Intelligence People: Jeremy Hollow of Listen and Learn Research

This week, The Social Intelligence Lab meets Jeremy Hollow, Founder and MD of Listen and Learn Research


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

I started Listen + Learn back in 2011. This was when Social Listening was called Social Media Monitoring and research agencies found out about social by asking people how they used Facebook.

The exciting thing for us then (and still so much today) was that social created a completely new data source to help us understand people better. It showed people in their own words, expressing themselves without being asked or prompted. The challenge was that we needed a new set of insight tools, a new way of thinking and a bolder ambition to make the most of it.

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

Solider till age 11, then saw how big tanks really are (very big, very scary).  Then a barrister until about 15 (until I realised how smart you need to be). Then vaguely ‘something in business’. I wasn’t really sure what you could be going through university so fell into sales. I then slowly worked out what I was good at and what I sucked at as I went along.

But there’s always been this latent desire to start something, to make it grow. I was an entrepreneur without an idea for 20 years. Then I found my idea.

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

I think it’s really simple: it’s about a shift in focus of research from the organisation to the people.

When organisations do research it’s got them written all over it. They write, frame and sign off the survey, the topic guides, the stimulus. They decide what they’re interested in, then find the answer to it.

This is myopic. It assumes you know what you don’t know – and we know how rubbish we are at this.

Social is one of the few opportunities we have to see ourselves as others see us. To look at those parts of the human experience we know nothing about. To see the familiar with new eyes. To hear what people say about us when we’re not in the room (and asking all the questions).

What aspects of your work do you most enjoy?

Where to start!

I’m interested in virtually everything, so I love meeting clients and finding out what their challenges are. It’s great to hear where they are with on their journey with social data and how we can help them develop their capabilities and understanding.

As a business owner, it’s humbling to see the great people who have joined us. I think back to the work I did (mostly in my spare room) when we first started and contrast it to where we are now. It gives me a huge sense of achievement and excitement for what we can do next.

I think social data is a genuinely new phenomenon in consumer research. Most of the innovation in the sector is about new ways to do old things. Social is a different game altogether – it’s new data, not just new tools. I’m pretty competitive and love the challenge of being one of the first voices to sing the social insight song. The choir is growing but there’s a lot of work left to do.

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

The social intelligence/ insight world is very new and there’s a lot of confusion. The platforms make some big claims, which can then lead to a lot of frustration among end-users and practitioners of social data.

We’re working hard to show where the limits of the tech are and when human analysis needs to step in. From a consumer insight point of view, you need a lot more than the current suite of analytic tools can offer.

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

If they come from the right place, then no. Our work should be based on a moral and ethical stance. We’re working with observed data, so need to be mindful of privacy and consent.

What I’d love to see is a brighter light shone onto the world of data collection. It would be amazing if, in a few years, the listening tools were winning MRS research operations awards – for the quality of the data they provide.

At the moment, the way data is collected is too murky, too inconsistent and too error-prone. Big decisions are being made on data which, the provenance and quality of, is poorly understood. There are no tools in current platforms to help you understand how good that data actually is. This needs to change.

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

We don’t rely on automated tools. They’re too limited for the kind of deeper insight work we do. Always on the lookout for something that will genuinely help though!

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

Not sure yet. It would be great to see practitioners, agencies and platforms come together under the Social Intelligence Lab and see how that develops.

Name a book you would recommend to others.

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. In a world obsessed with life and living, it’s a book about death and how to start talking about it.

Name a social account that everyone should follow.

Daily Mash, in these exceptional times Satire could be our only saviour.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to follow you on social?

Ira Glass. His radio show and podcast (This American Life) has opened so many windows in my mind. I’d love to be telling stories that he’d want to hear.

Learn more about Listen+Learn Research on our Social Intelligence Marketplace.

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

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