You can’t rely only on social listening tools to get insight from social data

This is an exclusive guest blog by Dr Jillian Ney, a digital behavioural scientist and the founder of The Social Intelligence Lab and The Social Intelligence Academy.

In business, there are many different ways you can use social data to support decision-making. From brand positioning to framing communications, to product development. However, the most common use is in social media strategy. And by this, I mean the data is usually used to prove the strategy worked, by measuring brand mentions and engagement with content. Social data is often pigeonholed and overlooked because there’s a belief that you can’t get strategic insight from it.

In reality, the lack of actionable insight found from social listening studies is predominantly because the analysis is led by the functionality of the tools we use rather than a planned process or methodology. Following a “platform-led” analysis with social listening tools often limits the analysis to tactical use cases or to prove the success of some campaign or another (particularly with novice users). The true value of social data is limited and overlooked.

However, when approached properly social insights can provide a huge competitive advantage. For example, these insights can help you frame communications and pitches by understanding the language people use to discuss topics, their attitudes towards them, and identifying how these topics are associated in the brain. They can also help you develop propositions that link with people’s desires, by finding out their motivations and unmet needs. With social insights, you could even forecast sales potential, or predict future trends and create new products or services that align with the trend.

Getting more from social listening tools requires human analysis

When you use social listening tools there’s a focus on metrics and dashboards providing a one-page view of progress. This is great for some use cases in marketing or brand reputation management, but if you’re looking for human insight you’re not going to find it with this approach.

Metrics are not insights. Share of voice, sentiment, topics, and, wordclouds are metrics commonly associated with social listening, but they are not insights. Insights are deeper, more contextual and typically cannot be shared in a dashboard.

Insights require people and process. A process to systematically explore the data, and people to generate the insight, turning it into stories that help show its value. For example, the team at Listen and Learn Research recently published a study on new post-covid consumer groups (personas) to advise and inspire marketers on how to talk to people as the world reemerges from covid lockdowns.

The people telling these data stories need to be skilled. We’ve been told that social listening is “DIY insight” but novice users tend to stick to easy analysis led by the platform. Which isn’t really where the true value of social data lies.

So, how do you find that value?

One question to ask yourself is are you looking for metrics or insights? If it’s the latter, there’s a few things you need to consider to shape your social insights approach. This is something that’s covered in more depth during the social intelligence growth certification by The Social Intelligence Lab.

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Developing a scalable social insight process

To move from the tactical use of social listening to generating strategic insights you need a framework that helps you to overcome the limitation of tools. There are a few areas you’ll want to consider.

Tangible use cases: knowing when to use social data (and when to leave it alone) is really important. When we’re trying to get buy-in, any projects that do not deliver results are roadblocks to getting buy-in in the future. You need to make an impact from day one, so it’s essential to know the tangible use cases for social insight.

Assessment and briefing process: before you even start, get on the right path by knowing what business questions you want to answer, and how you’re going to use the insight. Far too many projects start with “can we do some social listening please?” They fail because they are not specific. Starting projects with a clear objective will set you up for success. You should also question if social data analysis is the right approach in the first place. Is it likely to produce new insights beyond what’s already known?

The data: get to know the data sources and identify which ones are useful for which use cases. Understand data quality and relevancy. Many people can’t find insight from social data because the data is noisy – there’s too much that isn’t relevant to the question you’re trying to answer. You need to know the sources and how to clean it up. And remember, social data isn’t limited to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There are other rich sources of social data, such as Reddit, Quora and customer review sites or forums.

Analysis approach: there’s more than one way to analyse social data, For example, do you want to understand how a specific community behaves? You don’t need a social listening tool for that, it’s easier to do it on the native platform. If you want deep human insights, you might use the tools to access the data but analyse “off platform” to really find what you’re looking for.  Knowing the approaches and when to use one over the other is important.

Reporting: Your end goal is to provide insight that inspires action. Stakeholders want tightly packaged summaries of insight that they can easily use. They don’t want to have to interpret what dashboards and charts are trying to tell them. Insight needs to be immediately clear and actionable. This is where the human skill of data storytelling comes in.

To really get insight from social listening tools, you need to go beyond their functionality. You need a systematic process that is repeatable and scalable, and where you can involve other stakeholders easily. This requires people who know how to analyse social data, which is why we created the social intelligence growth certification – the world’s first CPD certification for professionals who analyse social data (or want to).

This is a LIVE, learn-by-doing course. The next cohort starts on the 23rd August 2021 and friends of Listen & Learn Research can get a $250 discount with the code LALR250. Find out more and apply here.

By: Dr Jillian Ney

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