How Social Media Analysis Helps Marketers Navigate Controversy
Hobby Lobby is a national chain of retail arts and craft stores that first opened in 1972 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Today, the retailer is at the center of a national debate on women’s health, the Affordable Care Act, and religious freedom. Hobby Lobby has been engaged in a lengthy legal battle, objecting to the federal health care law requirement to cover certain forms of birth control. Just last week, the Supreme Court issued a verdict ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby at 5 to 4.
This process, which has lasted almost two years, has dramatically shaped the entire conversation surrounding the Hobby Lobby brand. Volume of conversation has increased dramatically and content has also been transformed, shifting from hot glue guns and holiday decor to political debates on freedom of religion and women’s rights. As the retailer moves forward, its marketers must assess whether and how their customers part of the social media conversation and how they should listen and respond to what crisis-based orators are saying.
Social analysis of Twitter posts written over the past three years, from July 2011 to July 2014, offers insight into how the legal battle has shaped Hobby Lobby’s social media presence and audience. Dividing this time period by year highlights three distinct periods and the gradual transition that occurred: prior to the lawsuit (year one), the early stages (year two), and the final, highly publicized appeal and Supreme Court ruling (year three).
During these three years, there has been a dramatic increase in the discussion volume, rising from roughly 150,000 to 1.4 million posts authored per year. While such a dramatic increase in conversation is any marketer’s dream, the content and sentiment of the discussion will determine if it is one of joy or horror. For Hobby Lobby, conversation has shifted away from the products and towards the lawsuit, leaving many questions to be answered.
Topic Wheels highlight the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past three years. Marketers would be strongly encouraged by the first Topic Wheel which highlights consumers’ interest in crafts and positive engagement with the retailer. Shoppers express their love for the store and discuss a variety of products including arts and crafts, home decor, and Christmas decorations.
The Topic Wheel from year two also highlights positive sentiment, sharing many similarities with the previous one. Shoppers continue to praise the store and write about their favorite products.
The Topic Wheel constructed from the most recent data, year three, illustrates how the content of conversation has been influenced by the legal battle. While positive sentiment towards the store and its products continues to contribute to the conversation, topics relating to the lawsuit also appear. This is evident in subjects such as women, discrimination, and religion.
The conversations discussing the retailer and the lawsuit appear to remain separate from one another in this initial analysis because words and phrases that directly attack the store and its products are absent. However, a reference to products from China and morality links the two, posing potential problems for the retailer. Further analysis into topics of conversation would expose what people are saying about the retailer and if the lawsuit is causing customers to criticize the craft stores, products, or shopping experience.
In addition to a shift in volume and content, the composition of the audience also changed. Demographic output highlights the evolving nature of audience location and gender. While Hobby Lobby boasts 628 stores in 47 states, the conversation during years 1 and 2 are highly concentrated in the central region of the US.
In year one, there were 825 posts per million written in Oklahoma, the highest posts per capita of any state. The number of posts increased dramatically the following year when 1,940 posts per million were authored in Oklahoma, the location of the initial lawsuit.
A striking difference distinguishes year three from previous two years because engagement became more dispersed, moving from the Central US to the entire country. While there continued to be a considerable number of posts written in Oklahoma, 3,330 per million, the state was surpassed by New York which had the most at 4,072 posts per million.
Marketers can explore this trend further by specifying geographic regions when building monitors and using location to focus tools like Topic Wheels and Word Clouds. These specifications allow for a more comprehensive understand of how conversation may differ between states, like Oklahoma and New York.
In addition to the changing geographic distribution of the Hobby Lobby audience, the gender composition also evolved over time as more men have become engaged in the conversation.
It is widely believed that arts and crafts stores predominantly attract female consumers. This generalization can be supported by the gender composition of the Hobby Lobby conversation in year one which is 74% female and 26% male.
However, these proportions shift over time as women make up less of the conversation. During year two the percentage of women drops to 68% and then to 51% in year three. While men may be becoming more interested in craft supplies, it is more likely that they are discussing the Hobby Lobby lawsuit. Marketers can confirm or reject this hypothesis with monitors that analyze conversations of men and women separately and identify the topics that each gender discusses.
Based on these preliminary insights, it is not surprising that the interests of people in the conversation shifted over the past three years. In year one, the Hobby Lobby audience was strongly interested in a variety of craft related topics. They were 34 times more interested in crafts and 32 times more interested in home decorating than the general Twitter audience.
They were also 22 times more interested in being a mom and 3 times more interested in colleges and universities than the general Twitter audience. Consumers with these interests represent female shoppers who purchase craft supplies for their children and university students who are members of clubs and sororities that are actively making crafts for events and fellow members.
Shoppers also expressed interest in religion. They were 24 times more interested in theology and 14 times more interested in Christianity than the general Twitter audience.
During the following year, the interest in crafts decreased and an interest in politics appeared. This trend can be seen in the number and strength of political topics that the Hobby Lobby audience is interested in, rising from only 6 topics in year one, 26 in year two, and 37 in year three.
For instance, the Hobby Lobby audience was 5 times more interested in the Affordable Care Act than the general Twitter audience in year one and this interest increased to 36 times and 70 times more interested over the following two years.
Other interests arose during year two including an interest in conservative politics which was 64 times stronger than the general Twitter audience, rising to 71 times in year three, and an interest in liberty which rose from 39 times greater to 41 times greater than the general Twitter audience in years two and three. Marketers must ask, is this increase in political interested audience members overshadowing their crafting consumers?
It is evident that the expanding social media presence of Hobby Lobby has not been caused by a revival of crafting, but a lawsuit that garnered the attention of Tweeters who wished to voice their opinion on the matter.
While a lengthy conflict may prove difficult for marketers to interpret, social media analysis helps to make sense of the conversation and identify who is participating in the discussion.
An analysis of changes in volume, conversation topics, gender, geography, and interests highlights the dynamic capabilities of social media monitoring. Marketers can build upon these insights by separating audience members based on demographic characteristics and study the conversation with opinion analysis to measure what people are saying and what topics are driving the conversation. While political topics will appear in unison with the progression of the lawsuit, marketing and product strategies may also be evident, previously hidden under the political noise. Perhaps shoppers were excited about holiday sales or new store layouts. These questions can be answered with social media analysis.
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