Using Social Listening for Integrated Insights

Over the last few years, the marketing industry has seen a global shift of interest away from conventional insight generation methodologies – such as survey studies or focus groups – towards analysis of behavioral data requiring research firms and agencies to identify patterns from mountains of raw digital data.

One methodology that is yet to find its footing, particularly in Asia, is social media listening. This is not post-campaign monitoring or Facebook post performance tracking – this is about exploratory social listening that directly informs marketing strategies.

Now, I don’t want to argue that a brand’s entire marketing strategy needs to be built on insights derived from social listening, but it should be an integral part of the marketing planning process. After all, social media is woven into the fabric of the daily lives of consumers, and should therefore be woven into our understanding of them.

Marketers in the Asia Pacific region can feel challenged when connecting online and offline intelligence according to the latest APAC Digital Directions report, which might be one reason social listening is yet to take off in the region. Here is a methodological framework for an integrated insights generation process that combines social listening with secondary research, focus groups and survey research.

Step 1: Landscape Audit

Objective: Understand previous research outcomes and related secondary sources to develop hypotheses or research questions.

The landscape audit is basically the equivalent to a literature review in academic research. Its purpose is to assess the existing body of intelligence, establish a theoretical framework for the area of study, and finally inform the development of research hypotheses or questions that will guide the insights generation process.

Step 2: Social Consumer Audit

Objective: Gain insights into what people talk about in the social media space relating to a specific category and how they talk about it.

I won’t go into the technical details or differences of the various data extraction tools, but the usual practice is to start with a set of certain keywords to retrieve the raw conversations that then build the basis for a more thorough analysis. In our case, the definition of keywords and keyword combinations is guided by the outcome of the landscape audit.

Following the data extraction, look at reoccurring conversation themes. In relation to your hypotheses, are there certain areas, attributes, situations, or need states that are talked about more frequently? And when I say look, I mean look. Automated analysis will never – or at least not any time soon – be able to compete with the precision of manual, human analysis.

This is true for identifying key conversation themes but even more so for studying consumer sentiment. That is, I have not yet seen an algorithm capable of clearly recognizing sarcasm or other more complex conversation contexts.

All in all, make sure to utilize both the quantitative as well as qualitative aspect of social listening. The quantitative dimension gives you volumes and conversation themes. However, only when you drill further into the qualitative dimension of the data such as sentiment, are you able to pin down inspirational territories with the potential to lead to relevant strategies.

One of social listening’s main weaknesses is that it is very difficult to attribute comments and conversations to specific groups and audiences. Or in other words, you know what people are saying and how they are saying it, but you don’t necessarily know who exactly is saying it. That is where step number 3 comes into play.

Step 3: Qualitative Consumer Audit

Objective: Obtain an in-depth understanding of core audiences for themes and sentiments identified by the social consumer audit.

This step in the integrated insights development process is basically your typical focus group research. The only difference lies within the design of the discussion guide, which should be led by the outcome of your social listening exercise. The desired result of the qualitative consumer audit is to first test if your social insights hold true for representatives of your key target audiences, and second, to gain a more in-depth understanding of those specific areas uncovered.

Step 4: Quantitative Consumer Audit

Objective: Test the quantifiability of the insights you have generated by blending social and qualitative consumer research.

In this model, quantitative research really serves the sole purpose of testing whether the insights gathered throughout the previous steps are applicable to a large and representative population or not. While this step might seem more of a ‘good-to-have’ rather than a ‘must-have’, it certainly helps to draw a vivid picture of your audiences with the backing of numbers, which I have learned is often required for buy-in from C-level executives in Asia.

andreas-krasser-4-step-insights-generation-modelThis four-step insight generation model is just one way of combining online and offline intelligence and has certain limitations and weaknesses, but nevertheless I believe it offers a highly integrated process for making a more effective and efficient use of multiple data sources. We spend time planning and executing integrated multi-channel marketing campaigns that deliver to digital savvy consumers and their media consumption habits, but it is time we now also applied the same logic to the way we develop insights. After all, insights are the starting point of everything.

*Homepage image via Shutterstock

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