I see you baby! How to help your creatives be more effective

A bold statement of intent

Social insight should help you develop creative content that people can see themselves in.

What do we mean by this?

There’s more to social data than dashboards and quick dips. That’s enough to give a steer, but it’s really only scratching the surface. The money’s in what lies beneath.

If you’re looking for actual new insight to help drive creative development – it’s worth putting the time in. Dig deeper, you’re worth it.

Individual reflections, social patterns  

We use social media to tell other people about what’s going on in our lives, how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking about.

Social data (the stuff your listening tool picks up) is full of these snippets of people’s lives and how other people react to them. Social Listening will show you footprints but it can’t tell you why people have trodden that path or why they’ve made the connections they have.

It’s when you look properly across thousands of these exchanges that you start to see patterns emerge in how people experience and feel about life. After all, there are only so many ways to experience the same thing.

This needs a qual driven approach – something that will help you pick out the different feelings and experiences, and help you interpret them properly.

The result is gold dust for creatives.

They can use social data to uncover the dominant responses to any aspect of life. For example, if you’re interested in talking to lonely people, it can help you see beyond the stereotypical model of the lonely old widow – to the different ways people experience loneliness and its causes.

This understanding can then be used to help build messaging and scenarios that speak to these dominant characteristics. Giving your creative the broadest appeal.

A creative strategy based on patterns in social behaviour will result in campaign assets that are more grounded in your audience’s reality – that know how to talk their talk. You’ll make it easier for people to see themselves in your work. It will be more recognisable, more familiar, more engaging.

Macmillan – Milestones

When Macmillan wanted to create a new fundraising proposition, they asked us to help them understand how people ask strangers for money.

By reading and assessing hundreds of people’s requests on ‘giving pages’ we were able to identify the different ways that they frame and position their requests. We boiled down the different contexts and linguistic styles to create a series of typologies, each with their own characteristics.

This showed Macmillan and its creative partner what the main methods behind the ‘ask’ were. Macmillan was then able to create a series of giving packages – each designed to appeal to a different audience type.

Getting to the potential

This is powerful stuff, but it takes a bit of work to get to. You can’t just pop a few keywords into your listening tool and skim the peaks looking for interesting conversations.

You need to read, reflect and analyse a load of data – get into the detail and work out what’s really going on. Then you need to pull it all back together to see where the patterns are, what they mean and where the creative potential is.

This is what we do. It’s more than listening, it’s social insight. Give us a shout if you’d like to find out more.


Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense – Some sensible tips for getting the best from your social listening provider

We have a privileged position, we get to actually read a shed load of social data. This means we know what makes it good and what you might want to look out for.

We’ve worked with a load of social listening tools and are only too happy to share some tips. These are all focused on the process of collecting data – from social media source through to your listening tool.

1. Deep and wide

The promise of social listening is to be able to tap into a vast ocean of content. Most of the time this is fine, but it’s worth keeping a couple of points in mind:

  • Most platforms play-up the scale of their coverage and we often hear the “we’ve got access to over 150m sources” bandied around. We think it’s worth being super explicit about what access they have and what’s included in their pricing. We learnt (the hard way) to do our own research into what social spaces are there, and then double check that the listening provider is able to collect data from them.
  • Check their fee structure for adding new content sources. For example, if you’re doing a project in Russia, it’s, worth checking that they can get data from VK.
  • “We’ve got a special relationship with Facebook/Twitter/Other social media platform”. Yawn. I’ve heard this so many times. What I’m interested in is the specifics, what, exactly does your exalted position give you that’s not available to other providers. I’ve seen a great example of where Mumsnet coverage increased considerably after changes to their licensing deal. Your listening provider should be able to quantify the quality of their relationships.

2. Are these the results you were looking for?

Social data infrastructure is crazily diverse. You’ve got millions of different sources, each could have their own way of integrating with your listening provider.

What this means in practice is the data capture process might work brilliantly – or it might not.

When it goes wrong, you could be getting duplicates, truncated data, a complete thread in one comment, missing data, lost emojis among other things. These errors could go across all of the content from that source – potentially polluting large volumes of your search results.

A way around this is to get a sample of the data, preferably by source (at least the main ones) and run through it looking for signs of wrongness. You can then work with your provider to clean this up – or you’ll get a sense of how wrong the data is and can work around that. One way to do this is to take a random sample of the data, manually analyse it, see what the results are, then apply this to your broader data set.

This is really important if you’re relying on automated metrics – the ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ adage comes to mind here.

3. Boo, Boo, Boolean

Your boolean search query is where it all begins. It’s the gateway to good data or a load of irrelevance.

Not all platforms have the same capabilities  – and it’s really important. The query tools look simple to use, but you’ve got to really work at them to make sure you’re getting the best data possible to work with.

The more flexible and capable the boolean tools you have to work with, the more accurate your results will be.

As a rough rule of thumb, we’re happy with around 50% relevancy from the query. It’s usually hard to get much more than this if you want to stay open to things you may not have thought of.  

4. You say tomato, I say tomarrrrto

The last tip is about linguistic precision and it’s something to keep in mind when designing your query. It’s about how you choose your terms, rather than what the tool can do with them.

Every topic has an inherent level of linguistic precision. We think of this in terms of how much irrelevant content you’ll get when looking for your terms.

Terms like Sky, Orange or A1 are likely to be very imprecise. You’ll attract a lot of false-positive results.

At the other end of the spectrum are very discrete terms which tend to relate to one or a very small set of things.

It’s good to know where you are with this. If you’re working at the imprecise end of the spectrum you’ll need to build in lots of exclusions, make some sacrifices on data breadth, and prepare your stakeholders to understand the extent and limits of your data.

Need any help?

Getting under the skin of social data is our bread and butter. We’re a friendly lot, give us a shout if you’d like to chat any of this through or are struggling with any of it.

How do people look for new things

What do people see when they’re looking to buy something new?

We’ve been working on the idea of a ‘Trail of Influence’ recently. Like most things, it’s not new, but rather a build on Roger’s innovation adoption curve.

The short version goes like this:

  • Brands talk about their products…
  • …which is reported on by the media
  • …and by influencers
  • Then picked up by early adopters on social
  • Who help the rest of us decide.

What is new is that the interactions between these players and the mechanisms they use to influence each other are easier to see. All this activity leaves a trail which is captured in social data.

Interpreted correctly, this lets us understand how brand ideas actually reach the mass market. How messages are heard, repurposed and filter down to help consumers decide what to buy.

This gives brands an opportunity to see how much of what they say reaches consumers, what they take onboard and actually care about.

Introducing the stops along the trail

There’s a simple (if easy to forget) truth behind all of this. We’re all, give or take the odd moment, mostly interested in what we’re interested in. Not what other people might want us to care about (see the excellent ‘Nobody wants to read your sh*t’).

  • Brands: want to talk about what they’ve been working on, the features, benefits, USPs and all the other good stuff that’s going to make their launch a success.
  • Media: traditional media need to keep their audiences and broaden their circulation. They’ve got hungry minds to feed and publisher’s targets to meet. They do this by sharing their unique perspective, experience and insider knowledge.
  • Influencers: sound like a new thing, but they actually operate in a very similar way to traditional media. They use new channels and grow their audiences in a different way – but the business mechanics are the same. Their platforms (blogs, YouTube, Instagram) feed their audiences and please their advertisers. They want to talk about what’s going to keep their audience and paymasters happy.
  • Early adopters: are the people you call when you need to find out about something new. It’s my brother-in-law when my car’s broken or it’s a call from my mates over Easter looking for advice on roasting potatoes*. They’re Gladwell’s Mavens. They want to talk about their specialist knowledge and experience with the product in question.

Every step along this trail has the potential to directly or indirectly influence everyday consumers as they search for new things. They may interact with it in a linear way or jump around as their research progresses. It’s interesting to see the message chain they are exposed to and then how it translates or is replayed in their comments, reviews and ultimately, purchasing decisions.

The trail

This different content is being captured on social and digital channels. Opinions and experiences are flowing from actor to actor leaving a trail in the social data we can analyse and understand.

This is important.  When you follow this trail, you see how the communication flow between brands and consumers evolves along the way. It shows you what each group actually cares about enough to pass on to their audiences.

So what?

Here’s a snippet from some recent work which shows what we mean nicely. It’s from a project exploring influence in the beauty category.

The trail of influence

There are three layers:

  • Brands: when we looked at how the brands in our study talked about their product, they focused on the science bit (ingredients, research, big words) and the ambitious claims for the magic held within (life-changing results!).

“A bio-ingredient derived from yeast fermentation that resembles your skin’s Natural Moisturizing Factors. PITERA™ contains over 50 micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and organic acids to condition skin’s natural functions.” SK-II.com

  • Media / Influencers: pick up on similar themes to the brands but add their own interpretation. They’re OK talking category terms about ingredients (they get the jargon), but their goal is to evaluate what brands ‘say’ vs. what products ‘do’. To compare, test effectiveness, assess value, and ultimately, have a position for or against. Interestingly, in the category we looked at (K-Beauty inspired sheet masks) they introduced a new topic, the importance of the practical comfort and fit of the mask. This was missed by brands but important to media/influencers.

“My final thoughts are: slightly weird, slightly creepy, slightly unusual and definitely slightly impressed. I wasn’t expecting my skin to look and feel so nicely plump and hydrated as it does”. My Pale Skin, YouTube, reviewing Dr.Jart+ sheet mask.

  • Early adopters: They care much less about what the brand is communicating. They’re also interested in the practicalities, but also the experience and the impact. They talk about how it makes them feel, the ritual of using it (beyond immediate efficacy) and their aspirations for the result. They want to know if it will help them live ‘their best life’. This is where the insight gold dust comes from – for product developers, innovation ideas, and comms teams on the Holy Grail of nailing authentic consumer connections.

“This is so cooling to the skin is love it! It slips around a little so I need to lay down and not move when I use this but so worth it. Kinda forces me to have a little me time. My skin is so glowy and hydrated after using this. One of the best sheet masks I’ve used so far” Consumer review


Seeing how different groups talk and assess products reveals what gains attention, ‘sticks’ and makes it through the filter. It shows what matters most and is significant enough (good or bad) to share and pass on the trail.

Brands can learn:

  • How to work with media/influencers and early adopting consumers – what makes them tick, what they’re interested in and what they need to provide for their audiences and sponsors.
  • They can improve how they talk to consumers in terms of:
    • What to say: what will catch their attention, resonate with their needs and inspire them? When to talk: how your product can be part of the experience sought, in the moments that matter,
    • How to say it: what language and imagery to use, how to set the scene to build desire and the opportunities for your branding to be a visible / verbal part of the stories they share.

And so much more…  these insights can help, among other things:

  • Innovation and NPD: understanding performance, frustrations and unmet needs.  
  • SEO strategy and tactics: who to target, what terms to use and what to lead them to.
  • Product naming and messaging: reflecting how people actually use, talk about and understand the product.

We help brands explore this Trail of Influence to understand people better. So that they can then design products, services and experiences that people actually care about.

Drop us a line if you’d like to know more.

* Roast potatoes: I like a fairly small chunk these days, they cook quicker. I tend to buy Rooster reds. Get the oven on if it’s not already (200C) and pop a tray in with a good glug of olive oil. While that’s heating up, peel, quarter then boil your potatoes for 4-5 mins – till you see the edges start to change colour. Drain and allow to steam dry in a colander. Give them a little shake to rough up the edges. Take the tray out, CAREFULLY add the potatoes to the hot oil (my arms have many hot fat scar marks…). Get them back in the oven – an hour should do the trick. Enjoy.

Tips for dealing with fake reviews

Tips for understanding and dealing with fake reviews

It all started with a dog guard

I was looking to buy a dog guard for my car – a random purchase I know, and not one that I have ever (or likely will ever) buy again. How do you decide on which one to go for when there are so many options? Well, you go to Amazon and filter by star ratings of course!

Looking through the top 5 products, it struck me that 3 of the top 5 products only have one review (the other two had over 200). Obviously, I was pulled straight away to the product with more reviews. When I looked at the reviews though, some of them looked a bit strange. One just read “not much memory but still good value”.

Wait a sec… what? Why would a dog guard need memory? There’s something weird going on here…

Written in the stars?

Star ratings have become a powerful tool for helping consumers make purchase decisions. The idea of them is great. People buy products, and then rate them so that people can see what others think of them. Research shows that ‘more stars’ really do lead to ‘more sales’, with a BBC report citing the Competition and Markets Authority, which estimates that £23 billion of annual UK consumer spending is a result of reviews’ influence.

A recent BBC article also points to the psychology of reading reviews.

“Online reviews work because people try to take an “effortless route” when they have to make decisions. When it comes to purchasing, especially for items which are easy to buy, we expect this level of convenience and ease”. (Nathalie Nahai, author of Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, on BBC)

In a world where instant gratification is so key, having a quick check of a product’s star rating can be a useful tool to help with a purchase decision.

The problem

But things might not be as rosy as they appear on the surface. Clearly, companies have a vested interest to make sure their products have good ratings in order to attract buyer attention.

Recently, various news outlets shared the findings from Which? who had found that Amazon “is being deluged with fake tech reviews that propel unknown brands into top-rated lists”. Which? also calls on consumers to “not rely on ratings – delve deeper and read the reviews”.

Companies are trying to show their commitment to stopping fake reviews being posted, however, it’s not always easy. Trustpilot, whose platform allows anyone to post a review, claim they “have specialist software that screens reviews against 100’s of data points around the clock to automatically identify and remove fakes”. However, as the BBC found, some are still slipping through the net. Through eBay, the BBC was able to pay someone to publish a fake review for them.

So the question is – what can you do to filter out the fakes and make the most from product review data?

The solution

We do a lot of work with product reviews and wanted to share a few tips for working with them so that you can be confident in what they’re telling you:

  • Human judgement is still the best tool to flag and re-examine suspect content, such as dodgy translations, descriptions seemingly borrowed from another product category or bodies of text suspiciously similar to one another.
  • Verify that the products themselves are genuine. We can check this by reading or watching the reviews by credible professional reviewers and the press.
  • Focus on the ‘verified’ reviews. These are much harder to fake, as they indicate that the purchaser is a genuine buyer of the product and has bought from the site directly.
  • Examine the date range for product reviews. Make sure that a large body of those isn’t concentrated in a very short time span (e.g. on the same day).
  • Don’t only examine the first or last reviews as they could be strategically positioned due to their positive nature (noted by consumer psychologist Cathrine Jansson-Boyd on BBC).
  • Exclude extremely vague and generic reviews from any analysis (“it was great”; ” I love it”). Looking at character counts can help with this.
  • Examine star rating distribution, to ensure that there is a reasonable breadth of ratings (e.g. 1-4*) rather than suspect dominance of 5* reviews.
  • Consider tools like FakeSpot – they claim to check the status of the reviewers and use this to determine the validity of the reviews for a product. This sounds great, but they’ve declined to comment on how this actually works. More black box wizardry isn’t the answer.

This is important. Peer reviews are a vital short cut for consumers. Those who host review platforms owe it to consumers to be open and transparent about the challenges they’re facing.

A final thought from us is that for some companies, reviews are starting to be a two-way process. Platforms such as AirBnB and Uber use a process of review exchange where customers are also reviewed.

This could help with the review verification process, although isn’t without it’s dangers (it could lead to both parties favouring positive ratings in order to preserve their own ratings).

It will be interesting to see the extent to which this model can be adopted into services where the supplier never meets the buyer.  If it becomes more widespread it could add a whole new level of review verification.


We help organisations turn this kind of feedback into insights that help improve life for their customers. Give us a shout, we’d love to talk it over.


In conversation with....

In conversation with… Dr. Nick Coates, Global Creative Consulting Director at C Space

We managed to grab Nick recently, in between his various trips running workshops around the world. We’ve known Nick for ages (since our FreshMinds (now Decidedly) days and he’s always been an inspiration.

If you’ve not met him yet, he describes himself as someone who helps companies work with their customers to invent better products and services. A bit modest if you ask us.

What was your first ever job?

Ironically, as they say, it was a door-to-door survey in Waterloo…something to do with the Jubilee Line extension. Long days, in the cold and the rain, including one interview in a council flat where I sat down to begin the interview and suddenly noticed a collection of around 10 axes on the floor, and the burly bloke I was supposed to be interviewing standing between me and the door. After I got out alive, I remember thinking ‘thank God I won’t have to work in market research once this is finished!’

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

Joni Mitchell. A strong woman in a man’s world. An extraordinary poetess of sound. And I really want to know how she tunes her guitar.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

Being asked to present some behavioural economics work to the Behavioural Insights Team at No 10 Downing St. That or being paid to spend a week on a cruise in the Med doing ethnography.

Nature or nurture?

Nurture. Or we end up abdicating responsibility. On the other hand, I’ve never been able to shake my hatred of Brussel sprouts, despite my Mum’s best efforts, so there are clearly some things no amount of nurture can change. It’s a daily challenge with my kids to navigate this stuff. Which is when I remind myself of something I saw scrawled on a toilet door once:

To be is to do – Aristotle

To do is to be – Sartre

Do be do be doo – Sinatra

Best advice you ever heard or received?

“Just act as if”. I suffer from severe imposter syndrome, so it’s a liberating thought.

What talent do you yearn for?

Beautiful handwriting. Mine is like the mad trail of a spider that fell in the inkpot.

What is your favourite brand and why?

Blue Note Records – the most iconic, dreamy blend of attitude, design and content. Dangerous though – I’ve bought quite a few albums just because the covers looked so damn cool. Labels don’t quite shape culture in the way they used to. It’s a pity.

What book do you most recommend to others?

The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker. A novel about a lunchtime in a boring job, full of fascination for life’s little details. A real curio.

What last impressed you at work?

Some work we were lucky enough to do with a train design company where we ran usability trials for new rolling stock using both physical prototypes and VR headsets. Unfortunately, the VR glove that allows you to use your hand to interact with virtual objects didn’t show up on time, but it’s great to see concrete applications of this kind of tech being so useful.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

That leadership means getting out of the way. The more you control the less you control.

In terms of failures, not getting into Cambridge (twice) was tough initially, when my whole family seemed to expect it, but I soon realised that escaping the hothouse was a blessing in disguise. It gave me more, not less, confidence to become myself.

What do you want to do when you retire

Learn to play the piano properly. I read that music is the best form of brain training – and if it’s also physically and emotionally stimulating, what’s not to love. And I like the idea of a grand piano in a villa somewhere on the Atlantic coast of France. Or an island somewhere…

Consumer-centric product development

Consumer-centric product development

How to use social data for… Consumer-centric product development

Business case

There’s nothing quite like the experiences of real consumers to tell you how well your product is going down.

But how do you get at these in a way that’s actually useful?

There are the usual sources:

  • Sales data and Neilson rankings (stat based, lots of ‘whats’ not many whys’).
  • Surveys and focus groups (expensive to find actual users, the time delay between product experience and the research).
  • Feedback from your channel partners and sales team, or calls to your service desk (hostage to anecdote, we all know about that one customer who’s experience quickly became the instigator, evidence and catalyst for change).

These signals can be confusing, out of date or just wrong. Which makes it that much harder to learn from your successes or know what needs tweaking.

We believe in-market product insight should be based on more than this. It should give innovation, product and marketing teams the insight they need to know what to do next. To spot new opportunities, develop the right feature set and tell a compelling story.


Social data (and particularly consumer reviews) are the key to unlocking this – it turns the experiences of thousands of consumers into something you can actually do something with.

Social media works because it gives voice to two powerful self-interests:

  • We all want to get the best bang for our buck, and
  • We like to share what we know and help others out.

You only need to look at the number of reviews on Amazon, or TripAdvisor to see how mainstream this has become.

This has shifted the way we buy. There’s a new normal for buying something for the first time: search, compare, read the reviews / watch the videos to get a sense of the detail. We value the views and experiences of people ‘like us’, rather than just the opinions of brands or ‘influencers’ who have a more commercial set of motivations.

It’s the detail that helps us make the choice. It helps make something intangible (product specs, price) into something experiential (how it feels, how it works). There are lots of headphones on the market, among all the noise – how do you choose the one for you?

What makes social data special is that it captures the opinions of customers using and experiencing the product – in their own terms. It’s this in-the-moment, natural quality that makes it so powerful.

How to…

The reviews that people leave (either written or videos) are an incredibly rich source of experiential and emotional insight about how your product is performing in-market.

They talk about why they buy, what they need and how it’s all working out for them. There’s so much here that it’s worth approaching it properly.

We help brands get insights from all this. It’s a mix of smart tech to help find and process the data (visual and verbal), with in-depth, qualitative analysis that helps us appreciate what people are saying and understand what this all means to you. All at a scale which provides robust evidence to counter anecdote and opinion – providing a clear way forward.

Our work helps you to understand:

  • Who are your customers?
  • Why have they bought your product?
  • What benefits are they looking to get?
  • Did they get what they were expecting?
  • When are they reviewing their experience?
  • What delights, what frustrates?
  • What’s missing?

We can apply this understanding to help you assess your own product’s performance, but also understand:

  • How your product compares to your competition.
  • The needs of different segments and how these change across international markets.


Our in-market analysis brings the opinions of thousands of consumers together to provide:

  • Robust evidence of where a product sits in the market, what’s working, what’s not, and where the opportunities are.
  • A sense of where the innovation potential is in any category, by identifying the gaps, understanding the unmet needs and spotting what’s new. And,
  • Clear direction and inspiration for creative and comms teams on how to reach, talk to and engage customers in a compelling way.


It’s massively exciting to see the products we’ve helped develop hit the shelves.

Get in touch, we’d love to see how we could work together to align your product development with the needs of consumers.



In conversation with....

In conversation with… Jaclyn Kirkman, Digital Insights Manager at GSK

We met Jaclyn at a recent Pharma conference where she gave a great talk about the importance of design thinking.

She’s been at GSK for five years and is a Digital Insights Manager, specializing in employee insights. Her role is rooted in user-behavior, qualitative feedback on applications and processes, and reducing the effort and time it takes for employees to complete their jobs. She has an obvious passion for sharing the importance of having a customer-centric mind-set and driving performance with data-driven decisions. At GSK she’s leading a growing global community of users who participate in digital experiments which provide insights to inform support functions in decision-making and process or product design. Oh and she’s learning to be a Yoga instructor. And she makes the most amazing cakes…

  • What was your first ever job? When I was 16, I was a lifeguard at an expensive sports club. I thought it would be an ideal job, but in reality it was quite boring. One summer they played the same Steve Miller Band album over and over again, which made the task of staring at a pool for 5 hours straight a lot more torturous.
  • Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with? I would love to get a drink with Paul McCartney. I have been listening to the Beatles ever since I was three. The first song I learned on the guitar was “Blackbird.” I was so humbled to be able to see him perform live twice, once with my parents and once at a large festival.
  • Highlight of your career (so far?) The highlight of my career thus far was being able to present to my MBA class about leading the eye-tracking and user-testing for a digital product at GSK. The second highlight was a year later being able to present that experience in a more conceptual format at a conference. Sharing synergic experiences that I’ve grasped from continuous education and on-the-job learning truly brings everything full-circle for me.
  • Nature or nurture? That is a great question. I really do not think it’s one or the other, I think it’s both depending on the topic. In reality, this answer could be different for everyone and everything we encounter in our lives. Perhaps some do end up living their lives in a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” I do not believe that everyone has to, or, is stuck in a situation due to nature. It is all about how we choose to react or what perceptions we have, based off of what we truly and inherently learn about ourselves over the years, not what people tell us is right.
  • Best advice you ever heard or received? I recently completed my 200-hour Baptiste-affiliated yoga teacher training, one of the most impactful concepts I walked away with is: “You are perfect, you may have just forgotten.” Self-love and acceptance are sometimes difficult for me to show up with, but knowing that everyone (including me) is perfect, whole, and does not need fixing, is an amazing thing. This shows up in the workplace for me when I take-on challenging projects, present to large groups, or interview for a new role. Instead of just believing I’m capable, actually knowing that I’m capable, is something I’ve had to work towards in my life and at my job.
  • What talent do you yearn for? I would love to be able to sing. I think I sound great in the shower (great acoustics) or in my car. In front of other people and objectively, I’m probably garbage.
  • What is your favourite brand and why? Currently, my favorite brand is Glossier. Their marketing is absolutely brilliant and their customer service goes above and beyond. This makeup brand that highlights natural beauty instead of covering up “flaws,” resonates with me so well. Glossier’s content shows us real life, which on today’s social media, is an anomaly.
  • What book do you most recommend to others? The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. My father gifted me with this book and for a while, it was sitting on my bookshelf unread. On a flight to Portugal, I began reading it and finished before the plane even landed. This book initially came into my life at a time where I was adverse to advice or someone/something telling me how to live my life. When I actually opened and read the book, I was finally ready to grow and it could not have been more impactful.
  • What last impressed you at work? The support and encouragement that exists throughout the organization impresses me daily. I have always felt empowered to seek out a coach, mentor, or ask a question to anyone no matter their role. This makes me feel like people care about my development and invest time in growth. I am so grateful for all of the managers and mentors I’ve had throughout my career, and I am always impressed at the length people go to support you when they believe in you.
  • Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from? The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is that failure is a good thing. I can be a perfectionist in the workplace and I always thought that delivering a project through the full-cycle was what success looked like. I learned this when we failed to launch an internal digital hub, it never went live and that was hard. We spent time, money, and effort trying to create something that lacked empathy for our customers, it was disappointing at first, but we gathered so much behavioral data and qualitative feedback from users we were able to take those learnings and bring them to any future digital project to enable empathy and ultimately success.
  • What do you want to do when you retire? I would love to teach yoga classes on a beach in Hawaii or Bali (I have never been to either of those places) and then follow class up with conversing over cake. Baking and yoga are my two favorite hobbies!

What's up with TrustPilot?

What’s up with TrustPilot?

It loves Autotrader but hates John Lewis & Partners. What’s going on with TrustPilot?

Ah, TrustPilot, what to make of you? You veritable smorgasbord of conflicting signals you.

On one hand, we’ve got Autotrader’s shining star (35k reviews, 5-star rating) and on the other, John Lewis & Partners languishing in shade (6k reviews, 1-star rating).

This felt a bit odd so we did some digging. If you look at consumer brands on the FTSE 100 you’ll see what we mean. Only two brands do well (Admiral being the other), but most do badly, really badly. The average star rating for FTSE 100 brands on TrustPilot is 1.6 out of 5.

This just feels wrong. These are FTSE 100 brands who are always going to get their detractors but wouldn’t be where they are with this kind of sustained feedback.

Ring the alarm

This is a bit alarming. A review site works when it helps people make informed decisions about what to buy and who from. If a review platform’s scores are so profoundly out of kilter with the reality of your experience, it does no one any good.

  • Brands get turned off because it seems so unreal, so they end up dismissing legitimate feedback from customers they’ve let down.
  • Customers who have a bad experience and use TrustPilot – can have their impression validated and cemented by the mostly negative experiences of others.  
  • The value of online reviews can be undermined.

This doesn’t happen to the same extent on other review platforms. It’s the fact that these are so obviously skewed which makes the issue come to life. So, what’s going on? Why are well respected, market leading brands performing so poorly?

All things being equal, you’d expect TrustPilot reviews to reflect how we’d expect these brands to perform. Clearly, all things aren’t equal.

I was talking to a friend in the industry the other day who offered a possible explanation. It costs a fair bit to link your e-commerce platform to TrustPilot’s review platform. So, if brands don’t sign-up they lose the ability to prompt customers to review their experience.

It’s not a panacea, some brands with commercial agreements still score low, but the majority of the FTSE 100 don’t seem to have these in place (according to TrustPilot).

Beware the scorned lover

What’s the old adage? Have a good experience and you’ll tell one person, have a bad one and you’ll tell 10? This is what’s happening to big brands on TrustPilot.

Irritation, frustration and anger have an energy. It’s an energy, fuelled by righteous indignation at what’s happened to them. It’s easy to see how a free-to-write, easy-to-find review platform like TrustPilot would be the perfect outlet for this energy.

Positive experiences, on the other hand, are rarely that powerful. They lack the compulsion to shout them from the rooftops.

So we end up with a distorted world view. TrustPilot gives a platform for the disaffected to vent their frustration and gain some sense of revenge. It’s also open to the satisfied, but they just can’t be arsed to go out of their way to write anything. Unless brands make it easy or reward them through recognition.

A platform for the underdog?

If you look at the top rated companies across the categories TrustPilot covers, you’d be forgiven for not knowing many of them.

TrustPilot is the review site of the underdog, the disruptors, the challenger brands.

They take it seriously, they engage with their customers through it and are able to stand out in an otherwise crowded market. Those that design amazing products, deliver great service or create memorable experiences – stand out.

Where next?

What options do the more established brands have?

  • Sign up to TrustPilot and integrate it across your e-commerce platform – it’ll prompt positive reviews at the point of purchase (while the good experience is still fresh in their minds).
  • Campaign to drive positive reviews on your own platform. This is tricky for retailers as people tend to review the products they’ve bought – rather than the retailer brand itself.
  • Accept the fact that it’s going to happen and ignore it. This needs to be balanced by the volume of lost sales due to people reading TrustPilot reviews and being put off purchasing.
  • Treat it as a complaints line, albeit a rather public one. Just because the reviews are one-sided doesn’t mean they’re not valid or useful for recognising and understanding the weaker aspects of your customer journey.

Either way, these are a useful source of insight. An additional signal to help identify problems, diagnose their cause and track their development over time.

We help organisations turn this kind of feedback into insights that help improve life for their customers. You can read about it in this case study for Warner Leisure Hotels. Or give us a shout, we’d love to talk it over.


Introducing… our new Research Manager, Kate

It was great to welcome Kate to the team and expand our global footprint to Bristol!

We thought we’d ask her to share a few our her thoughts since joining…

I joined L+LR after spending 8 years working across a number of research agencies, and 5 years at an insight role within a media agency.

My journey took me from London to Australia and back again, then finally I headed over to my home in the south west of England.

I’ve been privileged to work on a wide variety of clients and sectors throughout my career and utilised a broad range of research techniques, This has meant conducting anything from a qualitative brand positioning, through to robust campaign measurement.

I started this role with my own experience of social insights and was intrigued to learn more about the L+LR approach. Having had a couple of months to soak in the ways of working, here are a few reflections….

  1. I’ve been impressed with the way client hypotheses are challenged, and how insights are always developed from a bottom-up consumer language approach, rather than the wording that we as marketeers may assume fits best.
  2. Nuance in language is everything, and the team has made me think a lot more about how we use words and the implications that this has. It’s a useful reminder to read between the lines and think about why a consumer might have decided to include a particular word or phrase.
  3. The rigor which is applied in the coding process is second-to-none. I knew before starting that social data cannot easily be categorised without digesting in a more human way, however, the processes that L+L have implemented not only ensure intelligent categorisation, but quality-check these categorisations with a level of effort that would go completely unknown to clients – so am sharing the secret!

Lessons in love

Lessons in love

With Valentine’s day approaching, it got us thinking about love.

As a society there’s a lot of talk about romantic love, but have we really cracked the age-old question: what is love?

We turned to social for the answer…

Lessons in love


Want a copy of the report? Let me know (jeremy@listenandlearnresearch.com) and I’ll pop one over.

In conversation with....

In conversation with… Roland Harwood, founder of We Are Liminal

If you’ve not met Roland yet (it’s only a matter of time), he’s a passionate, super smart and interesting chap. We’ve loved working with him and were lucky to get some time in his diary for a chat.

Short intro time…

Roland Harwood is a compulsive connector of people and ideas. As a successful serial entrepreneur, he is currently Founder and Director of Liminal, a new venture currently in development. Prior to that, he was Co-Founder and Managing Director at 100%Open, the multi award-winning open innovation agency that works with the likes of LEGO, Ford, UBS, Oxfam and in 25+ countries around the world to co-innovate with their partners. It was a spin-out from NESTA in 2010, the UK Innovation Agency and Investment Fund, where he was Director of Open Innovation. Graduating with a PhD in Physics, he has held senior innovation roles in the public and private sector and in addition has worked with hundreds of start-ups to raise investment and commercialise technology. He is chair and trustee for several not-for-profit organisations, a regular visiting lecturer at Universities around the world, and a mentor as part of many start-up accelerator programmes including TechStars. He is a failed astronaut, a composer of TV and film music for Sony, and a proud and exhausted dad of three children.

What was your first ever job? – My first job was as a milkman when I was 10 years old. A friend and I used to jump on the float of our local milkman on our way to school and help him to deliver the milk for about 45 minutes every day (including some weekends). I think we were paid 20p per week to start with rising to the dizzy heights of £1 per week by the time we went off to secondary school. The peak of my milkman career was being able to carry 10 empty bottles (one per finger) at the same time. The low point was crashing the float into somebody’s front garden wall.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with? I’ve been spending a lot of my time having coffees with people recently and genuinely believe I can learn a huge amount from virtually anybody. However, if I could have a coffee with anybody then Elon Musk would probably be fairly fascinating but probably not very nice to be around. So I’m gonna go with Demis Hassabis from Deep Mind.

Highlight of your career (so far?) – Being eliminated in the 3rd round of the 2010 European Space Agency astronaut selection process was definitely a highlight as a) it’s a good talking point and b) it’s made me more determined to go to space one day. Also, I’m immensely proud of co-founding and building 100%Open into a multi-award winning agency working in 25+ countries which I exited late last year.

Nature or nurture? Both of course, although I lean slightly towards nurture as I do believe in the possibility that people can change. See the recent film Three Identical Strangers for a deeply weird and intriguing story which shows how both nature and nurture affect us so powerfully in ways we can barely fathom.

Best advice you ever heard or received? Somebody once said to me “don’t say too much – leave room for other people’s imagination” which is incredibly wise and I wish I could remember who told me so I could credit them for it.

What talent do you yearn for? I’d quite like to be able to slam dunk in basketball but sadly at 6 foot 1 and 44 years old that is never going to happen without a trampoline.

What is your favourite brand and why? Definitely LEGO. Because they live and breath play and creativity and fun. I’ve had the privilege to work with them several times too and that has not diminished my fascination.

What book do you most recommend to others? It varies daily. Previously ‘The Connected Company‘ by Dave Gray. Currently ‘Small Arcs of Larger Circles‘ by Nora Bateson.

What last impressed you at work? I spent a week in Shenzhen and Guangzhou late last year and the rate of change and development is incredible. They are building the future at a phenomenal rate.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from? To be myself. To collaborate with others. Both are still a work in progress but I think I’m making some progress on both fronts. Biggest specific failure I learned from was a big project we did in South America a few years ago that I talk about in this recent podcast interview. It was painful and we lost a lot of money and nearly didn’t survive it. But in many ways, it was the making of us and underpinned all of the learning and successes that followed.

What do you want to do when you retire? I really don’t think I’ll ever retire. I have worked hard and feel very lucky that I pretty much pursue what interests me through my work right now and hope to be able to do that for as long as possible.

Roland’s currently working on developing and launching his latest venture We Are Liminal. He’s not saying what it is yet, partly because he’s still figuring that out. But needless to say it’s exciting and you can find out more at www.weareliminal.co.

10 tips for improving your social data

Rubbish in, Rubbish out – 10 tips for improving your social data

When you look at the data that comes through your social listening dashboard, it looks great. Scratch the surface however and you’ll find the quality can often leave lots to be desired.

This matters; when you’re running reports and analyses from this data, it’s quality in quality out – and vice versa.

Here are some tips for things we look out for when cleaning and getting social data ready for analysis.

  1. Look who’s talking: most queries will give you data from a wide range of authors: adverts, businesses, news articles, agencies, influencers and consumers. Decide who you want to listen to, ignore the rest.
  2. Check your exports: strange things can happen when you take the data out of listening platforms. Beautiful, expressive emoji’s can easily become a series of ?????s
  3. Did you want one comment or the whole page? Depending on how good the data export or API is working, you might need to check the data you’re getting to make sure you’ve not picked up the whole page. This tends to be site wide, so if you’ve seen it on one comment, chances are all the comments from that source will have the same problem. If you’re using automated analysis – what’s text is it using?
  4. Inspirational quotations: Some platforms pull the entire thread of a comment and analyse them as one. For example, Linda might quote Sally which means both Linda and Sally are both exported. What happens when Barbara quotes Linda and Sally? That’s right – they all get exported and interpreted again.
  5. Empty titles: some listening tools take your keywords and look for them in both the title and post. This creates a problem as a forum title might contain a mention of your keyword, but the post pulled out has nothing to do with what you’re interested in. One thing we see time and time again is a forum title related to your search term, but a comment of something like “Thanks!”. And that’s it. People also use threads to talk about all manner of things, not just what’s in the title.
  6. Duplicates: One of the biggest issues we face is with duplicates. We regularly find examples (sometimes as much as 10-15%) where Social Listening platforms have scraped the same comment twice.
  7. Historic data: not an easy one. The platforms approach this differently – so ask, ask again, and again. They either tend to collect data when you press go using relationships they have with aggregators, or they rely on previous searches to fill you in. Really important to know where you are or the data you get back can be completely skewed.
  8. Geotagging. Social listening providers attempt to use location tags in profiles to determine where the comment was posted. However, when this information is not available, they will resort to default options which may include assuming the poster is of the same nationality as the platform they’ve posted on. This can mean that people on Twitter are tagged as American as a default.
  9. Skewed data. If you want to get a good representation of something, it’s important to be sure there isn’t one thread, domain, or one day/month that is skewing the rest of the results. Checking for these things, deciding on an approach for anomalies (such as randomising the data) can help.
  10. Poorly put together queries. Queries are complicated and difficult to get right. The broader you make them, the more things will get into the data. The more specific you make them, the more chance you risk of missing out on useful information. Boolean operators are very powerful and can be used to create really detailed queries which best pinpoint what you are looking for, but require quite an extensive amount of knowledge – and trial and error – to get right.

Great expectations: with all this in mind, you’ll be doing well to get 50-70% relevant data. People use language in ways beyond the power of clever Boolean and extensive exclusions to keep out.

To make sure you’re working with solid, reliable data, you need to thoroughly check it. We’ve designed a range of tools for dealing with each of these potential issues, give us a shout if you’d like to find out how.







New year resolution trends

2019: A resolution revolution?

Taking on the gym? Or packing it in?

Recent media buzz got us thinking about the types of New Year resolutions that we’re making and why…

So we had a look into how people talk about their New Year resolutions and contrasted this with the same time last year.

The results? A resolution revolution? Maybe…

A resolution revolution


Want a copy of the report? Let me know (jeremy@listenandlearnresearch.com) and I’ll pop one over.

Influence and influencers

Taking influence away from the Influencers

The idea for this article came from a few different places. At the heart of it, was a contradiction that wasn’t sitting very well with us.

On one hand, Influencer Marketing is facing a rising tide of criticism, with many complaining about the lack of effectiveness, transparency and ultimately, real value.

Then, on the other hand, we’ve got what we see in our work and what seems self-evident from our everyday lives. We make decisions based on what we read, watch and discuss on the internet and social media. We are being inspired and influenced.

The central problem here is the risk of waste and distraction, caused by all this confusion. It’s hard to know where to invest your time and money.

We had an idea this morning which, we think, sheds a bit of light on it all.

Back to the beginning

In basic terms, we’re influenced by two types of people:

  • People we want to be like (if even just a bit) or be around: these are the obvious influencers on our lives. They’re the people in the spotlight that we might want to be like, wish our life was like, see as aspirational, relevant, interesting and who show us a part of life we have little access to. This is the realm of ‘celebrity’.
  • People like us: then there are people we meet (online and off) who we have enough in common with (experience, knowledge or outlook) to form a connection with. We recognise something of ourselves in them. They influence us because they may know more about something we’re interested in. This is the experienced mums helping out those with newborns and questions in the middle of the night.

Of course, there’s overlap, but the broad principles are useful to help develop this idea (I’m influenced by Jamie Oliver – I got to hear about him through TV, but it’s his recipes that I’m interested in and inspired by).

There’s also the recent phenomena where people like us become so successful in attracting attention that they become people we want to be like. They’ve become “Influencers’, with a capital I.

Influence with a capital I

Talk of influence has been taken over by talk about Influencers and Influencer Marketing.

The name is new but the principles are familiar. What started as influential, trusted voices for niche audiences (people like us) has morphed through the pull of big audience and big money towards the traditional advertising model (showing us people we want to be, hawking products they want us to buy).

But, the tide is turning.

In the summer Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMO criticised the misleading engagement, dishonest practices and lack of transparency of Influencer Marketing, calling for “urgent action now to rebuild trust before it’s gone forever

Then Mark Riston joyfully deployed his three circles of bullshit to show the actual reach ‘Influencer’ messages have – in terms of click-through rates. The short answer, not a lot.

What can we make of Influencer Marketing in this light? When we take into account fake audiences, a lack of trust and their actual power to alter behaviour we have a more realistic assessment

Here’s Mark Ritson, looking back on a panel debate with Facebook’s head of agencies in Asia Pacific, Neil Stewart.

“There are plenty of influencers who have friends, followers; they have a blog and people who see their content. But until you can prove that they have influenced – so changed behaviour, an attitude or an action – I think we could almost sue them for using a false or misleading description.”

Challenged by the moderator of the session (herself an influencer of some note) to provide a replacement term, Stewart suggested, without even a pause, “Z-list celebrities”.  


What’s more, in a world where brand purpose matters more than ever, is there a disconnect when it comes to the use of influencers who’s purpose may be purely commercial?

Influence has become a service and in doing so has diminished its power. We pay for, and so encourage reach, but this comes at the cost of real, genuine influence.

Influence with a little i

So, what’s next?

In response, we’re starting to see some new tools and tactics emerge. One of which is what the New York Times calls nano-influencers – brands targeting those with followers in the thousands not the hundreds of thousands. The argument here is that this group is more willing, more malleable, and more believable. They’ve not sold out, yet. They’re still people like us.

Another example is apps like Masse that promise to “harness the value of word of mouth” rather than rely on dubious sponsored content. Here the model for recommendation is driven by the love of the product rather than the rewards of sponsorship.

Influences + Insight

So far, so marketing, but Insight and Research teams have a valuable role to play.

Understanding what’s shaping and influencing your audience has long sat with insight. We have a range of other tools to help us understand cultural influences and campaign tracking to test ad effectiveness. It’s time to get to grips with how influence plays out on social.

This is where our two-People model comes back in.

  • For People we want to be, we can track and evaluate their performance (using Mark’s three tests) just like any other ad campaign.
  • However, People like us need a different approach as they’re unlikely to be being paid – they’re driven by a deep category interest rather than a purely financial one. They’re still authentic.

So, how do we find them?

Where to start: cutting through the noise

We’ve found it useful to evaluate potentially interesting authors/influencers (with a small i) by asking two questions:

  • How active are they: how much content are they creating that’s about the topic we care about?
  • How connected are they: how big is their social network?

You can then identify and rank potentials and map them onto a 2×2 like this:

Influence - Active connected matrix














This makes it easy to find your ‘golden’ quadrant – those people who are the most active (creating lots of content) and who have the right level of connectivity.

What next? Well, you’ve just found a group of people who care as much about the world you work in as you do – probably more. Of course, you can approach them to sponsor your content, but there’s so much more potential for creating new audience insights.

Using a social insight approach, people in the golden quadrant can help keep you informed and relevant.

  • Consumer insight: they act as a magnet for other people’s interest and questions. Keeping an eye on conversations they’re part of will help you get access to and understand the bigger picture.
  • Trend-spotting: it’s their hobby, so they’re likely to have their ear close to the ground. They’ve found sources you haven’t heard off. They’ve got a grass-roots network of people living and breathing your world, keeping them up to date with what’s new.
  • Product development: they know the category, so why not get them involved early in product and comms design?

We help brands map out and understand the role of influence (with a small i). Drop us a line if you’d like to find out more.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.

Needles haystacks, 5 tips for working with social data

Needles, haystacks: 5 tips for working with social data

Needles, haystacks: 5 tips for working with social data

Let’s start with a challenge.

Most Market Research is obsessed with demographics because we needed it to find and understand our target market. I get this and understand the pressure to apply the same framework to social insight.

But you really don’t need to.

In a world of cross-generational, cross-geographic influence I wonder if we should be this committed to traditional ideas of demography.

Increasingly, it’s aspects of our lifestyle, values, and interests that define the ‘groups’ we form – more than the demographic boxes we are put in. What Seth Godin and others refer to as psychographics

Social data already tells you ‘where’ your audiences are and enables you to find them. It also tells you a bit about ‘who’ they are, albeit from a more lifestyle/interest-led means of classification.

You don’t need demographics if you already know where the party is and who’s going. You just need to think about the research process slightly differently. Here are some tips to get you started.


1. Keep an open mind and be prepared to travel to some strange places

Doing a project on banking? Don’t be surprised to see people talking in pet forums. Looking at how a certain retailer is perceived online? Well, people also talk about this stuff in TV/audio forums. It can be quite eye-opening to see the breadth of places people are talking about you or what you’re interested.

So, don’t limit your search to the social channels you think might be relevant – keep it open and explore what’s out there. People make friends on specific forums then go on to talk about all sorts of things. Keep your sources open but fine tune your search, by…


2. Focusing: match your business objectives to how people really talk

It’s important to invest time with your agency at the beginning of a social insight project so that you can align your research objectives to the way that people actually talk online.

It’s not like traditional brand trackers where you set the questions and give clear options to respond to. The beauty of it is that it’s naturally occurring conversation, about what people chose to talk about without being asked. You might want to know if people think your brand is ‘on the rise’, but that’s just not how people talk about brands in real life. Invest time upfront thinking broadly and learning their language. This will help you focus on the right words and terms – which will then help you search for the right content and potentially mirror later when you chose to talk to them.


3. Targeting: location, location, location

Decent demographic data is hard to find in social, which can make focusing on specific audience types challenging. You can’t simply sample your way to the audience.

One way of tackling this is to look for the social spaces which attract specific audiences. These tend to emerge around particular life-stage or areas of interest – rather than age or location. The demographic profile of many of these will skew based on the subject – which acts a short-cut to your audience. Think Mumsnet and Netmums, Babycentre, Pistonhead (for cars, male skew), StudentRooms, Badger and Blade (about shaving), or on a more sombre note the excellent cancer community from Macmillan.


4. Targeting: the secret door

You get social data by using keywords which tell your listening tool what you’re interested in. But what if the things you’re interested in are too conceptual or too mundane to come up in keyword searches? When your keywords aren’t working you need to find a less obvious ‘secret door’ in.

One way of doing this is to use proxy terms – things that only they would talk about.

There’s the obvious stuff like, if you want to find grandparents, add “my granddaughter” or “my grandson” to your search terms.

Then the more conceptual, for example, how do women over 45 think about beauty. Here you need to be a bit creative and don’t rely on keywords alone. You need to think about what products only they might use (to help you find relevant review data) or what forum threads they might be engaging with (here’s a starter for 10 from Mumsnet “Season of Mists and Mellow Crepiness….

It helps if you’ve spent some time immersing yourself in how people naturally talk about this stuff (we’ll share some tips on this next time).


5. Ignore the nonsense: get the chisel out

Working meaningfully with social data can take a bit of effort up-front. Filtering out ‘the noise’ for example. The amount of giveaways, competitions, adverts adds meaningless clutter to the content you get and makes it harder to get to the core of what people think and feel – the things you care about.

We’ve learnt that no matter how clever you think your search is, people will always use your terms in unexpected and irrelevant ways.

It’s there, you just need to keep digging, testing your data collection query, refining it, testing it again and getting creative in what you look for.


Thanks for reading. If any of this strikes a cord, do get in touch, we’d love to chat.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.


In conversation with....

In conversation with… Nick Bonney, Founder of Deep Blue Thinking

We recently sat down with Nick Bonney to talk life and find out about his latest venture, Deep Blue Thinking.

Nick started Deep Blue Thinking in 2018 having previously been MD of ABA Research, but he’s actually spent most of his working life on the other side of the fence, leading the insight teams for Orange, EE, and The National Lottery. He’s worked in research for over 25 years and has a real passion for connecting brands and businesses with the issues that matter for consumers. Having spent most of his time in senior client roles he understands how to drive genuine impact from research rather than just the process of running. He’s started Deep Blue Thinking to help people get the most out of their investment in insight.

What was your first ever job?

My first job was working in a warehouse in Wembley for WEA Music. Somehow the fact it was boxes of records, CDs and cassettes (remember those?!) I was lugging around made a manual job much more appealing. It also had some nice side benefits – I remember getting last minute freebies right down the front to a Prince gig at Wembley. My first job in research was as a telephone interviewer for NOP – I’m proud that I’ve spent my time both as an interviewer and as a field manager as I think it helps design better research.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

I’ve been racking my brains to find a suitably worthy figure for this but I should probably just be honest! My two big passions have always been music and football so I’d love to have a catch up over a beer with Michael Stipe or Frank Lampard. I feel like I’ve been part of so many shared experiences with them as a spectator, I’d love to get their view from the other side – what’s it like to play in a massive game or to hear 80,000 people singing your song back to you? From a marketing perspective, I’d love to chew the fat with Mark Ritson over a couple of pints but I think, given both our potty mouths, the air might be quite blue!

Highlight of your career (so far?)

I loved working on the launch of Orange internationally. Seeing a brand I was so passionate about become global and getting to travel and work with people from so many different cultures was just a wonderful learning experience. The launch in Thailand, in particular, was really special and I loved working with the team out there.

Nature or nurture?

Definitely nurture for me. I think we all have the ability to make the most of what we’ve got and to improve if we work hard at something. Equally, we all have something we’re great at which we can become even better at – there’s a guy called Rene Carayol who wrote a book called Spike which talks about maximising your strengths which really resonated for me. It’s a nod to nature (ie we’re all born with different gifts) but focuses on nurture i.e. the ability to identify those strengths and focus on getting better at them

Best advice you ever heard or received?

My nan used to often coin the phrase ‘more haste, less speed’ and I have to say, in the current marketing climate, I often think about this. Yes, we need to do things quickly and in a more agile way but that doesn’t mean rushing into things for the sake of being seen to be doing something. I see a lot of people dive straight into PowerPoint for a presentation for example rather than pausing for breath and thinking about what it is they really want to say first…

What talent do you yearn for?

I’d love to be better at the guitar and I’d love to not be quite so crap on the football pitch or tennis court every week!

What is your favourite brand and why?

In a sector where a lot of brands are having a very tough time, I think Ted Baker continues to do a lot of things right. They’ve focused on creating a more experiential store environment rather than just splashing on advertising and they’ve thought about how to re-create this in the online world too through nice touches like their delivery box.

What book do you most recommend to others?

From a work perspective, I think The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton is a must read this year. It’s a really approachable and accessible book on behavioural science. From a fiction perspective, I love the Christopher Brookmyre books – if you like your crime novels with a good dose of Scottish satire, give them a try.

What last impressed you at work?

I’m always impressed when I see younger researchers given the opportunity to shine and thriving at it. I think the traditional agency world is still very hierarchical and often more junior team members are buried ‘back of house’. I think both as clients and agencies we have a collective responsibility to help develop younger talent coming through.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

I think to listen to my gut. I can think of a couple of instances where I’ve made bad decisions (whether in hiring people, making a career move, appointing a new supplier etc). In hindsight, I can look back on the moment where I knew deep down something wasn’t quite right. However, it felt easier to quell the disquiet and push on because I had already mentally made the decision or it was an ‘easier’ path. I’m still trying to figure out how to pause, take a moment and reflect on those inner voices.

On a less ethereal level, I can think of a number of projects over the years where I’ve been pulled in because things weren’t going right (both agency and client-side). Almost without fail, poor communication was at the heart of all of them. I’ve tried to bring that to bear on everything I do now – more time talking and listening to clients and stopping Chinese whispers by getting closer to the originator of the brief.

What do you want to do when you retire?

Live somewhere warmer, ideally near the sea!


Does my bum look big

Does my bum look big in this?

Let’s face it most of your friends won’t tell you and your partner almost certainly won’t.

But, great organisations need people to tell them what they might not want to hear or think to ask.

We need to hear the voices of people talking about us when they don’t think we’re listening.

A challenge

Is the way we conduct traditional market research creating our own echo chamber?

It’s not just Facebook and Google algorithms that curate our worldview – but our desire to find insight that matches how we work – that limits how open we are to different ways of seeing things.

We want to ask about the customer experience in ways that work for us and our stakeholders. We want structured, focused, timely insights that fit our KPIs, our business model and our internal understanding of the world we operate in – and that aligns with our reporting timescales.

Asking your ‘friends’ for feedback

Online Consumer panels are a good example. There’s lots of good to them, but it’s important to think of them as a different type of echo chamber. You build the walls of this chamber by attracting a self-selecting audience that wants to engage with you. You then put them through research and community activities shaped by you.

This poses two questions:

  • How honest will they be, they love you (or are incentivised by you) and don’t want to hurt your feelings!
  • How honest can they be, when it’s you (not them) that decides what to ask? They can’t comment on the all-important ‘bum to clothing ratio’ if you don’t let them.

We’re not saying these tools aren’t useful. It’s just… they only show the crescent, you need to see the whole of the (*cough*) moon.

Quick case study

One of our clients takes data from a wide range of sources. One of these is an online community. When they ask this community to give feedback on its staff – the results were really positive. Not only did they rate them more highly (than other quant studies) they also bought into the projected ideals behind them. They saw what our client hopes people will see.

But when we helped them test perceptions in social, the results were much less favourable and the importance of staff as a factor in the overall experience was much less noticeable.

The point

Social data has the power to help you test the validity of your other internally-focused insight tools.

It can expose you to:

  • Raw honesty about your brand and its place in the market. Maybe the hardest lesson here is how little people actually care…
  • Rather, it can show you what they do care about (spoiler alert – it’s themselves).

The nature and quality of our last interaction with a brand shapes how we approach the next one. So, it’s vital that we understand this in the most fulsome way – opening ourselves up to insight and feedback in as many ways as possible.

Social data can show you what’s really hurting, where you’re pushing the wrong buttons – or where you’re absolutely smashing it and how to keep this up.

This is what we do and we’d love to have a chat about how you could benefit from it.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.


Why do people use forums

Why do people use forums?

Today we’re going to answer a question we get asked a lot.

“Why do people use forums?”

Well, lots of reasons, but let’s start with why you should care.

Forums are unique among social media – they’re places of anonymous discussion. As such they show us a more personal, intimate and meaningful side of life.

 Which is pretty useful when you’re trying to understand people, develop personas, target new audiences and work out how to tell your story in a more compelling way.

Why do we think this? Let’s start at the beginning.

What is a forum?  

Sure you know this, but we never assume!

A forum is a place online where people can post questions, ideas or thoughts. It’s a way of starting a conversation, about something important to you, that you hope other people will engage with and respond to.

Other people can then come along and reply to your post, or just read it (the lurkers).

Why do people use them?

We’ve noticed four common factors that drive people’s use of forums (irrespective of the topic) which can often become bound by closer by friendship:


  • Anonymity: is important for many. You chose any username you like and only share what you want to. It’s much less personal, which allows people to be much more intimate. No one knows who you are or where you’re from – which gives you the freedom to be much more open, unguarded and honest than ‘in real life’.
  • Similarity: successful forums work because they reflect the interests and needs of the people who use them. Mums want to talk to Mums. Petrol heads want to talk to other petrol heads. Amateur chefs want to talk to other amateur chefs. We like ‘people like us’. We feel a shared connection, a sense of trust and understanding.
  • Specificity: forums let us share very specific parts of our lives or questions we have with others. It’s the mundane (how do I get rid of spiders), to the intensely profound (how can I tell my kids I’ve got cancer). It allows us to ask very specific questions to people who are likely to know what you mean and how to answer.
  • Connectivity: when our immediate network can’t help, forums connect us to strangers who understand what we’re talking about, how we feel and what we need. It’s a North Star, guiding those on a similar journey to the same path.
  • Friendship: it tends to be easier to get on with people like us. Forums make this happen. We’ve seen loads of examples of threads lighting up with people jumping into conversations to support each other (my favourite is still this one on Mumsnet: OMG I fancy the gardener). They have a laugh, they have a cry, they meet up in real life. They become friends.

What does this mean for consumer insight?

These conversations are public, letting you observe how people want to talk about what matters to them. Not just what you want to ask them. It’s a profound shift in how we can learn about the world.

Its usefulness comes from this rawness, but also in the ability to look at these conversations en masse. You can learn from thousands of different perspectives on the same topic. Opening your decision making to a much broader view of the world.

Practically speaking it means you can:

  • Answer the questions left unanswered by other approaches,
  • Check for anything else that might be missed (that sits outside the edges),
  • Sense check what you’ve seen and heard elsewhere,
  • Add depth and a richer understanding of lived, raw experience that might be filtered out and censored through other methods.
  • Point to the questions you didn’t know you needed to start asking?
  • Look at the interactions, the social dynamics you can’t see in other research.

This is where new insight comes from. This is what we do and we’d love to have a chat about how you could benefit from it.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.


In conversation with....

In conversation with… Martin Thomas – author of the Financial Time’s Guide to Social Media Strategy

This month we sat down with Martin Thomas, marketing communications expert and author of the Financial Time’s Guide to Social Media Strategy

1. What was your first ever job?

Assistant gardener at a stately home. Still one of my favourite jobs – fresh air and Test Match cricket on the radio throughout the day.

2. Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

I have an historian’s nerdy interest in T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia). Unfortunately, he was strictly teetotal, so it would have to be a cup of tea. I visited his house in the woods at Clouds Hill this summer – in this damp, little cottage he talked long into the night with some of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

3. Highlight of your career (so far?)

Wait and see. I hate looking back or reflecting on past achievements (or failures for that matter). There are few things more boring than a marketing person living off their former triumphs, although plenty of careers have been built on a single, accidental success 20 years ago.

4. Nature or nurture?

Sitting on the fence I’m afraid – 50:50. You can only blame your parents for some of your woes… as I keep reminding my children.

5. Best advice you ever heard or received?

Always put yourself in the shoes (and the mindset) of the person you are talking to – everyone has an agenda, everyone has fears, concerns, ambitions. The most empathetic people do this automatically… the rest of us have to work at it.

6. What talent do you yearn for?

As a Welshman, the ability to side-step off either foot and then accelerate away from some gnarly, old forward – like Jonathan Davies in his prime.

7. What is your favourite brand and why?

The brand I loved working on most was LEGO, not least because my kids were of the right age and thought that this was a really cool job. Watching the LEGO designers develop toy concepts gave me a fascinating insight into real creativity.

8. What book do you most recommend to others?

Lester Wunderman, the founder of direct marketing, wrote Being Direct before Google had even been invented, but it continues to be one of the sharpest books on the science of marketing.

9. What last impressed you at work?

I am old enough to be still impressed by new technology – when I started the fax was state of the art and presentations were produced on 35ml slides – which is why I am fascinated by our ability to work in real time with people around the globe. There are no barriers of geography, language or capability, which is why this is the most exciting time to be in our industry.

10. Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

The hardest management lesson is allowing people to fail or at least mess-up. Our instincts as managers are always to micro-manage, but if you don’t let people mess-up at least once in a while (hopefully not too seriously) they will never learn.

11. What do you want to do when you retire?

I have no desire whatsoever to retire. I am way too impatient for golf. Jeremy Bullmore has always been an inspiration for me.  He’s still banging-out brilliant copy and acerbic lines in his late 80s.

And the bonus question, why should we read your book?

My message is simple – strategy matters. Without strategic planning, time and money gets wasted on tactical social media activities that are not aligned to real priorities. Too much attention is given to outputs – cleverly-worded tweets, attention-grabbing posts, amusing videos, beautifully art-directed images, funny Snapchat filters – and not enough on measurable outcomes. Opportunities are missed. Bad ideas slip through the net, whilst good ideas are underfunded. Lessons are not learned. Risks are taken that are avoidable. If you take a strategic approach to your use of social media, maybe even encouraged by what you read in my book, you will:

  • Generate better results.
  • Stop wasting money
  • Avoid unnecessary risks
  • Deal effectively with problems
  • Enhance your career prospects

You can find Martin’s book, Financial Time’s Guide to Social Media Strategy, here.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.

Finding new audiences

Discovering hidden audiences, the one about pregnancy tests

I remember the feel of the carpet and the edge of the stairs digging into my ribs, as I sat there, waiting. Waiting for my wife to emerge with the news. A small bit of plastic was about to tell us if we were going to be parents for the first time.

This memory of mine is the obvious picture, it’s what we’re always shown. An attractive couple sits, usually on the bathroom floor, waiting for the words to appear on that immaculate stick. It always does. Pregnant. Cue explosions of joy and delight.

For a pregnancy test brand, the purpose seems clear. We’ll tell you sooner. We’ll be more accurate. We’ll bring the joy. We give people happy news, we make memories.

A simple message, that reflects a single, simple reality. A happy place, safe for TV.

Rewind a bit. We bring joy to people who want to be pregnant

A pregnancy test is really just an answer to a question, “am I pregnant?”.

From this perspective, you can see more than one answer – there are four. Four answers from what are actually two questions:

  •        Are you pregnant?
  •        Do you want to be pregnant?

So why do brands only target one of them?

4 needs. 4 audiences. 4 markets. But only one currently being recognised – you’re pregnant and want to be.

3 missed opportunities to engage, support, and build relationships with…

  •        Those who want to be, but aren’t?
  •        Those who don’t want to be, but are?
  •        Those who aren’t and don’t want to be?

Brands aren’t locked into one broadcast message, anymore (thankfully). They have more tools to engage with people in different ways, at different moments in their life.

So why aren’t they? Maybe they’re not looking in the right place, their eyes are closed. They can’t see these groups and consider their needs.  

From the brand’s side of the fence, it’s hard to see these unseen audiences and how they need what you do.

Social is a good place to start.

When it comes to our bodies and our dreams, social is a place to say what can’t be said out loud. To start conversations that can’t be started. It’s a chance to tap into a broader social consciousness – one that understands what you’re going through and can help.

We didn’t appreciate any of this until we started learning from people on social. It’s eye-opening.

Ever wondered if there were any unseen needs in your world? We’d love to help you find out. Get in touch.


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.


The echo chamber trap: hearing what you want to hear, seeing what you want to see (part 1)

Working on a couple of projects recently brought to light just how easy it is to all fall under the spell of the Echo Chamber. To help us all avoid the trap, here’s some of what we learnt (part 2 next time)…

Campaign evaluation: remember to explore the data before you look at the results

Here are some stats from a recent social media campaign aimed at building engagement and inspiring connections. The headline? 6 people in 100 reacted meaningfully with it.

These stats are interesting, because the brand wanted to evaluate the impact of the campaign, not just its reach.


Tracking social campaign reach

What did the data show us?

  • 1 in 4 comments had an original response to the campaign messaging. The rest were retweets linking to the campaign assets. People simply passing on the message without any further engagement. Low, passive impact at best.
  • So this left us with 25% of the comments that were potentially interesting for evaluating impact.
  • But, reading a bunch of comments showed something else. The campaign had been really successful in mobilising their base. Examining profile data and content we saw that most of the responses came from people working with or related to the brand.
  • So the actual impact volume, on the target audience, was more like 6%.
  • If we’d not checked, our analysis would have been heavily skewed by those already engaged with the brand. We’d be have been listening to the ‘echo chamber’.

It’s a useful reminder that we need to spend a little time looking ‘under the bonnet’ at the data and not be blinded by the headline results telling us what we want to hear. Easily done after late nights and hard work!

We found this when researching the campaign for a proposal. Weirdly, we were the only ones’ pitching for this work who looked at the data before rushing at the results. Surely, everyone should be asking these questions?

It’s a relatively simple process to get here. You just need to access to performance data from your campaign (any good social listening platform will give you this).

We’d be happy to share how we did this, give us a shout if you’re interested. Get in touch.

Next time: Be careful who you ‘ask’ for feedback


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the best way.

People are busy, we’ll help you become something they want to be part of.

In conversation with....

In conversation with, Jeremy Hollow- founder of L+LR

1. What was your first ever job?

First job? The least popular paper-round in the village. Carrying a massive, shockingly bright orange bag. Bringing the latest local news, editorial, gossip, and small ads to your door.

2. Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

Malcolm Gladwell. I listen to his Revisionist History podcasts when I’m out and about. It’s fascinating. There’s one recently where he talks about memory; our understanding of how it works and doesn’t. Our flashbulb memories don’t seem as reliable as I’d originally thought.

3. Highlight of your career (so far?)

I should probably say something about our lovely clients or a particular project. But, if I’m honest with myself. It’s mastering ‘the Void’ as an entrepreneur.

It’s finding a strength to keep going when there’s no feedback. Steven Pressfield says it best in Nobody wants to read your Sh*t’.

“The artist enters the Void with nothing and comes back with something.

Her skill is to turn off the self-censor.

Her skill is to jump off the cliff.

Her skill is to believe.”

4. Nature or nurture?

Let’s go with nurture, it’s the only one most people can do anything about.

5. Best advice you ever heard or received?

“Be aggressive”. Advice from my first snowboard instructor. I didn’t get it at the time because the language wasn’t right for me.

But when I did get it, I realised it’s the only way to get a snowboard to grip and turn on a steep slope. Focus, concentration, power, commitment. Getting the edge.

6. What talent do you yearn for?

All of them. Expect mime. There’s no need for mime.

7. What is your favourite brand and why?

I can’t stop telling people about Hiut Denim. Amazing purpose. Amazing creativity. Amazing story. I feel like I need a pair of their jeans even, though I’ve never seen them.

8. What book do you most recommend to others?

At the moment, it’s DO Story – How to tell your story so the world listens, by Bobette Buster. It’s a short, to the point, and useful guide to telling stories.

9. What last impressed you at work?

We ran an internal project recently looking hard at how we could tell better stories with the data and insights we create.

What I loved was the way established team members took on, what was basically fairly direct improvement suggestions, and ran with it. No ego. No defensiveness. Just a desire to make the work the best it can be.

10. Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

My mum always used to describe me as an earnest young man. The young bit’s gone but the rest is in full effect. I take things seriously and want to deliver our best every time. This makes taking feedback hard.

The hardest lesson (I’m still learning) is how to take feedback better.

11. What do you want to do when you retire?

I don’t really think about retiring. I can see a time when what I do and the roles I’m, in changes. But, I can’t see a hard stop; I think I’d get bored after the first week.

That said the idea of having August off, wandering around Italy is strangely compelling…


About L+LR

We are the Social Insights agency.

We make social data simple. Simple for you to know what’s meaningful, to find new insights, to see opportunities and to spark inspiration.

We’ll help you use social to find and understand the people that matter to you. So you can create the right experiences, engage new audiences and appeal to people in the right way.

We’ll help you become something people want to be part of.

Social learning on tour

As Heard on Social – on tour!

You hustle for a speaking slot at a conference, then three come along at once.

If you’re going to any of these events, do come and say hello. If you’ve not booked your tickets yet, the links are below.

Hope to see you there, Jeremy.

Social Learning at Qual360

Qual 360, Berlin, 7-8th Feb

“Walking Away from Tech: Discovering how a human solution to ‘Big Qual’ can inspire creativity and inform investment decisions.”

You can register here.


Social Learning at the Festival of NewMR

The Festival of NewMR, Webinar, 8th Feb

“Why does my son like hiding under his bed? Finding the creative power of weak signals in social data.”

You can register here.


Social Learning at the MRS Impact 2018


MRS Impact Conference, London, 13th March.
The evolution of social media insight

Three brands share how they developed innovative research approaches to see their brand in people’s homes, measure consumption, and target narrow audiences. From image recognition to simulated social media use, they show how social insight is expanding far beyond marketing measurement.

You can register here.



Angry faces

6 Faces of Anger: the miffed don’t change the world

“Social media, it’s just full of angry people, isn’t it?”

Well, actually, no. But, it’s easy to see why it can feel that way sometimes.

Politics, religion, work, ‘that’ ad, the haters, missing parcels, cold dinners, late trains, other people, ourselves – there’s just so much we could be angry about.

Angry, angry anger

We had a dig around into why people get angry. We thought that if we understood it better it would give us some ideas on how to flip it. We weren’t disappointed.

Welcome to today’s big idea: the 6 Faces of Anger: the miffed don’t change the world. File under ‘ideas for our next away day’.

L+LR The miffed don't change the world



These ideas are based on an analysis of hundreds of social media comments, taken at random over the last few months, all talking about feeling angry.

There’s a load of data behind these ideas which we’d be happy to share. Or we could always help you run that workshop on how to flip anger and make life better for your customers.



The tragedy of the second pint

What’s the big idea?

People need more than brands can give them. This is one of the reasons why online forums are so popular. Today we’re taking one example, our health, and asking two questions:

  • When it comes to our health, what drives our need for online social engagement?
  • How can brands connect with us more effectively?

Port-a-cabin economics

I remember very little of what I actually learnt during my A-levels. But one of the few nuggets to survive is the idea of utility.

It all started one stifling, autumnal afternoon. A class of 20 or so first-year students crowd around the desks, in one of those port-a-cabin turned classrooms that still seem to be in service. Mr Hooley (ex-Army, crew-cut, not a lot of time for fools) arrives and starts preparing the lesson. It was a while ago now, so out come the acetates and on goes the overhead projector. The topic for the day was the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.

Stay with me.

Utility, to economists, is a measure of the satisfaction we get from consuming a unit of something. It could be a song, a snack or a good book. The central idea of the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility is this: we get a decreasing amount of satisfaction for each additional unit of the thing that we consume.

The genius of Mr Hooley

Here lies the genius of Mr Hooley. He found a way of making the idea of diminishing marginal utility come alive to a bunch of not-yet-legally-allowed-to-drink-but-doing-it-anyway students. Something so simple that it’s stuck with me for over 20 years. It goes like this.

On a hot summer’s day.

The first pint is amazing.

The second pint is good, but it’s not quite as good as the first one.

Given constant exposure, it’s human nature to feel diminishing returns from pretty much everything.  This is why forums on social media have become so important for patients and those interested in making their lives better. They do so much more than provide (mis)information, they help counter the law of diminishing returns.

Let me explain.

What we say to ourselves

Our health plays a leading role in the story of our lives. It’s the pages on which everything else is written.

We all have something called a dominant self-narrative. It’s a bit like all the voices in your head coming together until one comes out on top. It’s the part of you which holds the beliefs of who you are and who you think you’ll be. I’m a good person. I’m a careful driver. I’m a loving father. One day I’ll have a six-pack (there’s still time…!) This narrative develops alongside our lives, slowly. It’s a bit like a psychological North Star, guiding our actions along a path to the person we want to be.

All this ticks along nicely, until life gets in the way. In the same way that most people think they’re better than average drivers, we don’t expect to become ill. No one dreams of not being able to have children. Cancer happens to other people. We’re not going to get diabetes. Unfortunately, these things happen, and when they do, we have to come to terms with their physical and emotional impact. We also have to, eventually, accept that our dominant self-narrative is out of date.

Diminishing sympathy

This brings us back to the problem of the second pint. No matter how empathetic you are, it’s natural to have a less intense reaction to a recurring event. This includes feeling sympathy and having time for those who are unwell. We’ve seen it in many illnesses and across many countries. Patients with chronic conditions often feel that those around them don’t really get it. The intense sympathy they feel on diagnosis tends to diminish as time goes by. However, the symptoms don’t.

So we have a situation where patients with chronic illnesses feel the effects in the same way, in an increasingly less compassionate world. There’s a sympathy gap. What do they do? They turn to people like them, people with the same conditions, people who do get it. Forums make physical proximity meaningless, prior relationships irrelevant, cultural barriers insignificant. Rather, the sympathy gap is filled by the understanding and empathy that comes from people with shared experiences. Forums are the connective force that brings these people together.

Formidable forums

By connecting people in the same situation, forums serve three vital purposes:

  1. They provide information: forum threads are brimming with requests for information. People ask about the condition, the treatment, the symptoms, the costs, the pain, the impact on their life. Which, if you think about it, is a bit odd. Healthcare organisations spend huge amounts to educate and inform – but there’s something about peer information that cuts through this, it feels more relevant, more tailored, more sensitive and, importantly more independent. We have a strong need to validate what we’re unsure about.
  2. They provide immediate emotional support: they’re somewhere to go when things turn rough. It’s easy to explain to someone else what a Rheumatoid Arthritic flare-up feels like, if they have them too. And that’s the point, you don’t need to explain it. They get it. They know how you feel and the support you need.
  3. They help you re-write the life story you want to lead: coming to terms with a life-changing illness is easier said than done. It takes ages to unpick the version of you, you always thought you’d be and come to terms with the person you’ve become. We’ve seen many examples of long-term, supportive relationships on forums, where people help each other find new purpose and meaning in life.

Responding to a market failure

That forums have so quickly become a major force in healthcare, speaks volumes. It’s a story of market failure; where organisations have failed to provide everything that patients need.

For too long it’s been OK to misunderstand or overlook forums. It’s been amusing to see them as the ‘fake news’ of medicine. But this view is simplistic, distracting and out-of-date.

The reality is that they’re providing something that no-one else is, they’re meeting this market need and are attracting patients in their droves.

This means that the bar for attracting and engaging with patients has been raised. Traditional spheres of influence have been hijacked and brands will have to fight to win them back.

For patients the current choice is stark. When you’re struggling with a new illness, how do you spend your time? Wading through a dry, information-heavy web page, or talking with someone in the same situation as you?

If you want to influence patient choice and behaviour, you need to understand how the dynamics of influence and support have changed. Those that do, will find themselves better equipped to connect, engage and support the needs of patients and those who care for them.


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

If that sounds good, 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.


When should brands jump in? Knowing when to take new entrants seriously.

Something becomes truly popular when it becomes interesting to those who don’t particularly care.

What if we are wrong’ by Chuck Klosterman

There’s no shortage of new ideas and trends, but which ones should you invest in?

We all know the language of how ideas spread, the early adopters, the mainstream, the laggards; but the way we think about it needs a reboot.

When we hear about early adopters we tend to assume someone young(ish), someone techy. The internet and social media have made a nonsense of this. We can all be early adopters, innovators or laggards. It just depends on our interests and how we choose to spend our time.

The biggest challenge to market growth is how to get something new to appeal to a mainstream audience who isn’t really that interested. Most innovations fail to make it big, but it can work and social shows us when it does.

Social media captures how early adopters spend their time engaging with innovators, and each other, about their passions. Between them, they’re creating the social content that the rest of us see when it suddenly becomes relevant. Surprise hits don’t just happen.

Here’s the opportunity for brands

You can use Social Learning to identify, understand and track how thousands of these conversations develop and change over time, across the world. Handy for spotting gaps in consumer needs or knowing when it’s time to take a competitor seriously.

Next steps?

We work with organisations across a wide range of sectors in domestic and international markets. Get in touch if you’d like to chat about how to use social data to spot new market threats and opportunities.


Market Research should do more to challenge brands’ self-obsession

Another day, another pulled ad campaign. This time it was the National Lottery and British Athletics. Their #represent campaign wanted to capture the spirit of positivity surrounding the World Athletics championships – and of course, use this to promote the role the National Lottery has in supporting our athletes.

So far so good, but in true Boaty McBoat face style, some members of the British Public had their own ideas. The campaign was overtaken by profanity and quickly pulled.

What went wrong?

Mark Ritson wrote a good critique of this yesterday. In a nutshell, he said that:

“A National Lottery Twitter campaign has been hijacked by trolls, but marketers would have seen it coming if they weren’t so absorbed in their fantasies of ‘brand love’.”

In his article, he calls for more people in brands to remember market orientation.

“You remember market orientation? It’s the core concept of marketing and can be neatly summarised with the mantra: ‘You are not the consumer’.”

But this is hard. In the words of Kurt Cobain “I don’t care what you think unless it is about me.” Our natural tendency is for self-obsession. Thankfully, the interaction we have with others and the need to work together curbs most of these natural inclinations (that’s in part how socialisation works).

However, most brands work in silos, existing in their own echo chambers. They’re simply not exposed to other brands in the way that people are to each other. They don’t socialise like individuals do, so their narcissistic tendencies run free.

Market Research is partly to blame. It’s complicit in perpetuating these fantasies.

You need to check yourself

Brands need a team (or at least someone) with the courage and credibility to provide a much-needed reality check.  

But, it’s hard to get this, when you ask all of the questions – and this is how most Market Research operates. Brands and their agencies decide what they want to know and then set a bunch of questions to get the answers they want to hear. They then pay people to tell them the answers to the questions they want to ask.

Can you see the problem with this? None of it helps challenge internal pre-perceptions of what ‘consumers’ are like. Instead, we get more rarefied views on our own world perception.

We have a situation where most Market Research reinforces rather than challenges brand self-obsession.

What to do?

The idea of market orientation – you’re not the consumer – demands we look for sources of insight that will help us challenge our biases. This calls for data that’s been created well away from a Market Research experiment.

There are two interesting routes to go down.

  • First, you can use Google search and trend data to understand what thousands of people really search for. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a pioneer in this field and has written about how this data can shine new light on a number of questions (see ‘The Cost of Racial Animus on a Black Candidate: Evidence Using Google Data’ for a good example).
  • The second option is social data. The social conversation is about people, not brands (sorry if that’s news, but we’ve found that brands tend to be mentioned by no more than 1-2% of people in any ‘normal’ social conversation ). It’s a great source of natural data about people. But it needs the right approach or you’ll just get a load of information – not insight. An effective technique is Social Learning, which combines qualitative research with the data collection of social listening to understand what people really mean in the things they create and share on social. It’s a technique which has been used to challenge and inspire campaign development, marketing planning and service improvement.

Time for a revolution?

Yes and no. Traditional Market Research has its flaws but still has a place in making informed decisions.

But, we really do need a new voice in the room. Brands need to be socialised, they need to be constantly reminded that the love they feel for themselves is irrelevant to almost everybody else.

People love their lives, their friends, their families, their home. As Mark puts it when talking about the #represent campaign.

“What you get instead is a sudden reality shot from the real, cynical and entirely moronic world of the consumer. They don’t care about athletics. Or uniting with athletes. They really only care about having a laugh and being a dickhead.”

If you want to appeal to people, then perhaps it’s time to pull up a chair and invite a new voice into the room?

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, 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.


McDonalds dad advert

McDonald’s ‘bereavement’ ad could have been better, but they shouldn’t have pulled it

McDonald’s pulled their ad about a boy and his father due to a social and traditional media ‘storm’. This meant that an important conversation (how to bond with a parent who’s no longer with us) didn’t happen and their investment was wasted.

Looking more sensibly at the social conversation suggests this was more of a storm in a teacup, and that a slightly sharper execution and more effective stakeholder management would have led to a much better outcome.


What happened?

McDonald’s ran an advert telling the story of a young boy asking his mum what his deceased father was like. Within days the BBC published the article “McDonald’s apologises for ‘offensive’ television advert” after being contacted by Grief Encounter (a bereavement support charity). The article drew on the “countless calls” Grief Encounter had received and claims of a social media ‘outrage’.

Over the next two days, the story was picked up by most of the mainstream media, trade press and some internationals. Most went with a more extreme narrative, along the lines of “McDonald’s pulls dead dad ad” (albeit with very similar content).

Running alongside all this, of course, was reaction, comment and a lively debate across social media.

The result? It looked like McDonald’s had offended a lot of people and they were quick to pull the ad. And by promoting this negative interpretation of the ad, the media helped shape the initial reaction to it. They’d set the tone which might help explain the immediate fall in measures of brand reputation and buzz.


OK, what really happened?

At the time of writing, the ASA had received 267 complaints, significantly fewer than other comparable campaigns, and they felt it didn’t contravene their guidelines. So, what was really going on? If it was really this offensive, surely the ASA would have taken a different stance.

To get another angle we explored the social conversation in a bit more depth to see how people were actually reacting to it.

Most of the discussion took place in a few main areas: Twitter (visceral and immediate), YouTube (seen by nearly 1m, with 1k comments) and the Guardian’s comment section. We took a random sample of 1,000 comments from social media, read them all and analysed what was being said and why (we excluded RTs and obvious industry commentary to focus on different, personal reactions).


How are people really reacting?

From the relevant comments, we found that 32% didn’t like the advert (51% were ambivalent, 17% liked it). But this doesn’t mean they were offended.

On the contrary, only 6% claimed offence – and only 1 person based their reaction in a personal experience of bereavement. This is odd as we found that those who did mention a bereavement tended to connect positively (11%) with the ad.

Only 3% of people called for it to be banned, contrasting to the 13% who defended the ad against what they saw as an ‘outrageous response’ to it.

Most of the people who didn’t like it did so because they thought it wasn’t very good – not because they were offended. Of those who didn’t like the ad:

  • 32% found the language and tone of the ad too negative, they didn’t like their emotions being used to sell burgers.
  • 25% of thought it was poor taste, but not offensive, and that distinction is important.
  • 23% thought it was just poor: badly executed, naive, silly, or just generally “not good”.

“Agreed. It isn’t offensive. Personally, the ad had very little effect on me. Who can honestly be surprised by ad agency cynicism? It’s certainly in generally poor taste, but marketing is invariably always in poor taste of one sort or another.”

“I don’t think the new McDonalds advert is ‘controversial’. I just think it’s sh*te”.


So what?

This feels like a missed opportunity.

A great ad can push the boundaries of what’s OK to talk about. The loss of a loved one is a difficult topic. An ad with McDonald’s reach could have made it easier to find the words.

“I liked the #mcdonalds advert, I lost my father when I was 12 and I don’t see any problem with the advert touching on memories.”

“I’d heard that some found this ad offensive. I lost my father a little over 12 years ago, and even though I was already a man at 22 when he died, this ad only helped remind me of him. I don’t find this ad offensive, quite the opposite, really. Thank you, McDonald’s, for helping me remember my dad.”

“As someone who went through child bereavement, I found this advert to be very touching. Even having something small in common, such as a favourite meal, can mean the world. Even the smallest part of that person living on in you is enough to make you feel proud of yourself and happy that this person who is no longer with you is in living within you in some form or another. I know a McDonald’s meal can seem rather silly but I really don’t see the exploitation here or how this could possibly be offensive.”


We think there are six main points to take from this.


  • Tighten the execution. The father’s death is clearly not recent, so the ad was in no way meant to be about bereavement. But the negative comparisons in the ad, insufficiently balanced by the shared common ground allowed it to be interpreted as being about grief. Which meant people focused on it, perpetuating this interpretation. The meaning of the underlying script was diluted by the negative dialogue, the gloomy colours, and the sentimental music.


  • Engage with the right stakeholders. When dealing with a subject like this you should be brave and thoughtful in equal measure. A conversation with Grief Encounter (easy to Google, search for ‘grief charity’) would have helped bring them onboard. Having a point of view on something that is human is good, backing down and not engaging seriously outside the brand makes it seem superficial. If they had done this – they could have raised proper awareness for something whilst drawing attention to the point they should have been celebrating – memories.


  • Avoid own-goals. McDonald’s has been campaigning about food quality for years, yet this ad talks about death without cause – enabling many to jump on the ‘fast food means poor health’ bandwagon.


  • Keep it on-brand. The execution went too far towards grief and away from nostalgia. This was compounded by the way the mum compares the son unfavourably to his Dad – the punches just keep coming (‘your dad was…1. Big, cuddly, tall. 2. Big hands. 3. Never scruffy, always smart. 4. Shining shoes. 5. Good at football. 6. Captain. 7. A right catch. 8. A wow with all the girls. 9. Brown eyes’). This jars and makes the final Fillet o Fish comparison seem too weak, too cynical.


  • Prepare. This is an ad about bereavement from a fast food company. It might as well have had a sign on its back saying “kick me”. Had the execution been a tad sharper and with the right PR preparation, they could have capitalised on the attention while defending its position. Apologise to anyone who has been inadvertently offended, but defend the nostalgia stance and stick to the brand


  • Listen and reflect. Some heavy hitters leapt on the chance to bash McDonald’s and quickly made this look like a big deal. But a thoughtful reading of the social conversation shows that overall, the outrage barely merits the name. Social media should be used to learn about people, not jump at first sight.


A final thought, fast food or fake news?

There’s a risk that organisations today fail to take a firm point of view because of the amplification that social and traditional media have on anything that gets a moment of ‘noise’ from the online space. There’s a lack of real considered debate versus out-loud protesting and shouting against things. Traditional media can actually make fake news worse because it gives voice to something. Would McDonald’s have pulled this if it hadn’t been reported in traditional media outlets?


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, 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.


why forums work

“OMG! I fancy the gardener!!!”

Picture this, you’re a relatively new mum. Things didn’t work out with the kids’ Dad, you’re feeling lonely and just a little bit insecure. You know all about Mumsnet of course (what new mums don’t) and you’ve been using it for advice for ages. One day you’re getting some work done in the garden and OMG the gardener is gorgeous!

But, what to do? This feeling is too strong to keep to yourself. So, out comes the mobile, up goes the post “I fancy the gardener!”. What follows is an outpouring of advice, support and a huge sense of excitement as we follow how your story develops (I’ll not spoil it for you). All of a sudden, you’re not alone. You’re surrounded by people like you, who care about what happens. Your story has touched them; they’ve become invested in the life of a stranger.

And that’s why forums work.

There’s a profound normality to the conversation on forums that’s wonderfully reaffirming. It’s like what the internet promised to be. Sure you have those who are out to abuse, but when the subject is everyday living, these are few and far between

Having read hundreds of thousands of forum posts, we thought we’d share what we’ve learnt about why they work and how they can help marketers and researchers get new insights into what makes us all tick. 

The power of anonymity

This is perhaps the most obvious reason for using online forms. Sometimes it’s just really useful to keep something back. Forums let you share and discuss what you need to, without the fear of it impacting on your ‘real’ life. Anonymity is a barrier, something that protects you from potential psychological discomfort. You might not feel comfortable asking ‘silly’ or embarrassing questions to those around you, but it’s fine for DogToothAtic76 to talk about it in a forum.

And of course, this anonymity doesn’t stop you forming bonds online. It’s completely possible to get to know a pseudonym. Particularly when that pseudonym has built a reputation for good posts, credible answers and a good personality.

We’re all special snowflakes

A special snowflake is someone with supposedly unique characteristics that entitle them to privileged treatment. It’s usually a term of abuse, but we’re all special snowflakes sometimes.

How does this drive forum use? Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of information on the internet. But, time and time again, we see people asking for help about the same topics. It’s because we all believe that our situation is somehow different. More complex, harder to deal with, unique. It’s this sense that we’re different that drives people to ask questions on forums. Information isn’t enough, we need a tailored answer for our particular situation.

Like most things, it’s a journey

Successful forums work because they provide knowledge and relationships. People come looking for knowledge and often find people just like them.

A typical forum user journey starts with a question. You need to find something out, and Google connects you to what it thinks is the best answer. If it works, you’ll see someone else talking about exactly the thing that you’re facing. You’re not alone anymore! If it’s a hobby or on-going interest you’re likely to return to the forum to see what’s new. You’ve become a lurker.

This tends to continue until one day you’re inspired to respond to someone else’s post or to make one of your own. Now a new set of reward mechanisms come into play. You’re no longer vicariously enjoying the lives of others. You’ve become one of the actors on the stage. You’re engaging directly with strangers like you. And as your confidence grows you start to develop deeper relationships with other forum users, discussing the original topic and talking about your lives.

Search engines love a good forum, but it’s a battle of the fittest

Search engines are always on the lookout for the best, most relevant content. It’s how they keep you using them.

Forums tick a lot of boxes for search engines. They’ve got the potential for lots of relevant, frequently updated content. But there doesn’t tend to be lots of big forums about the same subject. It’s a battle of the fittest. Forum owners who create the right space for great conversations are likely to be reward by more traffic, which in turn creates more content. You can see this virtuous circle happening all the time, and the forum graveyards left behind.

What does this all mean for marketers, researchers and planners?

We all need help sometimes. Life never stops throwing new problems, opportunities and interests at us, that others can help us with. Forums work because they connect like-minded people in a meaningful exchange of knowledge and conversation. They serve the need for information and a deeper psychological need to connect and socialise.

Brands and agencies can observe this conversation to gain a new perspective on how consumers experience life and how this can relate back to the markets and categories they operate in.

We think there are four main takeaways:

  1. If you’re developing your own content, be aware of what and who’s already in there. The relationship between search engines and forums create high barriers which are expensive to overcome.
  2. It’s not enough to inform people and hope for the best. Your content has to adapt to their specific needs and situation. Forums can help inspire and fine-tune your content strategy.
  3. Forum conversations tend to be rawer than other sources of consumer research, revealing a different side to what we feel and consider important. This gives you access to a new type of consumer insight.
  4. Forums show how life changes over time which helps us understand what factors influence our behaviour.

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, 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.

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.

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.


“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


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.

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


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.

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 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.

Hair story

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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 focused 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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

The meaning of hashtags is changing

The changing meaning of hashtags

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

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.

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You can read the full report on SlideShare.


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.

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You can read the full report on SlideShare.


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.

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See the full case study on SlideShare.


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.