Why are some people moving away from social listening?

Why are some people moving away from social listening?

Looking for growth?

You could argue that the Insight team’s job is to help kick-start organic growth. It needs to help us shift thinking about what’s possible, both in terms of improving what we already do, and for extending our capability, reach and ambition.

Lucky for us that we live in exciting times. We’re entering a period of genuine change in the way we create insight. Just as the older forms of market research (surveys, focus groups etc.) are beginning to show signs of diminishing returns, new methods are emerging. And it’s the casual digitisation of everyday life that’s driving it. Alongside the usual sample-led research, we’re seeing more natural sources of data emerging: transactional, operational and social.

The promise of social

For brand and agency insight teams, the data created by social media has a unique value, one that stems from how it’s created. Traditional market research is pretty much all Q&A. Social data, on the other hand, is much more natural, it’s just a bunch of conversations between connected individuals.

The reality is that people talk differently among themselves than they do to researchers. They talk about what’s important to them, not what’s important to you.

As such, social data can reveal a different side of human life, one full of possibilities for creating customer value.

The reality of listening

“We can see the potential, but just can’t seem to make it work for us”

…is something we hear a lot.

It’s because it’s usually much easier to see the insight potential in social data, than to actually get at it.

The market’s young and dominated by Tech firms with loud voices. They tend to sell information as insight. It’s not, and here’s the crux of the problem. Many people start using social listening tools hoping to tap into a new stream of insights. What they tend to get are more indicators, some obvious and helpful, others confusing and vague.

The problem isn’t the data as such, it’s the process of turning it into insight that’s lacking. The tools themselves aren’t to blame, they do a great job at finding and getting the data. It’s just that insight is rarely an automated outcome. Rather, it’s a creative process of developing information to find non-obvious conclusions. Not the work for a dashboard.

Why do people turn to Social Learning?

There is an alternative, one favoured by particularly forward thinking brands, and progressive agencies. This is Social Learning.

Social Learning is a method for finding new insights from social data (Facebook / Twitter/ Instagram comments, online communities, forums, influencer blog posts and survey comments), in fact, anywhere people are talking about themselves and to each other.

It’s a technique that combines the data collection abilities of social listening with behavioural research techniques. It’s Human Social Analysis. It applies well-established qualitative research techniques (thematic and discourse analysis) to understand what people mean in the things they create and share on social. At scale, with speed.

This has two main benefits over research as normal:

Natural + unprompted: it removes your influence and questions from the data collection process, revealing what’s really front of mind for consumers, expressed in their own terms.

Scale + breadth: it explores the conversations of thousands of consumers, literally big qual. This gives you a confidence in the findings which is totally missing from most other qualitative research.

For those inspired by the promise of social data, but frustrated with simply Listening, Social Learning offers a viable alternative.

About us

We’re an insights agency that uses social data to help brands + their agencies find new opportunities for growth.

Drop me a line to find out more: jeremy@listenandlearnresearch.com


“MyMum”: a rough guide for marketers, researchers + planners

It’s that time of year again. 

The ‘tell us why your mum’s the best, and win some stuff’ campaigns are in full swing. But, really? We’re a few weeks in and is this the best we can do? It’s just all a bit dull.

I don’t think our mums would be very proud. 

So, to stoke the creative pot a little, we looked at how people really talk about their mums on social. We found five big themes that explain how we feel. It’s not rocket science (after all, we all should know our mums pretty well…), but there are plenty of ideas for raising your Mother’s Day creative energy. 

So, we’re proud to present: MyMum a rough guide for marketers, researchers and planners

Adulting: a rough guide

Adulting: 12 ideas for Marketers, Researchers + Planners

Adulting made the short list on the American Dialect Society’s word of the year. Recognising that another niche social media term had joined the mainstream.

But what does it actually mean?

For the slightly bewildered journalists covering the story, their response was either balanced and sensitive, or patronising and dismissive.

We wanted to check the evidence.

So, we explored a random sample of 500 social media comments, letting us learn how people talk about Adulting in their own words.

Our goal? To understand what users of the term actually mean by it.

We hoped to unpack the concept, dispel some myths and challenge some armchair perceptions.

And, give you some ideas about what to do about it.

So we’re glad to present: Adulting: 12 ideas for Marketers, Researchers + Planners

winning creative pitches

A new way for agencies to win pitches, sell-in campaigns and brief creative

Finding creative opportunities

The early stages of the creative process, either for pitching for new business or for selling-in campaign ideas, tends to look a bit like this:

In this stage, the quality of the creative process hinges on an agency’s ability to identify powerful creative opportunities, based on new insights about consumers.

But, the enduring challenge facing many agencies is how to continually improve the quality of their thinking to maintain their creative edge. How do you differentiate when everyone’s got access to the same tools: google, focus groups or listening?

Social data has the potential to break this deadlock, just not in the way most people currently use it.

Beyond listening

Most agencies have some form of social listening platform in place, which can be good for monitoring brand-related noise. But it’s not insight. It’s just more data. Most of the information generated by listening relates to activity (who, where, what), not explanation (why). Keywords and sentiment are clues, not an answer.

It’s right to see the potential in social data, we just need to look at it differently.

For developing and testing creative ideas, social data is unique. It’s real people, having real conversations about the things they’re really interested in. I’m not really talking about brand related lovers and haters. I mean the normal conversations we have with our network about everyday things. You know, life.

It’s this rawness that holds the real value.

Reading between the lines

When you reflect on thousands of comments from the social conversation about the same thing, a number of things start to happen:

  • You see what people actually want to talk about.
  • You see how they talk about it and why.
  • You can spot patterns and creative opportunities between the lines.
  • You have the evidence you need to help sell-in the resultant campaigns.

To do this you need to learn from social data, not just listen to it. It’s thinking that creates opportunity.

About us

We’re an insights agency. We help marketers and their agencies see the world through the eyes of real people.

We find unique opportunities in the market by properly understanding social data.

Beyond automated social listening, our unique ‘manual’ methodology unlocks deeper levels of consumer understanding, giving you the insight to market better.

We call this Social Learning.


Do you really know the personal stories that drive demand in your market?

Conversations on social tell a story

A story that’s shaped by what people talk about (in this case the endless quest to be happy with your hair).

Social Learning lets you hear these stories, in terms of:

  • The triggers that get them started.
  • The context behind the different roles they play.
  • The discussions they have on social.
  • And the solutions and actions that wrap the conversations up.

This is what the Hair Story looks like. It’s a map that shows you what people really care and talk about.

Do you really know the personal stories that drive demand in your market

The case for social learning

The case for Social Learning

There is a difference between listening and learning.

It’s the difference between the immediate and the reflective; data and knowledge.

Social listening is maturing, delivering well against a number of business cases:

  • Online customer engagement.
  • Social activity + keyword monitoring.
  • Tracking, measurement + reporting.

And there’s a common thread here, social listening works best when supporting metric-led activities, providing KPIs for the social age (likes, sentiment, shares, keyword frequencies).

But measuring isn’t learning. It’s not creative. It rarely inspiresAnd this is why those looking for real insight are often disappointed.

The business case for learning

It’s very simple. People spot patterns and find insights in ways computers can’t. They do more than listen, they learn.

They can read what people talk about in the social conversation and find new insights unlocking before them. They can take the context in which an organisation works and use this to shape what they learn from the data they’re exposed to. They can appreciate the situation, what’s important and why.

They can transform data into knowledge.

Knowledge which can inspire organisations to find new opportunities to be more successful. They can find ‘why’.

Let’s look at a couple of examples…

1. I am beard

If you listen to men in the US talking about their beards on social, you’ll get a load of keywords.

If you read and reflect on this data, learn from it, you’ll see the importance of superstition, how concepts of ‘I am man’ play out, the fragility of the male ego.

This can then fire up your marketing plan, it shows you how men really live their beards – and it’s this natural insight that gives you something really different to say.

2. Not just a pretty face

When you just listen to the social conversation about Victoria Secrets in Australia you’ll find mostly vapid mentions of their models and events.

When you go deeper, you learn more. You see what often happens; brands fixate on how people talk about them, while consumers relegate the brand to something that’s a small part of their lives.

Victoria Secrets is missing a trick, their focus on models and events ignores the real person and what they want, a great #beachday.

The benefits of Social Learning

If you’ve just listened, you might be feeling a bit underwhelmed. But you can’t push the tech to deliver what’s missing.

You need people, the right people. People who can see the patterns in the data. Those who know how to listen and learn.

If this sounds interesting, you might like to see some examples of how we’ve helped some great brands learn new things more about their customers.

Social learning case study: braun

Learning to groom on the internet. How we turned social commentary into customer insight for Braun

A tricky audience

When it comes to talking about how they feel, the male audience can be tricky. We’re not talking about getting in touch with your inner child or which films make you cry; even discussions around blokey topics, like beards and shaving, can be elusive. And if you’re a brand targeting men, getting customer insight from this audience can be a pain in the neck.

So when we worked with global consumer products company Braun, we were determined to get under the skin of their customers. By giving Braun a deeper understanding of the audience’s experience, we could help them focus their customer strategy and increase connections.

Being a very clever bunch of people, Braun were determined to squeeze more out of their marketing and customer research. And with diminishing returns from traditional methods they knew they needed something different.

Customer analysis: how to do different, not do more

Sometimes when you start working with a client, you wonder what you can offer. Braun was used to conducting market and customer research. They were schooled in the art of customer journey analysis, behavioural economics and brand tracking. They were tracking more stuff than a Wyoming survivalist and flowing it all into dashboards full of beautiful insight.

But their social media analysis had potential. They were listening to online communities but weren’t getting what they needed to connect the brand with their consumers, beyond the traditional loyalty points.

And being a world leader, this wasn’t good enough. And this is where Listen & Learn’s social understanding comes in very useful.

Customer insight starts with asking the right question

Traditional methods of market research fall into distinct categories:

  • broad and shallow, or
  • narrow and deep.

Quantitative (including traditional social listening) gives you tons of surface level data meaning you have to guess how your audience think and feel. Qualitative data means you get to know all about the motivations and experiences of a few people, which you then have to extrapolate out to the rest of your audience.

Up until now, the best of both worlds has been too expensive and laborious to be done regularly. So if you want a solid customer strategy based on solid customer insight, you have to think differently.

Learning from online communities

There are now more online communities than there are Pokemon Go traffic accidents and through search engine trend analysis, you can get loads of insight into customer experience, customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. But is it meaningful? Can you do anything with it? At the end of the day, you’re only as good as your methodology. And that’s what makes us different.

Search engine trend analysis

Any online research into audiences and customers has to start with analysing the search engines. Most agencies just use this to find out what people are talking about, maybe certain words and phrases that are trending. Not us, that’s way too simple. What people are talking about (social listening) is the invitation, how people are talking about it is where the party’s at.

Social listening isn’t enough

Social listening is fine if you want to passively consume. Scraping the internet for comments and then using an algorithm to try and gain real meaning is inherently flawed; it’s like expecting a combine harvester to know the marketing strategy for your 5-grain sourdough loaf.

Social listening + human understanding = social learning

If you’re going to understand humans, you need to use humans.  So that’s what we do. We find the most read and influential sites and use specialist researchers to read every single social comment from the chosen sample. This allows us to find natural themes and structure the results.

This means the data will be interpreted with a level of understanding that an automated process literally cannot achieve. We are able to determine the value and meaning of each social mention and use them to find solutions to our client’s problems.

It’s this unique framework of search engine trend analysis, social understanding and human insight that gives our clients trusted, current and real customer insight.

To beard or not to beard: how is your brand community talking?

Braun had an idea and a vernacular. They wanted to tap into the online discussion about ‘male grooming’, a.k.a. shaving or growing/having a beard. They wanted to understand more about how their customers used their products, what shaving or ‘beard management’ techniques they had, what male grooming meant to them and their lives.

Trouble is, it didn’t mean anything to them. No-one talked about male grooming and it was rare people talked about management, products or techniques.

What we found was way more interesting. When you know what you’re looking for, men can get pretty deep.

Facial hair is emotion

There were two distinct operations going on;

  • discussion around facial hair or the lack of it, and
  • research into products and brands.

The research came way later than expected because, before that, the men talked openly about what beards, moustaches and shaving meant to them.

There were huge cultural phenomena happening. The ability to grow a beard, then look after it and watch it flourish, was a definition of masculinity. Men got attached to their facial hair and discussed it as if it were a friend, partner or loyal pet.

By knowing what to look for, we can see what topics are shaping online discussions throughout the customer journey. Men were discussing whether they should shave or not shave and what the pros and cons were of both.

Behavioural change for the brand

The conversation was way more esoteric than we expected.

  • What will it mean if I shave/don’t shave?
  • How will it position me as a man?
  • How do you feel about the opportunity of growing a beard or the excitement of having a shave?
  • How do you feel about the factors that dictate your facial regime?

We discovered distinct steps in the journey of growing a beard, from the itchiness of stubble to the shaping and maintenance of the full beard. And whatever the practicalities of the conversation, the need to share was paramount.

Men wanted to discuss their experiences, opinions and expectations with those they could guide, celebrate or commiserate with (“I have to shave off my beard for work”) or learn from.

A new research perspective

Our pioneering methodology gave Braun a brand new perspective. We were able to provide a different context that can move Braun into a different space. They have the insight they need to say the right thing at the right time and be part of the natural conversation customers are having and want to have.

This has implications for everything from product range, comms strategy and tone of voice to defining their points of difference. It’s this extra learning from social listening that can give Braun the edge.

If you liked this, you might also like to see how we helped a top hotel chain use social to get their customers to love them again.

Winging it: how listening to airline customers, lets you get to the root of the problem

Winging it: how listening to airline customers, lets you get to the root of the problem

One of the pillars of business growth is keeping your customers happy. This has become increasingly important as bad experiences are shared instantly – easily found by potential customers researching their next purchase.

By using our unique approach to social listening and learning, we provide brands with deep, contextual and detailed understanding of their customers. This blog shares how we helped a certain global brand with a disgruntled customer base, find the insight they needed to substantially improve the customer experience.

Great expectations

You can fly budget or you can fly established. If you fly budget, you know what you’re going to get and you’re ready for it. You go into the airport like you’re going into battle. You’re wearing a week’s worth of clothes to avoid the baggage fees, you’ve eaten more than the average bear prepping for hibernation and you’ve taken your own bodyweight in valium just to get through the 40 min flight to Belfast.

If you fly with a prestigious airline, it’s a whole different experience. This is where the holiday’s supposed to start. You feel that sense of pride as you approach the check-in desk with the most recognisable logo (for the right reasons), are ushered through by well trained, demure staff, before being welcomed aboard by an impeccably dressed and mannered steward who shows you to your seat. The food is good, the temperature is good, the space is good, the experience is good. As it should be. You’ve paid more so you deserve more. You’ve chosen an airline with a tradition of service, so you can relax, unwind and the only thing you have to worry about is not mixing your free drinks too much.

Or not. The truth is, some of the major airlines who are chosen because of the fantastic customer experience they should be offering, are falling well below expectations. It’s no good being at the top of your game in 1968 if you’re now trotting out a below par service-by-numbers. At the end of the day, an airline moves people from A to B. The only differentiators are price and experience. If you choose price, good luck and fingers crossed the captain isn’t as tired as the engines. If you choose to pay more, you should get the bells and whistles. And what we’ve found is, if customer experience falls below expectation, you’re in trouble, because they’re not going to be quiet about it.

This is a problem for the brand, but it is not caused by the brand. There’s a time difference between what people are actually experiencing and the expectations a brand has created. Brands can change overnight (almost exclusively for the worse) or they can grow, over time, into something cool, likeable, relevant, pioneering and exciting. And these changes happen through customer perception and experience, based on what you do. Lego was having the perfect resurgence until those pesky do-gooders at Greenpeace pointed out they were in bed with Shell. Conversely, Unilever may as well have been owned by The Horned One until they started acting more responsibly (and shouting about the fact they were acting more responsibly).

Few places to hide

In the era of mass social communication, you can’t be bad and pretend to be good. It doesn’t matter what your advertising budget is, it’s simple physics. And how customers make decisions has changed, especially in the leisure and tourism industry. Back in the day, you had a brochure, an advert, a bored travel agent and maybe a friend’s recommendation. Now, through forums, online aggregators, review sites, below the line commentary and portals, everyone is your friend with an experience and opinion they are dying to share.

Travel forums give brands very few places to hide. Customers love to share their experiences and, as a prospective customer, you can read hundreds and thousands of relevant comments on exactly what you want to know to help you make a decision. The smart brands are investing in this wealth of data. What better way to understand the customer experience than listening to them talk about what they choose to in a place where they want to share?

Getting market insight through social research

At Listen & Learn, we help brands improve by listening to and learning from social media. We select thousands of relevant comments from social networks and platforms and read every single one to understand what’s important to customers and what factors are influencing decision-making. By learning what customers value, we give brands the insight to develop practical strategies to improve the offering, product, service and experience.

Our research methodology is distinct in two ways.

  • Firstly, lots of social research agencies process social content or data through algorithms to get a vague sense of what the market might be thinking. We’re different. We use human researchers to read, study, learn and recommend direction based on a human understanding of the situation.
  • Secondly, traditional research tries to prove an idea that might be true (eg, our customers want speedy service more than anything else) by creating questions and statements (surveys, focus groups, interviews) that customers have to respond to. This leads to bias because you know you’re being researched. By learning from natural content, we assume nothing and let the data guide us to a conclusion. No vested interests, no presumptions, no bias. Just natural insight.

We call this social learning. It’s great to listen to your customers, but if you don’t learn from what they are telling you, then it’s all for nothing. So we decided to learn from a targeted group of airline customers who had shared their experiences online, specifically, those who said they wouldn’t recommend that particular carrier. What was it about their experience that made them need to vent? As ever, it all comes down to customer experience.

The core problem is the carrier doesn’t deliver what the brand promises. Customers have great expectations but amazingly, nearly a third of non-economy travellers shared negative stories. So what’s the problem?

Falling behind the flock

First and foremost, this airline is known for high-quality air travel. People get excited when they book a flight with them because of their heritage and status. After listening to thousands of customers, we learnt that when customers get something less than excellent, there is tangible disappointment and frustration, which leads them to share their negative experiences.

Our market insight is gained from analysing free-form text to uncover what consumers really think. Through social media research, we learn new factors in decision-making that brands wouldn’t traditionally consider. Customers felt they had stopped trying to innovate or reach their own high standards. There was a strong sense the planes were old, out of date, shabby, even falling to bits, a perception that’s way off the brand values.

Crew cuts

Unfortunately, this was pretty much how customers felt about the cabin crew. We saw a direct correlation between comments mentioning crew members and an overall narrative of not caring about its standing, offering or customers. Comments mentioned crew looking “bored” or “scruffy” and unwilling to give attention or assistance. There was a strong feeling that they wanted to dispense with customer duties quickly and get back to “hiding” in the galleys to chat amongst themselves. The cabin crew are supposed to be synonymous with excellence, but we saw almost 20% of customers describing them as unfriendly, offering very few smiles to travellers, and in some cases even being rude. The result? Huge damage to the brand and customers talking about the better alternatives out there.

In the seat of the moment

Because we read each and every comment, we pick up nuances that traditional quantitative research would miss. Nearly 50% of our sample talked openly and negatively about the physical aspect of the plane seats. Too many of them, too narrow and too close together. Although seating concerns wouldn’t be mentioned if you were flying budget (because you get what you pay for), it’s such a fundamental factor for a prestige airline to get wrong, the repercussions are far worse.

Food fight

A major differentiator between budget and prestige airlines is food. The butt of a million jokes, if you can get aeroplane food right, you’re in a very select club. But when over 20% of your customers publicly moan about your food, you need to listen and learn. After analysing the social commentary, we found customers complained bitterly about the overall poor quality of the food, describing it as “atrocious”, “disgusting”, “mediocre” and “shocking”. We found the menus were seen as limited and didn’t account for dietary requirements and children. Problems get worse when the popular options run-out, leaving customers very dissatisfied and sometimes very hungry when they’ve paid for a premium experience.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly again

At Listen & Learn, we help brands improve the customer experience by learning from the customer’s’ experience. We analyse high volumes of data but keep it incredibly targeted. We use real, live human brains to understand the real, live human experience. We don’t rely on an approximation of a result and insight that might be in the right ballpark. For this airline, the problems are manifold. We talked earlier about brands evolving over time, but if you’re not listening carefully to what really matters to customers, devolution is possible, if not likely to happen.


Don’t just count the sprouts, it’s time to think again about what social data’s all about

Don’t just count the sprouts, it’s time to think again about what social data’s all about

Up until now most of the conversation about social media research / listening has been about the interactions between brands and consumers. Fair enough, a lot of brands are investing significant time, money and creativity in making these interactions happen – and they want to measure the ROI.

But to us, this misses the biggest value of social data. It’s like coming round for Christmas dinner and just counting the sprouts. You miss the occasion, the company, the sense of place, the history – what really matters to people (the presents, obviously).

Social didn’t take off because of brands, it took off because of people.

Insight teams should get to know why this data is different and what to do about it. When they do, they’ll find a new source insight – one genuinely different from what’s come before. Sounds like a competitive advantage to us.

Social data is different, and in a good way

We think of the things that people create, shoot, write, share, hashtag and emote online, as ‘social data’.

This differs from traditional market research data (up till recently, the bedrock of most insight) in a number of fundamental and important ways: purpose, salience, influence and language.


Social data is created because people actually want to interact, not because they’re being paid to take part in research. This changes how the whole thing is framed.

As a source of insight, it is profoundly different.


It’s people talking to each other; when they want, where they want and about what they want. So they talk about what’s salient to them at the time.

You may think of your customer experience as consisting of 5,10,15 parts, but people only notice what’s important to them (1, maybe 2 things at a push).

It’s sobering, but customers dominate our view, while we’ll attract only marginal interest in theirs.

For example, if you look at any category conversation (on any topic), you’ll find brand mentions will be negligible. They’re just not that into you.


Traditional market research data gets locked away. If customers don’t like you (and even if they do), their opinion is aggregated, diminished, constrained within a chart or, the lucky ones live on as a verbatim in a chart.

Social data is out there. It doesn’t even have to be right. It’s just someone’s opinion.

This matters when you think about how we make purchase decisions. It’s the reviews of people like us that help shape our minds. The post-purchasers reach out through social to influence potential customers. When was the last time you went to a restaurant with bad reviews?


Social data is alive with the nuance and variety of natural language. This is a huge advantage when writing copy, designing comms and working out how to frame what you do, in terms consumers will really get.

What next?

There is a snag of course, to get the real value out of social data, you need to treat it right. Machines are good for counting; humans are good at understanding humans.

Get in touch and we’ll show you how to start social learning.

Blog: understanding trust in financial services

Trust me, I’m a global financial institution…

…how we listened to customers to learn the emotional language of trust

Repaying the trust overdraft

In March 2016, as the Banking Standards Board nervously published its first annual report, top executives from several major banks commented that they expected fines to keep coming for at least the next 4 years. The boss of HSBC UK and Europe, Antonio Simoes, piled on the misery, saying it will take consumers “a generation” to begin to trust banks again. Ouch.

But the trouble isn’t just with the executive pay, insider dealing and pinstripe suits being perceived as evil. Our insight shows the relationship between financial providers and customers is being damaged through day-to-day operations just as much as rogue trading.

We wanted to know what was causing the trust issue between financial institutions and their customers, so we applied our unique research techniques to listen to and learn from real customers having real conversations.

What’s really going on with you?

Traditional research methods such as market research surveys or customer focus groups give us some level of insight, but it’s limited because respondents know they’re there to answer pre-determined questions chosen by clients. Not the best way to get a natural answer. Recently, social listening is getting us closer to the truth, but it lacks the depth and analysis of qualitative research.

At Listen & Learn, our mission is to get depth and honesty on a scale that goes beyond traditional studies. By listening to people in their natural social environment (social media – blogs, reviews, posts, forums etc.) and then reading, coding and analysing each and every social comment, we don’t just get under the skin of the data, we’re practically soulmates.

Don’t talk to me about trust

The media and commentators talk endlessly about trust. It’s the currency of consumer insight, brand strategy and market analysts. If you’re conducting any kind of research to improve your customer experience, service offering or brand marketing, knowing how to gain trust is vital.

But if you’re trying to understand how to get customers to trust you, just don’t bother looking.

Emotional intel

Through our research, it became clear focusing on trust wasn’t going to work. It’s like trying to get a promotion by booking the same holiday as your boss, then surprising him at the poolside.

To understand trust (and more importantly for our study, the opposite, disgust), we need to get a bit more emotional. Our team at Listen & Learn, over the last 10 years, has been identifying and classifying individual emotions and the emotional territories they exist in.

This emotional spectrum includes primary (intense gut reactions) at the core, secondary (heartfelt) and tertiary (using your head). The further you move from the primary core, the more nuanced emotions you have – around 600 across our entire range. They all work together to create the human emotional experience.

Trust sits within repulsion-attraction dimension, between adoration and acceptance. It’s surrounded by feelings such as: welcomed, protected, privileged, safe, belonging, included and secure. And it’s bi-pole, disgust, is surrounded by feelings such as worry, rejection, suspicion, dislike, left out, complacent, hate and despise. Knowing the landscape of trust gives us a far better understanding of what happens when customers and providers interact, and how this makes them feel.

Now we know what we’re looking for, where to look and how to really understand what we find, we’re in a unique position as a research agency to give more meaningful results.

Worrying times

We looked at thousands of social media conversations about bank accounts, insurance and mortgages. Each comment was read by us, coded and analysed using these emotional dimensions. Discussions focussed on the actions of the institutions and the reactions of the customers. Topics included customer service, product range, fees and charges and flexibility.

Guess what? People don’t talk about trust. Only 0.1% of the thousands of comments we analysed mentioned trust. Experiences were discussed in terms deeper and more varied than was being searched for. People felt worried, suspicious and rejected, wronged, stressed and irate. And this led to an overwhelming emotion, not of trust, but of worry. Over 50% of comments mentioned feelings of suspicion and worry. From an account being closed without notice, to being rejected for travel insurance, the feelings expressed led to mistrust, but “trust” wasn’t the chosen term.

Regaining trust

What our study has shown is that, by identifying and listening for the right terms, we can learn how to improve. Banks and financial institutions need to look closely at what their customers are saying across the range of emotions, reactions and the activities that make up the relationship to get a practical means of building up trust. The overall brand experience is what happens to customers day-to-day, through every touch-point, across every department in the institution. So everyone needs to sit up and take notice.

Maybe, if they look for the right problems, they can get this generation to trust them, as well as the next.

Get in touch and we’ll show you how to start social learning.

Old typewriter the end

The day I ran out of Google…

Put something into Google and, usually, you’ll be swamped with results. In fact, it’s a rare (and a bit weird) to get a result with only thousands of results.

This makes the searched world feel pretty big, almost too big to get your head around. Where do you start? It’s just so vast.

That’s what I thought. Before it happened… The Day I Ran Out of Google.

No more ‘Next’

See, it turns out that the people behind our favourite search engines know a bit about human behaviour. They know we don’t look at all the results, typically we only look at a tiny fraction. So why waste resources showing you results you won’t see? Simple, they don’t.

The number of results for any search will bottom-out at around 800-1000. If you keep clicking ‘next’ pretty soon you’ll see this…

…no ‘next’. You’ve reached then end, you’ve run out of Google. Well, you’ve run out of the Google you’re allowed to see.

So what?

Well, when you know the end’s in sight, you realise that seeing what people see when they search online is now possible. It’s a completely different factor of effort to examine hundreds of results to millions.

This is just great for researching the customer journey. With some time and effort, you can pretty quickly answer the question, what do people see when they search for: you, a brand, product, tip, review, price comparison…?

You can then combine this with other tools to see how many people are looking at what search terms and how this changes over time.

The result? It’s possible to get a pretty good view of what people see when they use the internet.

We use this a lot. It’s helped us:

The implications for Market Research

So something that seems impossibly vast, isn’t. It’s something that can be explored, something that will help you get a broader understanding of what influences customers. It’s something that will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the context in which consumers operate.

Sounds useful.


We help people learn from the social conversation. Get in touch to find out more.


Mother knows best: how we listened to mums to learn what they want from food brands

Food advice is everywhere

Brands and publishers fill our screens with new diets, food scares and miracle superfoods. There’s a million ways to think about what’s healthy, nutritious and good for you and that’s before you start thinking about value for money, prep time and what it actually tastes like.

So how do people make informed, healthy choices for themselves and their families? And how can brands help themselves by helping them?

Listening to Mums

Working with Red Consultancy, we focused in on mums as decision makers to learn what was in their hearts and minds when it came to choosing healthy options.

At Listen & Learn, we’ve developed a unique method of understanding and learning from social content. For brands, social listening provides a certain level of understanding of a consumer’s motivations. But before you make decisions, you really need to learn from what you’re being told.

We listened to mums where they were talking at their most open, candid and relaxed: the websites they chose to be on. This included mumsnet, moneysavingexpert, twitter and netmums (as well as other more niche health sites). Selecting thousands of comments, we read every single one of them to learn what is on the decision makers’ minds, how they interpret content and most importantly, how they then turn information into decisions. By learning what the factors are, we can show brands how to focus their marketing and content strategies.

Learning with our human brains

The way Listen & Learn work is that we use humans to understand humans. Rather than scraping comments from facebook and pumping them through an algorithm to get an approximation of an answer, we literally read people’s comments with our human eyes and learn from them with our human brains. This gives the research we do a unique context you can’t get from automation.

The second thing is we use a ‘grounded’ approach which means our learning is driven solely from what we see, rather than us coming up with an idea we think might be right, then trying to prove it. This means that instead of the data being influenced by us or a research agency’s script, it is totally organic, in a free-to-roam sense of the word. It was what the audience wants to say themselves, without any prompting or guiding from someone with vested interests.

So what did we learn?

It’s not just about being a mum

Our approach to learning from free-form text means we can understand a lot more about the composition of a decision than is initially apparent. Through reading thoughts, concerns and desires the mums wanted to share – compared to those prompted by a researcher – we learnt that their decisions were influenced by their role in a hierarchy of relationships, a mix of their children, their family unit, peers, themselves and their partners. It wasn’t as straightforward as “what’s best for Timmy?”, the conversations focused on how the decisions they made affected how they felt about themselves.


After listening to the mums, we learnt that some don’t feel equipped to synthesise all the information being thrown at them without help, due to the quantity of content and the conflicting ideas within. The only situation where mums felt in control when using the web to gather information was chatting to peers. This was far and away the biggest deciding factor in taking online information on board or discarding it. It’s an important lesson for brands to learn when developing content strategies.

Health + time + money + clarity = decision

The decision-making process is a lot more nuanced than expected. As well as health concerns, time and money, there is a huge conversation going on around perception. What exactly is healthy? Are all pre-made meals bad? Should I ever eat fast food or give it to my family? All these questions ramp up the uncertainty and again, it’s only by listening to the discussions that we learnt how mums equipped themselves to make decisions.

Being (un)reasonable

By using discourse analysis we understand the audience’s comments in context. This led to the realisation that time spent in online discourse was as much about self-validation as it was about sharing and absorbing information. The concept of AIBU (Am I being unreasonable?), YANBU (you are not being unreasonable) and YABU (you can work it out…) are huge factors in the decision-making process. The ability to check your response and potential decision amongst trusted and impartial peers acts as both validation, and social proof.

Decision makers are people too?

So, what’s the takeaway? (pun most definitely intended) Turns out, like the person having it, the conversation is multi-faceted. It’s not just about the kids or the family, it’s about the mums themselves, both physically and emotionally. They want to provide a good nutritional lifestyle for themselves and their family but there’s unsurety that comes with every decision. By mining the comments, we can understand – on a large scale – how mums feel.

Get in touch and we’ll show you how to start social learning.

How to use TripAdvisor for mystery shopping

Cost-effective mystery shopping for the hospitality sector

The case for using online reviews

Why would one do mystery shopping? From a management or HR point of view, it can serve as a disciplining stick – if staff are aware of mystery shoppers, they are more likely to be on higher alert when attending to guests. If can even be developed into a spine for bonus and rewards schemes in some very customer-centric organisations. From the research and insight perspective, it provides one big benefit over traditional C-SAT surveys in that it captures a great deal of depth about the guest experience which may slip through the fingers of even a very good questionnaire.

It is for most, however, prohibitively expensive, so not many organisations can afford the luxury of extensive mystery shopping programmes. The good news is that there is a viable alternative that Hospitality businesses can and should embrace, as many already do.

This alternative is called TripAdvisor. Aside from its obvious marketing and sales potential, when used cleverly, it can serve as a mystery shopping facility. That is the case for a number of key reasons:

  1. By its nature, TripAdvisor turns every potential guest into an incognito mystery shopper, so slip-ups in customer service are unlikely to be confined to the dusty Complaints Book, but can be “reported” on the same day (with the added pressure of going global, of course).
  2. TripAdvisor reviews are spontaneous and highly ecologically valid. Reviewers are not incentivised on participation, so their comments are candid and they are naturally inclined to focus on things that are important to them as opposed to following a script.
  3. TripAdvisor is good, and getting better, at fishing out dodgy reviews, while on the other hand many of the experienced reviewers become increasingly expert at breaking down the guest experience in line with a model customer journey.
  4. Finally, the reviews are date-specific, so that the experience can be tracked to a particular shift or scenario, and allow drawing meaningful operational conclusions.

But arguably the single biggest opportunity, is approaching TripAdvisor reviews as a source of aggregate data. Some hospitality companies attract hundreds of reviews, which offers an enormous opportunity not only for cherry-picking particularly worrisome or laudable areas, but also for gauging the relative weight of those issues. We would argue that the value this can bring to the table is not far off the mark of the meticulously structured output delivered by physical mystery shoppers.

There is an instant potential objection: how does one make sense of all those scattered and bitty reviews, which are a far cry from an orderly and structured output of traditional mystery shopping? Gladly, this is where we come in. Using content and discourse analysis techniques, we can aggregate and interpret the data very swiftly, while elucidating it with particularly striking cases that illustrate the most salient themes. This covers the bases of satisfying both qualitative and quantitative requirements of such an exercise. And best of all, our client does not have to pay for collecting the data, as it is already there. Worth a stab? We should think so.

By Mike, get in touch to find out more.

Social listening blog: importance of an outside in view

Why you need an outside-in view of your market

Something happens to us on the way to work.

We wake up as people, and spend a lot of our time as consumers, but once through the doors at work, our outlook changes.  We become part of the machine. We can’t help it. Our minds are wrenched away from the cacophony of life, towards a much narrower and intense focus on what we do for a living.

This isn’t a new observation, and for a lot of things, it’s absolutely the right thing to do.

However, it really does matter when you want to know what someone from the outside (also known as a consumer) actually thinks about your product, service, brand.

There’s a lovely poem in prose by Oscar Wilde, which illustrates this point rather well. Most of us are familiar with the story of Narcissus (good looking chap, a bit too keen on his reflection). Wilde challenges our perspective by imagining how the spirit of the pond might feel after the death of Narcissus.

“But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored”

We’ve been told the story’s about Narcissus, but Wilde shows us that there’s always another side.

Put into a business context, we tend to collect data in a way that fits how we’re organised. Our surveys reflect how we operate; communities respond to your stimuli. Which is great, it just means you have to know exactly what to ask, without biasing or framing the response in any way.


This is where the idea of outside-in research comes in. You can think of research data in two ways: there’s the information that comes, as a result of your direct action, or there’s data that’s created indirectly, without you. We think of this second type as ‘free-form’ text.

There’s a rawness, spontaneity and freedom to free-form text, which feels nothing like a closed-ended questionnaire or discussion guide. It’s us, as people, talking about our lives. It happens in social media and in the quiet places in surveys where you let customers do the talking.

There are some real benefits to listening to consumers in this way: they’ll tell you what’s really salient for them, they’ll share the language and context they use to talk about it, and you’ll learn how they really see your world. Not how you, see theirs.

There’s no perfect answer in life (or market research). Free-Form Text gives you an outside-in view of the world you want to influence. It can help shift your thinking, take you back to the person you were before you opened the door to the office.

By Jeremy, get in touch to find out more.

The meaning of hashtags is changing

#language #meaning #changing

What hashtags mean is changing

First suggested by Chris Messina back in 2007 as a way of sending messages to groups, the hashtag has come a long way. It’s become a rallying cry (), a chance to join in with your favourite media content () or a way of keeping up with what’s new (#FridayFeeling).

But at heart, it’s just a form of language, a way of communicating. And like many things, it’s meaning is continually being (re)defined by its use. We’ve seen some signs of this in our work.

The basics.

Hashtags work as a connector. They let you find and follow content you’re interested in. And, at the same time, they let you draw attention to your own content. They’re democratic, popularity wins. If you capture the moment () or a spirit of the time ( ) it can quickly take off – engaging thousands, or millions of people around a single theme.

New forms are emerging.

More and more, we’re seeing hashtags replace prose – sometimes completely. We’ve listened to people communicate just in hashtags, like some form of haiku for the social media generation.

When a tweet’s composed mainly of hashtags it blends inclusion with meaning. They’re using the same tools to communicate and engage. Each hashtag paints a different part of the story, adding different layers of meaning. This is especially prevalent on Instagram, where apparently a picture does need a few hashtags to tell the full story.


Why’s this important?

Well if you just look at the image, you’re missing the rest. As researchers, we need to be aware of how hashtags are being used to add layers of additional meaning to text and pictures.

There’s something else, Hashtags are escaping their digital constraints, crossing the species gap. We’re beginning to hear them in the street, at meetings, in conversation and at dinner parties. A recent example I heard was:

“I can’t believe how many hipsters there are around here #manbun”

They’re being used to add contrast, sarcasm, irony, humour and all sorts of other meaning to what people are saying.

I’m scared. It feels like someone’s dusted off “air quotes” from the 90s’ Not all change is for the best.

A final word?

#sorrykaren #tulum #itwasfunnyatthetime #weekoff #manbun #toocoolforus #firsttimeyoga #takemeback

By Jeremy, get in touch to find out more.

Social listening case study - audience reaction to BBC radio programme

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List: did it work?

A report looking at how well BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour ‘Power List’ programme started a conversation in social media about women and power.

You can read the full report on SlideShare.

Original insights syria UK public opinion

How did UK citizens react to the choice of their countrymen to join the war in Syria?

The Syrian war is the most socially mediated conflict to date. And it’s a conflict that is being fought online as well as on the ground.

How better to find out what people think of this very social war than social listening?

We set out to examine and analyse:

  • How the decision of British citizens to join the war was discussed in the public, online debate.
  • What people in the UK think should be done about it now and in the future.
  • The place these opinions have in the broader context of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic UK.
  • How public discourse regarding British citizens joining the war in Syria represents and feeds into older narratives around immigration, multiculturalism and social cohesion.


You can read the full report on SlideShare.

Research case study: Braun + TMRE

TMRE Innovation in research: finalist case study

Don’t ask questions, don’t travel anywhere… and still find better insight?

This case study shows how we helped Braun determine its marketing and communications strategy through new approaches to online content analysis, and why the TMRE judges made us finalists.

See the full case study on SlideShare.


Original insights into how mums decide what's healthy

How do mum’s decide what’s healthy

Throughout the year, we conduct research as part of our Original Insights series.

These are projects we commission ourselves, to explore interesting questions and showcase social listening research as a tool for making better decisions.

Our starting point for this work was the realisation that food advice has become deafening. It feels like every day there’s a new diet, new scare or a new miracle cure.

But, we all know it’s more complicated than the headlines make out. Helping your family eat well and be healthy is a life-long, everyday mission, one with many twists and turns.

So we decided to explore: how mums in the UK talk about being healthy, how and who they’re influenced by, and see what this means for brands.

And so our starting point became: how do UK mums decide what’s healthy?

See our report on SlideShare.

Original insights - trust in banking

Repaying the trust overdraft

A new approach for measuring, establishing and building trust.

This paper outlines some new thinking about how trust works.

  • We outline some problems with the current model.
  • Introduce some new thinking about how emotions work.
  • Share the results of some recent research that applies this model in the real world.
  • Offer some practical next steps for understanding, measuring and, most importantly, addressing the trust overdraft.

See the full report on SlideShare.