8 Tips for Improving Social Listening in 2019

Don’t get stuck in a social listening rut – hear what eight social data experts and brands are focusing their efforts on in 2019, for a little more inspiration on what you can get out of social intelligence.  

We’re all in the same boat.  We all need to grow our social intelligence offerings, demonstrate our value and meet business expectations.  So, how can we do more of this in 2019? More importantly, how can we do it better? We asked eight social data experts to share with us what they are focusing their efforts on this year.  

Accounting for Changes in Cultural Behaviour Online

Ellie Osborne, Social Intelligence Research Director at Join the Dots, says she’s continuing to develop her thinking around a discovery that she made last year.  If you analyse social data across different geographies and cultures, you’ll be interested in this

Towards the end of last year Ellie’s work focused on cultural insights.  She tells us that when analysing data in the USA and Korea she found that the way these cultures communicate on social media is very different.

For example, she noted that while people in the USA tend to use social as a recommendation engine to display a voice of influence, those in Korea use social media to discuss topics that they cannot have in society.  

Why is this important?

Not only is the psychological motivation for engagement different, the types of conversations that you can collect data for changes.  Ellie says:

It’s not just about what is being said but why. Understanding the behaviours driving the social interactions can bring us closer to consumers”.  

Focusing Social Listening on Advertising Insights


  • Nik Harta, MD of agency Yolo Communications says he’s started the year by reading David Ogilvy’s books onadvertising.  He says:

“Ogilvy’s books are as relevant today, if not more so than they were when they first came out. I would say rather than offering new tips for 2019 they are valuable reminders for 2019 that the basic premises still remain, even if we are using new channels…”

The link to social listening?  

Nik tells us that Ogilvy talks about positioning and defines it as “what the product does, and who is it for?”

Social Listening allows us to hear what the consumers think a product does and who they think it’s for, thereby creating a true picture of a brand’s positioning.

 He continues to say that Ogilvy also worked to a formula for a great ad which was research plus a big idea. Again, Social Listening gives us the opportunity to create research for a target audience as well as generating inspiration for new approaches and ideas. Keeping an open mind about what’s being discussed can allow the thought process to be innovative.


It’s All About the Activation

Javier Burón,, Audiense CEO is focusing his efforts on ensuring that social listening insights go hand in hand with activation. He tells us:

“In 2019 social listening and audience activation will go hand in hand, taking it a step further from actionable insights to utilising product integrations that will action those insights. The insights generated from social data will be essential to understanding consumers (complementing traditional methods of market research) and not only influence content and social strategies but also broader marketing and PR strategies across offline and online channels.”

It’s all about using the insight to increase activation success.  


Saying Goodbye to Shoddy Sentiment Analysis

For Jackie Cuyvers, CEO of Convosphere, she argues that 2019 should be all about saying goodbye to poor sentiment analysis.  

If you run social listening programmes, you probably already know about the issues with sentiment analysis.  The positive, negative and neutral rating is usually based on an algorithm, trained using human-led, machine learning. Jackie says that this leads to:

limitations on accuracy or relevancy of the sentiment analysis attributions. As online conversations are often nuanced, filled with tone, irony and euphemisms and idioms.”

To overcome these limitations, she strongly advocates the use of behavioural science models and emerging technology to better understand the emotional stages of customers.  This ultimately brings about new understanding of the barriers and drivers, to the adoption of brand choice – or the “so what?” to make social intelligence a valuable research approach.

Using the behavioural science model of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, we can have humans review and assign the posts with the classification of whether the author is displaying:  joy, trust, fear, surprise, disgust, anger, anticipation, sadness. With that level of understanding, we can then get a better understanding of our audiences and segment’s barriers and drivers to change, adoption.”

Getting Deep with Psychology

Preriit Souda, Director of Data Science and Strategic Insights at PSA Consultants, tells us that he is going to be focusing on expanding his understanding of the psychological reasons behind actions on social networks and digital media.

Why?  Because there are different motivations for online behaviours which can impact the volume and context of online interactions.  Or as Preriit explains:

one might see 100 retweets of a tweet but there can be several reasons for people retweeting that particular tweet. Without understanding the psychology behind it, one cannot claim their analysis to have much value”. 


Get Back to Basics

David Barrowcliff, Research Director at Newton Insight, says that taking your eye away from excellence in the basics of social listening shouldn’t be ignored.  Instead of focusing on the next big thing, David explains that:

“getting the basics of social listening right will have the quickest impact on meeting organisational expectations.”

He’s been involved in some very complex projects, but as David explains “the more complexity there is, the more we focus on making the project’s basic foundations as solid as possible”.  

The best projects are approached with an open mind and David warns:

“sometimes the questions you think are important aren’t so important to your audience”. 

Always start with a clear idea of the information you need and the reasons why you need it, but always watch out for new areas of inquiry and unexpected conversations which can tell you things you didn’t know.  To get back to basics with social data. David suggests ten things to look out for: 

Get the query right! Iterate. Refine. Clean. 

  1. 1. Go beyond reach metrics and look at engagement and loyalty metrics.
  2. 2. Don’t always focus on the spikes in data…sometimes the background noise can tell you a lot more.
  3. 3. Crossmatch data with other data silos in the organisation, e.g. sales, search, Google Analytics etc.
  4. 4. Don’t always stay in the social listening platform…take data out and manipulate it in innovative ways using other software.
  5. 5. Don’t get hung up on volume…it might be a small number of noisy people.
  6. 6. Don’t ignore forums. A lot of clean, meaningful data is located here.
  7. 7. Sample data and analyse offline if volumes are huge and topics/brands are ambiguous.
  8. 8. Remove query terms from tag clouds/topic maps!
  9. 9. Dig into the detail, but also step back and look at the big picture – are you seeing what you expected to see? If not, why not?

So, there you have it.  You need to balance getting the basics right while looking to see new applications for your social data.  


Supporting Social Data with Other Data Sources

Chase Buckle, Senior Trends Manager at GlobalWebIndex believes that 2019 should see more social listening professionals integrate other data sources into social data.  He explains:

“It’s imperative to use social listening in conjunction with other data sources. Whichever channel you may be engaging, survey data can provide a rich understanding of the world-views, motivations and interests of an audience by asking the users themselves who have opted-in.  This can add valuable context to give you a more holistic approach to your social listening analysis, providing insight on the what, the where, and most importantly the why.”


And finally, from me…


The Year We See Social Intelligence Grow Up

Me.  I’m Dr Jillian Ney, founder of The Social Intelligence Lab.  

I believe that the potential of social intelligence is vast, and widely publicised. Unfortunately, this has not always been realised. Poor selling, overpromising and underdelivering in the early days, a difficulty to understand the data and being led by old metrics are just a few of the issues surrounding the success of social intelligence initiatives.

However, we’re at an interesting point in the development of the industry, last year’s mergers and acquisitions show a change.  There’s been a rise in the number of enterprise level ‘social intelligence departments’ and a willingness for the industry to come together to learn and develop.

Change is happening.  Progress is being made.  Maturity is slowly being realised.  

Personally, I am contributing my time to champion the development of the industry into a recognised discipline.  I’d argue that 2019 is the year social intelligence grow’s up and we finally get some reasonable solutions to our challenges.  


Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

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Jillian Ney
Jillian Ney
I'm the founder of The Social Intelligence Lab. I champion the growth of the social intelligence industry by helping the professionals and businesses working in it to access best practice, accredited training and peer networking. After working in the industry for 12 years I believe social intelligence should become a recognised discipline - and, I'm working towards making that a reality. More content by

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