Rethinking 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.


About us

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

If that sounds good to you, drop us a line and we’ll get straight back to you. If you want to hear more stories from social, then sign up to our blog (As heard on social) below.

Share on LinkedIn :
Subscribe to updates:

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Listen + Learn Research: