Are you a speed skater or free diver?

The tortoise and the hare

You know the tale of the tortoise and the hare? Well, something similar is emerging in how we’re using social media data for research. But instead of the tortoise and the hare, or qual vs. quant, it’s more like the Speed Skater vs. the Free Diver.

Let’s start with the idea that social data is like a huge ocean of human experience, in the middle of winter.

The speed skater

The Speed Skater is where most of the social intelligence / social insight market is right now.

Their data is the ice, the listening tools are the skates and the racetrack, and the analyst is the skater.

As you’d expect, the Skater is all about speed. They’re quick off the blocks, explosive energy pushing them forward. They quickly cover a lot of ground, getting from question to answer in hours if not days. Quick, agile, nimble.

What we get from social data tends to come from the Speed Skaters. They stay in their lane. Their exposure to and interpretation of the human experience comes from dashboards and analytics. It’s clinical, precise. You see what can be counted – those data points that are frozen in time.

Cracking the ice

There’s more than one way to enjoy the water. What we gain from quickly skating over the data shouldn’t blind us to what’s underneath. We shouldn’t always run the same race on the same track – otherwise, we’ll only know what everyone else knows.

Ice rests on the top and is the easiest thing to see. But most of the ocean is in what lies There’s a vast body of fascinating data, rich in life, flowing beneath. It’s dynamic, living, evolving – the sum millions of human experiences, opinions and emotions.

This is the domain of the Free Diver. They’re free to explore, to go deep into the human experience, to follow different leads, explore different paths, to immerse themselves in the depths of the human experience.

What lies beneath

For the Free Diver, the data is a vast unexplored ocean, listening tools are the fins and mask and the diver isn’t one person, but rather a team of specialist social insight researchers.

The speed skater sees the track, laid out neatly before them (sentiment analysis, statistics of references, topic counts etc.).

The Free Diver is more connected to the water and the life below, they’re in deep. They feel what people feel, they hear what people say, they’re sensitive to what people experience. It’s a much deeper level of human touch. It’s emotional and experiential rather than basic analytics.

The Free Diver respects the ocean and their role in it. They know their limits and the nature of the world they’re exploring. They know they need to plan their trip while being open to change and adapt their approach as they go. They frame rather than constrain how they experience and interpret the human experience.

If you’re frustrated with social listening, don’t give up on social data.

The things people share across social media can be deeply insightful. They can show us the human experience in a completely new way. Speed Skating has its value, but save some budget for the Free Divers too.


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