Musings on Cool: How do the CoolBrands perform on social media?

The 2012 CoolBrands list was launched recently, but how do the brands featured come out on social media? Giles Palmer, CEO, Brandwatch, analyses the list, looking at how it performs in terms of online engagement.

September saw the launch of the 2012 CoolBrands list, a “barometer of Britain’s coolest brands, people and places”. Published annually since 2001, the list is compiled by canvassing the opinions of 2,000 members of the public alongside a panel of 39 ‘cool experts’, including actors, musicians, creative directors, designers, journalists and bloggers. This year’s list features a diverse range of brands, but the top five is dominated by technology brands with Apple at number one, closely followed by YouTube, Twitter and Google. Other less obvious names on the list include the Glastonbury Festival, Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s. I can clearly see the reasoning and merit behind each of the names of the list, but for me the whole methodology, and therefore the list itself, is undermined by the narrowness of the opinions involved.The problem with the CoolBrands list is that ‘cool’ is a highly subjective term: what’s cool for one person isn’t for another. So although Apple, YouTube and Google will be thrilled, and perhaps unsurprised, to hear they’ve been paid this compliment, this survey is largely dependent on the opinions of 39 individuals, and it doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge the vast amount of opinion and insight out there in the real world, evident across social media channels.True, social media was not entirely left out of the process – people could vote on Twitter and Facebook to add brands to the master list before it was whittled down – but this is a very marginal use of what is an incredibly powerful and revealing channel. It is absolutely the right step to crowd-source nominations in this way, but why not go further with your social media insight and actually do some analysis into how the brands are treated on these channels? That, after all, shows true public opinion. Shouldn’t we be asking how large the brand’s online footprint is? Or what’s the common perception of the brand? And how this stacks up to its competitors?Here at Brandwatch we have done just that, taking a look online to see what is really going on in the eyes of the public – and the results make for an interesting read…The difference between positivity versus popularity Let’s take the number one CoolBrand, Apple, as a good first example – a staggering 10,000 people tweet about Apple and its products being cool every week, compared to just 4,000 about Samsung. However, while the percentage of positive tweets is roughly equal for both brands, Apple has more negativity surrounding its products than Samsung.Similarly, Virgin Atlantic (8) may have made it onto the top ten cool list, but our data found that tweeters were more likely to discuss the company in negative terms than they were for fellow airlines British Airways and Emirates. The inclusion of BBC iPlayer (6) in the list was a decision with which the Twitter users soundly agreed, with the brand being discussed more frequently than its rival on demand services 4OD and ITV player, and in a much more positive light. When looking only at tweets that use emotive language, the difference is magnified even more. Striking a good balance between positivity and negativity can be a challenge for most brands to meet, however I would argue that neutrality is a far worse situation to find yourself in. Volume alone cannot make a brand cool when all the conversations fail to express an opinion. Ben & Jerry’s (15) is a good demonstration of this – although the ice-cream brand is discussed on social media an average of 2,000 times a day, the conversation is largely un-opinionated with just 16 per cent expressing an emotion towards the brand – albeit largely positive. Häagen-Dasz, which ranked two placed above its rival, gets fewer mentions on a daily basis but shares similar issues when it comes to emoting a response from the public – again, as little as 14 per cent of conversation expresses an opinion. Is ‘cool’ the sum of all your parts?Google ranked fifth on this year’s list and yet core Google properties – notably Google+ – prove less cool when it comes to online opinion. Between January and September of this year for example, Twitter users were just as likely to express dislike towards Google+ as they were to be upbeat about the service. That said, emotive tweets about Google+ outweighed neutral ones by 2:1, so perhaps it’s simply enough to be garnering a reaction and growing the conversation.Sony, which ranked 11th, saw the opposite happen with its computing sub-brand Vaio proving more popular online than its mother brand. Sony was discussed more than 85,000 times on social media in September alone, yet mentions of the brand being cool were limited and only 40 per cent of the conversations were positive, while Vaio was discussed in positive terms 42 per cent of the time. It’s worth noting, however, that negative conversation about Vaio accounted for 21 per cent, compared to just 15 per cent for Sony in general. So what lessons can we take away from this analysis?
  • Just because a brand is the most mentioned, does not make it the coolest
  • Cool requires positivity or at least some form of opinion – neutrality is not an option
  • A brand is only as cool as the sum of its parts
Being cool for sharing coolAll things considered, what I find most fascinating about this year’s survey is that brands such as Apple, YouTube, Twitter and Google haven’t just shaken up the results table: they’ve fundamentally changed the way we share ‘cool stuff’ too. So while it’s not too much of a surprise to see tech and social brands snatching the top spots from more traditional names, what’s particularly interesting is that the social brands have become so popular precisely because they offer consumers a new way to tell people what or who they think is cool. Next year, I’d love to see the CoolBrands survey incorporate social media data into the results. In a world where everyone is an opinion-former, surely public opinion should be the ultimate barometer of what’s cool?

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