benchmarking how well they address the high volume of issue and service-related messages they’re likely getting online.

Learning how customers use social media to communicate with your industry should directly guide your own social strategy. Once you have a market-wide outlook on your company, you can begin turning data into insights and into action.

The Social Outlook

When it comes to social media analysis, or any big data analysis, context is paramount.

In The Social Outlook, we examine the online activity of 450 brands across 15 industries.

Looking at 6 months and 200 million mentions worth of data, we examined how each industry differs in terms of brand health, consumer demographics, and social content.

The report aims to identify what “par” is for each industry and how that varies, so companies can compare their social strategy against relevant benchmarks and begin really acting on the data they collect.

Download The Social Outlook for free below.


Social benchmarks for every business

Discover the social trends that will impact your brand in 2018—from customer experience, to marketing, to consumer sentiment.

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Alex Jones

Alex is the content researcher in the New York office at Brandwatch. She loves finding the social human in social data, and enjoys watching videos of excited baby goats