Experiencing persistent negative perceptions is not uncommon for a brand. To uncover the reasons for them, companies often look at the landscape of their social research by getting reports of post volume and sentiment.

That type of data only skims the surface of the problem, however. Companies are not diving deep enough with just those raw results. The next step in the detective work is bringing deeper segmentation and analysis to find real business answers.

Deep segmentation of data allows marketers to attack the problem from a specific point of view, getting to the root of what's causing and driving it, and where and how people are talking about it. Marketers can get better insights from unstructured content, and the only way to do that is by breaking it down to levels beyond just media channel, volume, and sentiment. Therein lies the evolution of social.

Though different ways to approach segmentation exist, this post will focus on three levels of dissection from which a brand can gain huge insight in researching a negative perception problem.


In a recent webcast, I examined data about Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). What was really telling about that negative perception problem was the distinct difference in concerns between genders. Men were vocal about the political implications of GMOs, mentioning topics like lobbying the government, Obamacare, and other governmental aspects. Women, however, brought to the table different concerns, including the possible impacts on the health of their children and environmental consequences.

Media Channels

If marketers are trying to positively affect the negative perception of your brand, they need to go about it delicately and tailor the message to fit the correct audience. For a positive outcome, the message will have to be different when reaching out to women as opposed to men.

This is where segmentation by media channels comes into play, as different channels serve purposes for generally different audiences. By zeroing in on specific media channels, like Twitter, Facebook, and forums, a brand can further identify the source of its perception problem.


Forums are an especially helpful channel because they provide a medium where people feel comfortable having peer-to-peer conversations, sharing their opinions, and asking questions.

Conversation topics often extend far beyond the main purpose of the forum, which has proven to be valuable for brand-perception research. Individual contributors from a single perspective can also be very powerful, and brands can easily identify these people for the potential to positively affect their perception problem.

By signing up for a forum profile, a brand can track the biggest influencers and develop lists for outreach. If brand managers can change the influencers' perceptions, those individuals are likely to tell the hundreds of followers who look to them for insights.

Geographic Location

When a brand is looking for other negative perception clues, another aspect to consider is geographic location. Geo-location will help brand managers identify nuances in the content all over the globe, as there are no boundaries to social content. The world is so connected, and brands are much more global than they ever have been. One population to the next will look upon trends like political affiliations, the environment, or conservative morals from different lenses.

Unless companies can understand how people talk and from where they're saying it, companies aren't going to be able to identify how they should address which audience in which location.

Determining the Right Cadence to Follow and Report on Trends

Brands are all unique, and negative brand perceptions are unique as well. Knowing how often to monitor and when to take action are important outcomes from segmentation.

For example, with crisis situations, a common practice is to monitor the brand by the hour, asking important questions like "Are people continuing to talk about the situation?" and "Did my response go over well?" Brand should be asking those questions when something has suddenly gone wrong.

However, with persistent negative brand perceptions, the monitoring cadence depends on a brand's intentions.

If a brand understands why the negative perception is persisting and generally monitors the situation, taking a look at what people are saying once a month should give a good baseline for what's going on. However, if the goal is to implement a plan to change perception, a brand will need to track more frequently to make sure what it is doing is having a positive effect. Marketers don't want to go too far into an initiative and find out with the next monitoring report that their efforts didn't move the needle at all.

Have realistic expectations regarding when to expect a turnaround in negative perceptions, especially for a persistence problem. There may be internal pressure to solve the problem quickly, but correcting persistent negativity requires a focused and calculated long-term plan. Constantly monitoring the brand and using the results to tweak the messaging will move the needle over time.

* * *

The most exciting fact is the industry is just at the beginning of sophisticated analysis and monitoring practices.

In the not-so-distant future, brand perception models, and dashboards are expected to be automatically linked to digital media and advertising campaigns, letting brands instantly change both messaging and spend to most appropriately react, measure, and adjust to influence consumer sentiment seamlessly. New segmentation categories will allow brands to become more precise and react to the individual and small-group level automatically and intelligently.

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Negative Brand Perception: How Social Media Segmentation and Monitoring Uncover Clues

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image of Mark Brandt

Mark Brandt is director of research and analytics at Visible Technologies.

LinkedIn: Mark Brandt