April 12, 2017

The People v. Uber: Court of Online Sentiment


As a Marketing Research Analyst with Delucchi Plus at Streetsense, I investigate a client’s competitors, tap into social chatter and uncover relevant audience data to help with brand development. Outside of work, my hobbies aren’t all that different; I love a good mystery or puzzle to solve.

So in this blog series, I’ve paired my love for mysteries with my detective-like marketing research skills to analyze the high-profile decisions made by corporate brands. I’ll investigate the evidence (i.e., online social chatter and public reviews) and create a sentiment “verdict” based on our findings and analysis. You might say I’m a PI, a perception investigator, for crimes against public opinion.

Our first case? The People v. Uber. Specifically, a few days this past January.

Public Relations Research: The Case Overview

On Friday, January 27th, 2017, the President signed an executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the United States. The next day saw numerous protests against the decision, including an announcement that the New York Taxi Workers Alliance would not give rides from the John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport.

Later that day, Uber tweeted they were taking off the surge pricing for rides leaving JFK airport. People quickly took to the internet to vocalize their disgust over a decision they saw as solely profit-seeking and unsupportive of the company’s employees. Soon, #DeleteUber trended on Twitter and conversations swelled. What did the general public think of Uber now? How much did one tweet damage Uber’s reputation, and what did this mean for its public relations?

The Evidence: Events on January 28

Before diving into the analysis of Uber’s online sentiment, see below for the timeline of the day in question.



We scanned Uber’s online sentiment and social chatter using Sysomos, a software that crawls through billions of social content to collect data and give context to conversations, to see the impact of the January 28th surge pricing action. To get a fair comparison of the changes in online sentiment, we measured the previous five days (January 23rd to 27th) next to the five days on and immediately after the date in question (January 28th to February 2nd).

Takeaways from Online Sentiment Analysis

Negative public opinion and online sentiment of Uber had increased by an estimated 8% (approximately a 1.6% average increase per day).

Right after Uber’s tweet, the online conversations shifted quickly – from working for Uber (as it was prior to the date in question) to a now more political topic: #DeleteUber became the number one trending hashtag on Twitter. This, along with the increase in the unfavorable sentiment, indicates that when a brand takes action tied closely to politics, consumers will respond strongly and quickly.

Overall Sentiment Comparison

Sysomos scanned blogs, Twitter, news, and forums, and found that before the surge pricing tweet, overall online sentiment for Uber was favorable with 60% positive and 40% negative opinions. After the tweet, favorable sentiments dropped to 52% overall and negative sentiments increased to 48%.

Overall Popular Words

When discussing Uber in the social space, words that appeared most often in association with the brand changed after the tweet in question.

Before the surge pricing tweet, popular words included Uber, people, time, business, work, company, year, week, transportation, driver, driving, help, and cities. After the tweet, some of the same general company word associations (people, company, Uber, ride) were among the group; however, a new set of words emerged: Trump, immigration, ban, Lyft, order, deleteuber, taxi, executive, ceo, strike, muslim, jfk.

Trending Hashtags on Twitter

In the few days before, working for Uber, competitors and boycotting Uber were among the trending hashtags on Twitter. In the few days after the tweet, the conversations were very politically topical – among the top trends were #deleteuber and #muslimban.


Exhibit 4. Trending hashtags before and after Uber’s surge pricing tweet. Before is on the left side and after is on the right side. (Sysomos, 2017)

Note: The #DeleteUber trend had actually existed before the date in question, but as the evidence points out, their action may have helped push the negative sentiments over the edge.

The Verdict

After considering the evidence before and after January 28th, it is clear that Uber’s tweet negatively impacted the public’s opinion of the brand. If public perception online is reality, then Uber is found guilty on two counts of:

  • Failing to monitor their social media chatter and the trends surrounding their brand.
  • Failing to adequately course correct their negative publicity.

The Implications

Uber can use this as a lesson to be aware of social conversations about their brand, so that they can pivot quickly to prevent damage to their reputation.

Regardless of the industry, it’s important for companies to think ahead of the potential impact of their social media messages, be at the forefront of monitoring their social sphere, and have a strategy in place for when sentiment begins to turn sour. While a company cannot completely control its public image or what the public says about the brand, it does have control over how it communicates in the marketplace.

On the Strategy & Insights team for Delucchi Plus at Streetsense, we frequently deploy tools like Sysomos to keep our clients informed about the online climate. We use these resources to get a temperature read of online buzz or monitor commentary and reactions to an event (as you can see in the case above). It’s one of the in-depth tools in our collection that we use to be informed when making public relations and brand development decisions.