The Social Iceberg Revisited

Why we Never See the Vast Majority of Brand Tweets

Last year, we were surprised to find that only 7% of brand tweets are those we see when we scroll through our feeds every day—the campaign slogans, holiday wishes, and product pushes tweeted from brands to their thousands of followers. The remaining 93% of tweets that go largely unseen are one-on-one interactions with individuals. In other words, the brand tweets that we do see are only the tip of the iceberg.

This year, we decided to revisit the social iceberg for a few key reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to know whether the dominance of 1:1 interactions peaked at 93% in 2015, or whether 1:1 interactions continued to grow over the course of 2016, as even a one percent increase would mean tens of thousands more replies per brand.

We also wanted to take our research one level deeper to explore both how social care differs by industry and how seasonality affects responses so that we can better predict surges in brand interactions going into the holiday season.

After crunching the numbers, we again found ourselves surprised by the data hiding underneath the iceberg.

The Data

We began our data refresh by collecting all tweets from the 20 brands we assessed last year, including leading brands from tech, electronics, and retail companies as well as airlines and grocers. In 2015, total tweet volume exceeded 1.3 million; in 2016, the same 20 brands published 38% more content, landing just shy of an astounding 2 million total tweets.

The “Social Iceberg”

It didn’t take long to discover the answer to our first question: 1:1 interactions did continue to grow in 2016, and by more than 1%. As of late November, 95% of brand tweets were direct conversations with individuals, a 2% increase compared to the previous year.

Not only has the proportion of 1:1 brand responses grown relative to 1:many tweets, but the volume of responses from the 20 brands studied increased by more than half a million tweets.

When we zeroed in even closer, looking solely at replies from brands to individuals, we realized that though replies were increasing in total, trends were not consistent across industries or seasons.

One Level Deeper: Industry and Seasonal Trends

Although total volume of direct interactions increased in aggregate, some industries responded to fewer individuals compared to last year. Software companies, airlines, and grocers responded to more individuals in 2016 compared to 2015, while electronics and retail companies responded to fewer. Electronics was also the only industry to see a decrease in the proportion of 1:1 interactions compared to 1:many year-over-year.

So why aren’t electronics and retail brands engaging directly with their consumers as often as they were in 2015? The answer appears to have more to do with consumers than brands.

Of all five industries analyzed, electronics and retail were the only to see a decrease in the volume of people mentioning their brand since the beginning of the year, and it makes sense that there would be fewer questions answered if fewer questions were asked.

Though 1:1 interactions between tech and retail brands and individuals are decreasing, seasonal trends indicate that it’s not time to loosen the reigns on community management just yet. Electronics brands in particular are likely to see a surge in questions in the upcoming weeks leading up to the new year.

Seasonal trends indicate it's not time to loosen the reigns on community management yet.

 

Though mentions of popular electronics brands like @SamsungMobile and @Panasonic have been dwindling since January, last year’s data predicts that mentions are on the brink of a sudden surge in volume beginning on Black Friday. Last year, the surge lasted until Christmas Eve; the pattern is likely to repeat itself this year.

Though the trend is most pronounced for electronics brands, the late-November to late-December surge is seen across all industries and is expected to outpace last year’s surge. When comparing the volume of 1:1 interactions by quarter, the increases seen from January through September are far less extreme than the 227% increase in October and November.

Conclusions

The heavy increase in responses from brands in the last quarter of the year indicates that brands are realizing the importance of direct interactions with their customers. Brands have not only responded to the increase in questions from consumers with an increase in answers, but have prioritized these direct interactions more so than they did last year.

Though the cadence of interactions varies by industry, all brands are likely to see the holiday surge last until Christmas Eve. Our advice to brands amidst the surge is to evaluate your own social care data. How many tweets did you receive last holiday season and how many were you able to answer? If you fell short on responses last year, it might be time to reallocate your resources away from 1:many messages to meet the growing demand for personalized replies.

Editor's note: Want to dive into our research and insights team's full report on the state of social customer care? Download it free here.

November 30, 2016
What Social Data Tells us about Netflix's Success
December 2, 2016
3 Bold Instagram Experiments to Boost Engagement
Justine Braun the Senior Analyst of Research & Insights at Spredfast. Her career began in Chicago studying social data from a psychological perspective. When she’s not buried in analysis, you can find her climbing, making ice cream, or rambling about female-fronted punk bands.