Analysing trends is the key to a successful marketing strategy. Gathering market data for analysis is no longer the problem; it is readily available. The challenge is knowing how to leverage that data to uncover and verify trends so you can improve the customer journey and achieve your business goals.

An inadequate market analysis will not help you understand your customers’ needs. It can also result in ineffective marketing efforts that do not influence their behaviour. To avoid that, you have to know what data to look at, where to find it, and how to make a difference between short-term and long-term trends.

Table of contents

What do we mean when we say “trends”?

What are search analytics?

What are media and social analytics?

Search analytics vs media and social analytics?

How to use media and social analytics to identify trends?

  • Start with building relevant search strings
  • Track and identify top source mentions
  • Follow #hashtag conversations
  • Analyse word clouds
  • Explore location-based trends
  • Follow closely what your competitors are doing
  • Identify influencers in your field

What do we mean when we say “trends”?

Trends are any topics, conversations, behaviour patterns, consumption habits, content formats, or platforms that are currently popular with your target audiences online and are relevant to your industry. To be able to identify trends, you need to be able to tell which data sheds light on actual trends.

Observational data is one of the best ways to uncover trends because it is non-intrusive and does not require people to actively participate. The two most widely used methods of collecting observational data for trend analysis are search analytics and media and social analytics.

What are search analytics?

Search analytics use search data to monitor search engine queries and see how often a particular term was searched over time. It can highlight specific information about user behaviour and offer insights into how to improve the user experience, as well as your search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts.

Google Trends, for example, analyses keywords, phrases, topics and categories across a range of languages and locations in real-time. It shows the growth or decline of search interest on Google over time for keyword queries. You can use Google Trends to get an idea of how popular any given topic is at any given moment.

Similarly, Baidu Trends analyses queries from the Chinese search engine Baidu. The tool allows you to see how a keyword has performed over time and how it compares with other keywords in terms of popularity and traffic volume on the Baidu search engine.

What are media and social analytics?

Media and social analytics is the practice of collecting, analysing, and reporting on data related to media consumption and social media habits. Media and social analytics focus on measuring how your content performs across different channels and platforms as well as allow you to monitor content being generated about your brand by social media users and media publications.

You can use social listening tools to track mentions, monitor social media conversations, and see how your customers react to content about your brand. Media and social analytics data can help you understand your audience and their behaviours so that you can make better decisions about your marketing strategy.

Search analytics vs media and social analytics

There are substantial differences between search analytics and media and social analytics.

Search analytics highlight private behaviour that is not influenced by your social setting. That means that you do not think about what people will say when you Google something. You do not share publicly what you input into a search engine.

Media and social analytics, on the other hand, notably social media analytics, look at users’ public behaviour. When you post on Facebook, for example, you are aware that that post will be seen by your connections, so you are more likely to be conscious about what you post. In short, you “edit” yourself.

With search analytics, you usually have a massive sample size because you are looking at the times a term or a phrase has been inputted in a search engine. With media and social analytics, your sample size will depend on how often people or media outlets were willing to publicly speak about a topic. In short, it will depend on the popularity of the topic.

Search analytics focus on what was searched, whereas media and social analytics provide deeper information on who shared what, at what hour, on which platform, etc. Media and social analytics provide rich insights about your audience.

Lastly, search analytics usually highlight temporary trends. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Zoom became the number one cloud-based video communications app. The Google Trends screenshot below shows that searches for Zoom peaked towards the end of March 2020 when global lockdowns began.

We can see that Zoom was very popular at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, but interest faded in 2021 and 2022. Google Trends can also show us the interest in Zoom by region, the related topics and queries, and help us compare two keywords/phrases.

For example, here is a comparison of searches for Zoom vs Skype.

In terms of trends, this graph shows us that Zoom was “trending” when compared to Skype. However, it does not show us the sentiment towards Zoom and it does not provide detailed information about the users and their opinions about the app.

This is where media and social analytics come into play.

If we set up a dashboard in a social listening tool based on a query that will return mentions related to Zoom, we can get much more information on the audience and the type of content they posted. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • User profiles (usernames, number of followers, potential reach, etc)
  • Time stamps (exact date and time when the content was published)
  • Engagement statistics (Likes, Comments, Shares, Saves, etc.)
  • Content specifics (posts and articles get aggregated in the dashboard)
  • Sentiment (positive, neutral, negative)
  • Trending topics and keywords
  • Share of Voice (SOV)

Analysing trends with media and social analytics helps you get information about both temporary and long-term trends. More importantly, it can give you information on what is actually being said about a certain topic. For example, Zoom might have been the most popular video communication app in 2020, but without media and social analytics, we would never know if that popularity was due to the app being well-received or criticised. We would also not know what were the app’s strengths and weaknesses compared to its competitors.

To summarise:

Search Analytics

  • Temporary trends
  • Private behaviour
  • Massive sample size (focus on quantity)
  • Removes social bias
  • Does not provide detailed audience information

Media and Social Analytics

  • Temporary and long-term trends
  • Public behaviour
  • Sample size depends on user activity (focus on quality)
  • Affected by the social settings
  • Provides rich audience insights

How to use media and social analytics to identify trends

Social listening tools are a great way to uncover trends by tracking and analysing mentions in the news and on social media. They can help you identify what is trending, what people are saying about your brand, and even what your competitors are doing wrong. However, once you create your search strings and mentions start rolling in your tool’s dashboards, you will realise that it is not that easy to identify trending topics, especially if you are not sure what you are looking for.

Here are seven steps you can take to ensure you are getting the right information:

1. Start with building relevant search strings

For social listening tools to gather data, you need to input keywords, usually as part of search strings. Search strings, also known as queries, are usually made up of words or phrases, but can also include numbers and symbols. All these keywords are combined using Boolean operators (such as AND, OR, NEAR, *, etc). In some cases, you know exactly what you are looking for and you can easily build search strings to help you capture all the relevant mentions.

For example, if your company produces cars and you want to track mentions about a new car model you recently launched, all you need to do is include keywords about your brand and your car model name and exclude any keywords that might bring you spam.

Just to illustrate, here is a very simplified version of what a search string would look like for Hyundai’s NEXO SUV:

(Hyundai AND Nexo) OR ((Nexo AND (car OR model OR SUV OR automobile OR drive)) NOT (crypto OR cryptocurrency))

In realistic settings, we have to do thorough research and make sure that we are eliminating spam and including all brand name and product name spelling variations, especially in languages in which people misspell the names. This is important because, in order to identify trends and see how your car model fares against its competitors, you have to have accurate data. 

Spam can swell data and misrepresent trends. You might think that 1000 people mentioned the Hyundai Nexo today just by looking at the number of mentions, but upon closer inspection, you might realise that 400 of those mentions are about Nexo, the crypto platform.

In cases when you do not know what you are looking for and you just want to know what is trending, then you have to do some media monitoring before you can optimise your strings. That brings us to the next step:

2. Track and identify top source mentions

Before you can even begin to analyse trends, you need to know where your target audiences coalesce. Social media listening tools are very efficient in retrieving and displaying this data. These tools can:

  • show you the top sources that mention the keywords you inserted based on quantity (social media networks, forums, mainstream news sites, TV&radio, etc);
  • display other related keywords and topics that frequently appear in content that mentions your keywords;
  • Identify influencers responsible for generating interest in a particular brand or topic;
  • summarise the sentiment towards your researched brand or topic, and much more.

Social listening tools structure the data in the form of useful information and include helpful data visualisations. After identifying the top sources for mentions, you can adjust your marketing strategy to strengthen your presence on those platforms.

3. Follow #hashtag conversations

Users and brands use hashtags to help categorise their content so it is easily discoverable. One of the best ways to uncover trends is to find trending hashtags. You can do this manually by opening hashtags on social media platforms and scrolling through posts. Again, social listening tools are more efficient in this process because many of them have widgets that list the top-performing hashtags and rank top posts under these hashtags based on engagement.

4. Analyse word clouds

The word cloud is a popular widget offered by many social media listening tools including Talkwalker, Brandwatch, Synthesio, etc. A word cloud is a visual representation of words or phrases that are popular with your audience. More frequently used words are represented with a larger font than others. This can be useful for determining which keywords are most closely associated with your brand or product line (and thus should be emphasised in marketing materials).

At first sight, word clouds might not make much sense. In fact, there are times when they are not really helpful. However, you can always click on a keyword in the word cloud and review the mentions to understand why that particular keyword was frequently used. This can give you an insight into what topics your audience is interested in right now and how they feel about them. It can also give you hints on what keywords to monitor in order to stay on top of trends.

5. Explore location-based trends

There are big trends that are consistent worldwide, but if you are operating internationally, looking at location-specific trends can give you insights into what the local communities care about. As a result, you can optimise your marketing campaigns and craft your messaging in a way that speaks to the local audience. Location trends help you narrow down your focus and target the right audience on a more personal level. Social listening tools can be set to display mentions and conversations on a country level (or even city-based level), which is perfect for identifying micro trends.

6. Follow closely what your competitors are doing

Chances are, your competitors are also busy analysing trends. Monitoring your competitors’ owned social media accounts as well as conversations about them online can show you what people like and dislike about their work or products. Using this secondhand experience can help you avoid any potential crisis as well as learn what is trending amongst your competitors.

7. Identify influencers in your field

We are living in the influencer era. Many trends start and take off due to influencers endorsing them. The good thing about social media listening tools is that they can help you identify relevant influencer profiles based on their activity, engagement rates, and followers count.

You can learn who is advocating for your brand as well as who is talking against it. Looking at how the general public reacts to influencer content can help you make an informed decision about whether or not to participate in certain trends.

How can we help?

Uncovering and verifying trends is a time-consuming process, but it is also a key component to establishing and maintaining your brand online. As easy as online social listening tools make it seem, sorting through large amounts of mentions and extracting valuable insights from them is not an easy task. At A Data Pro, we make sense of information, and our multilingual teams can help you extract the information you need in record time so you can focus on perfecting your marketing strategy.

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