Intelligence People: Benjamin Duvall of Linkfluence

This week, The Social Intelligence Lab meets Benjamin Duvall, Chief Evangelist at Linkfluence

When did you first become involved in the ‘social intelligence’ sector? 

I got lost in China in 1998 and ended up founding an influencer marketing company in Shanghai in 2009, chasing the China dream and social media boom. After we realized we were 10 years too early, we pivoted to social listening, and this company is now part of Linkfluence, the leading global social intelligence company.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

At 5 years old wanted to be a “medical research scientist”, because I thought that was the right title for a person who invents cyborgs. Combining humans and machines is still my goal, I’m just taking my time, which is ok since I plan to live forever in a human-robot body.

What, in your opinion, are the key benefits of social data analysis for organisations?

Social intelligence gives brands the ability to understand what people want and how they behave, in near real-time, when it’s actionable, rather than 3 to 6 months later.
Since SI is still the new kid on the block, there’s a tremendous, rare window for those who adopt aggressively to leap-frog competition and make better, more relevant decisions, faster.
The HBR predicts that 60% of companies in the Fortune 500 won’t be there in 10 years, due to a failure to adapt to SI and other digital transformations. That means if you’re a big company, the benefit of using SI to understand consumers is that you’ll still exist – and if you’re not, you might get to take the place of one.

What aspects of your work do you most enjoy?

I enjoy hearing stories and telling them, and social intelligence is all about finding stories in data. Why are people doing what they’re doing? Why did a campaign succeed or fail? Which personalities are resounding with tribes of consumers, and why? Who are my tribes and how are they changing? Social intelligence is all about insight into people and culture, and that’s fun.

What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day work?

Time is short. I rarely find time to eat lunch, and it’s even harder finding the time help companies understand how to match social intelligence to their digital maturity, and not make the mistake of limiting SI to social media marketing.

Limiting the scope of SI can result in missed opportunities, like failing to see an unconventional but timely product, or misunderstanding a niche online group that has a disproportionately large voice and is driving brand perception.

For example, we work with brands using SI for straight-forward applications like improving campaigns and auditing cultural fit of influencers, but also apply SI to advanced use cases like tracking brand health across markets and tribes, or predicting new trending ingredients.

Data scales, so for us helping brands making the most of SI is not about upselling, it’s about creating long-term business. The incremental cost to roll out across functions, cases, and teams is very little.

Are you worried about regulatory restrictions impacting on your work in the future?

The social media intelligence industry benefits from strong regulation. When people trust social networks and other forums, and have confidence that what they share is protected, they’ll share more spontaneously and authentically. Regulation to strengthen consumer privacy and data protection is key to the future of social media and social intelligence.

Which social data analysis tools do you use? Do you have a favourite?

I use Radarly and Search (Linkfluence’s tools), and also work closely with our analysts who use the tool for brand equity, trends, consumer segmentation, and influencer research. When researching, I spend about 80% of the time in the tool and 20% talking to researchers who have the cultural and industry context I might not, and that balance is key.

Do you think the ‘social intelligence’ community needs its own professional body?

Traditional research is a multi-billion dollar industry that not going to disrupt itself, especially when many of the big research houses now offering SI are unwilling to cannibalize their own old-school question-based research. In light of this industry stagnation, a professional body for SI can provide exposure and vision, and collectively push the possibilities of AI.

Name a book you would recommend to others.

The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. LeGuin, is my favorite science fiction book, but more relevant to research, check out “Superforecasting” by Tetlock and Gardner.

Name a social account that everyone should follow.

@profgalloway for Scott Galloway’s excellent steam of irreverent truth and humor or @DrJillianNey for a close second best.

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Michael Feeley
Michael Feeley
Michael Feeley is Editor of The Social Intelligence Lab. More content by

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