Can Share of Social Chatter Predict Share of Market?

Each month Marketing magazine publish their ‘Social Tracker’ revealing how differing companies and industry sectors are squaring-up on social media.

Using analyses by yomego and HumanDigital they provide interesting perspectives of who is being talked about, when and why, and consider what it may be revealing about customer/consumer/shopper/buyer opinions.

In the September 2013 issue, for example, they ran a feature on Tesco which showed the share of supermarket shopping-related chatter accounted for by the top supermarkets.

Interestingly, these shares were very much in line with the actual physical turnover market shares of the supermarkets. Not identical, but certainly enough to show a strong correlation!

So is this surprising and/or useful to know?

Well it probably isn’t that surprising if you consider that the number of people who will be moved to comment is likely to be proportional to the number of customers that a company already has. So whilst there may be short term fluctuations, take a big enough sample and long enough time frame and you’re bound to find such a correlation.

The more interesting part for marketers is whether the differences between say, share of endorsing comments and/or share of detracting comments, is going to be predictive of underlying share growth or decline. Inevitably one has to believe that it will be, and that marketers must take heed of this.

Much predictive discussion around social media has concentrated purely on the short term – “if I know you are travelling via Gatwick today can I offer you a coupon to use my restaurant chain at the airport” – but this is a poor use of the medium – anyone can obtain short term share increases by cutting prices irrespective of the medium they use.

And marketers who believe that the ‘primary goal’ of social media is to give people ‘brand experience’ are simply deluding themselves if they see that as an end in itself. The only way you can ‘experience’ a Mars bar is to eat one (or have it melt in your pocket but that is not a recommended mode of consumption).

Of more relevance is whether fundamental steams of endorsement or detraction are out of kilter with a brand’s current market share.

This has a direct analogy with an older measure of strategic marketing strength – relative accumulated weight (of advertising and/or strategic merchandising and promotional spend).

This older model of brand behaviour showed (and still does) that long term brand share trends are predicted by a brand’s relative share of accumulated spend – i.e. the sum of strategic marketing investment made (typically) over the past five year period relative to other brands in the market.

Outperform the market on this measure and your market share will rise. Underperform and your share will probably decline. Moreover, this measure can be improved upon in predictive capability by taking account of the perceptions generated through such spend on five key criteria which we call the five key dimensions of purchase motivation. These five key criteria are:

Relevancy (right solution)
Identification (right image or brand identity)
Accessibility (perceived – and actual – obtainability)
Value (right cost-benefit trade-off)
Confidence (expected reliability that the brand promise will be delivered)

The same is true of social media comments.

These can be assessed on these five dimensions and scored according to their level of endorsement or detraction. It does not matter that, on average, there will tend to be more negative comments than positive ones (people with a problem will always be more vociferous than those who haven’t) – what is important is the trend and the RELATIVE levels across brands.

It works because in many respects Social Media marketing is an example of ‘strategic merchandising and promotion’ – in much the same way as would be achieved by, for instance, Red Bull sponsoring an Air Race. Accumulate the weight and reach of the messages given and tally them relative to the competition and you have a metric for predicting future share trends.

We have been exploring this for some time now and can see that it certainly works for our clients – so far. This is a new medium and there is more to learn but the nature of human relationships with brands is more fundamental and has a longer time horizon than the various means by which it is achieved.

So next time you look at Marketing’s Social Tracker, pause for thought about what it might be saying for the probable long term health of your brand.