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Interpreting Social Data
Social Media Research

6 of the Most Painful Lessons Social Data Pros Had to Learn the Hard Way

There’s no formal training when it comes to social media intelligence, we’ve all had to find our own approaches. Sometimes we don’t get them quite right, even the experts.  Here’s how you can learn from our mistakes…

No one likes to talk about the times they have failed at something or if an approach hasn’t quite worked out as expected.  But, these are important conversations to have, we can learn from mistakes.  So, we spoke to six brave social data pros who are keeping it real by telling us a time when they had to learn the hard way.

You Need to Get Your Ass Kicked in Meetings to Do Better

Jackie Cuyvers, CEO of Convosphere, makes an interesting point on how to grow as a social data analyst or researcher. She argues that you need to be in the client meets, and you need to get your ass kicked to be better at your job.

Developing actionable insights isn’t a simple or straightforward process – it’s a learned skill. Researchers new to social listening are able to share findings from the analysis but the difference between findings and insights is a large gap.

So many social insights reports aren’t really insights, they are a report of data.  There’s no ‘so what’? And, if you’re not in the client meeting to hear the questions they ask and get our ‘ass kicked’ then we’re likely to never grow into our roles.  Jackie says the only way to hone our skills is:

To present the work to the client and walk through it in person. What the researcher may think is interesting from a research or insights perspective may not be what the client needs to know. The difference between findings versus actionable insights becomes abundantly clear when you are getting grilled by your clients on the “so what.” Where they challenge you on how this information you are providing not just answers with their business question, but how is it relevant, how it can be actioned, what it means, and what use does it have and most importantly if they apply it – how it will impact their business. To learn and improve on your insights development skills, you’ve got to be put through the wringer. When you get a kicking from a client the difference between findings versus actionable insights quickly becomes clear.

So, the next time you get your ass kicked in a meeting, take notes on what you can learn from it for next time.  And, don’t dwell, we’ve all been there before!

 

Explaining That We Don’t Get All The Data

Prashant Saxena, Group Head of Social Media Insights at GroupM sometimes feels like the analysis is incomplete due only being able to access publically available data. And, having to educate clients on ‘private data’ limitations keeps that a constant reminder.

When you start extracting social data for the analysis, you will always find Twitter as the main source of conversations on social. And, this is not because people are discussing most about the brand/topic on Twitter, but that’s the only channel from where you can fetch complete data set, and rest of the social channels (Like Facebook, LinkedIn) have placed restrictions on its data availability.

This makes you feel that your analysis is incomplete especially when you know that Facebook has highest active user base.

While we can’t do much about this as we cannot access private data (although Join the Dots have developed interesting approaches to overcome social data analysis challenges), we have to clearly communicate this ‘Private data’ limitation to clients at the beginning of the project.  Prashant has found that:
The majority of clients do understand this limitation. We advise on analysing what is publically available and extract and analyse all comments under owned-brand content to understand user response.

 

Focus on Insights that Inform Strategies

For Jessica Thomas, founder of Ten Bear Social says that she had to learn not to go down the rabbit hole.

The power of social data is in finding that nugget of insight that was previously unknown but it can come at a cost – that cost is falling down the rabbit hole.

With such large quantities of data, the possible insights obtained through social listening often seem endless. It is therefore easy to get lost or find yourself off on a tangent, exploring every little nugget of wisdom. One of the fundamental lessons to learn is the ability to focus analysis on insights that will actually inform strategies and key decisions for that particular business. Don’t get lost down the rabbit hole!

To stop being led in multiple directions, focus on the question you are trying to answer and what the insight is going to be used for.  You’ll even stop yourself from ending up with insights reports that are too long!

When Natural Curiosity Causes Analysis Paralysis

Prashant Mistry, Analytics Director of AMV BBDO has learned that his natural curiosity can lead you astray if it’s not properly managed.  Like Jessica from Ten Bear Social, Prashant sees analysis paralysis as a very real thing.  Here’s Prashant’s story….

One of the primary traits to be able to successfully interpret and analyse social data is ‘curiosity’. In the world of social intelligence curiosity can lead you astray if it’s not managed well, and even worse when you’re a perfectionist (me). Due to the wealth of data and resources available to us it’s very easy to go off piste when you have exploratory briefs as there are so many rabbit holes that could be potential gold mines. When you are posed with options and decisions, it’s not uncommon to choose the wrong path or a dead end, where you might suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’ and tie yourself into knots in search of the ‘perfect insight’, and before you know it the deadline/budget is up.

Prashant says that while open brief questions like ‘explore insights related to brand X’ are slowly drying up in favour of more detailed and informative briefs, there is still some misunderstanding on how social data works and what is [and isn’t] possible.  He rightly argues:

Even though we live in a world full of automation, insight reports (unfortunately) cannot be produced from a click of a button, as there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, such as ensuring your pool of data is noise free. This is why it’s important to echo the fact that social data still requires human interpretation to build a concise narrative.

But don’t worry, Prashant has some solutions for stopping analysis paralysis:

  1. 1. Ask pointed questions, and tighten up the brief with relevant hypotheses.
  2. 2. Don’t overthink it, as long as what you’ve found is sensible, and ties back to the question/brief then you should be fine.
  3. 3. Set up some internal parameters around how much time you can actually afford to invest into something before you need to move on, and build in a buffer for check-ins ahead of delivery to ensure you’re aligned with early findings.
  4. 4. Be confident and ruthless when you make decisions when you get to those social data crossroads. This will help in avoiding potential dead ends and unnecessary rabbit holes.
  5. 5. Get a second opinion, it’s amazing how useful a fresh pair of eyes/ears can be for you”.

Walk the Client Through Your Methodology

James Tattersfield, MD of Polar Insight has learned to walk the client through the methodology you’re going to take to avoid confusion and set their expectations.  

When analysing social data is to ensure that you walk through the methodology you have taken with your client. It’s super important that they see the assumptions that have and haven’t been made along the way to reach the end results. To do this, we often use a decision tree style format and walk them through what we did at each stage.

Being able to do this takes confidence and confidence in the methodology that you have taken.  Practice taking colleagues through your research and develop a system for tracking what you have done at each stage, like James’s decision tree.

 

And finally, from me…

Breaking Bad News

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

I’ve found that breaking bad news sucks – at The Social Intelligence Lab, we call this the ugly baby.

No one wants to tell anyone they have an ugly baby but when you’re dealing with social data you just don’t know what you’re going to find.  Sometimes you need to break bad news and because we have the data to say that’s we’re right we tend to lack empathy in delivering the results.

We need to get better at framing bad news and focus on what can be done to solve the issues discussed.  We also need to tell the story so that the insights get out of the business silo we’re dealing with.  While your bad news might not help to sell more product, it needs to be understood to handle risk – the way you position this story is paramount to getting the insight to the right people.

 

Photo by KS KYUNG 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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