Social listening is widely accepted in the world of business as a way for companies to connect with their target audience and find out what that audience thinks about a given product, campaign or initiative.
It’s a process of watching hashtags, keywords and digital engagement to identify trending topics and monitor brand sentiment, and roughly 70% of local businesses use it to better understand their customer segments, according to a joint survey from the Atlanta Business Chronicle and marketing agency Brunner.
Increasingly, though, social listening isn’t enough. The process is evolving to a more advanced iteration known as social intelligence, said Katie Collins, a brand engagement manager at Brunner, which has offices in Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
“Social intelligence is using machine learning to analyze social data, and it’s using that data to answer some of marketing’s toughest questions: What are my consumers talking about? What do they care about? What are their expectations of me?” Collins explained.
Digital conversation, either through social media or websites, offers a trove of data for brands, which is why many Atlanta companies have embraced the potential of social listening — and why many social listening tools have emerged on the market.
“The biggest challenge for brands has been figuring out how to leverage that data,” Collins said.
That’s the benefit social intelligence provides: It allows for a deeper level of analysis and a more accurate interpretation of the available data, she added.
“Social intelligence can help bypass the time needed to develop third-party research. It helps take a deeper dive into customer behaviors and competitive intelligence. It’s good for market insight in terms of developing new brand positioning, and it could be used for product innovation. These are a few examples of the outputs that the inputted data could help to inform,” Collins explained.
Eric Perz, director of data science at Brunner, has seen that firsthand.
Perz conducted a social intelligence analysis for a company interested in protein bars and discovered that people tend to modify their protein bars to suit their particular tastes.
“Crumbling them over yogurt, heating them up in the microwave, chopping them up and eating them over the course of the day,” Perz recalled. “That’s something the brand didn’t realize was going on, and that has clear product development implications. We always find something interesting when we conduct a social intelligence analysis, even though we don’t often know what to expect when we start.”
Brunner conducted that analysis using an internal tool it created to tap the potential of social intelligence. It’s called ISACC, which stands for “Intelligent System Analysis of Consumer Content,” and it takes the next step in social listening by reading complete online conversations and interpreting meaning.
Take the word “hedge”, for instance, Perz said. That word can have a different meaning depending on the context of the words around it; a hedge fund is different from a hedge trimmer. The ISACC system can distinguish between the two uses to help companies hone in on only the most relevant content to their business or brand.
As another example, Perz worked on an influencer campaign that a hospital system launched to drum up awareness of postpartum depression.
“If you looked at social listening, it would have looked like a negative audience reaction. Those tools would have seen the online conversation as depressing and sad,” Perz explained. “But ISACC identified what it saw as a sub-strain of conversation among women looking for resources to help them deal with postpartum depression.”
That’s a conversation the hospital wanted to understand, Perz added. And if they were just looking for the chosen hashtag, the creative team would have come up short. Not everyone posts a hashtag or mentions the influencers directly.
“But we can identify the words or combinations of words that are closely tied to the campaign and associate them even if the hashtags aren’t there,” Perz said. “Our goal in this campaign was around awareness that postpartum depression is common and treatable, but also to generate patient volume for the hospital system, which it did.”
Generating those kinds of insights takes huge volumes of data, Perz said. He has run ISACC on more than 1 million posts and on text from more than 20,000 websites. So it’s not a perfect fit for every business.
But when it is put to use, social intelligence always produces something of value, he said.
“We’re always going to find some insights that can help with content creation and content management because we are interpreting the vernacular of the population, what they’re interested in,” Perz said.
“Social media is really that open forum. We’re not always sure how a consumer is going to respond or behave,” she said. “I think the opportunity and the challenge is how to use social data in the most effective way. Social intelligence can help answer that question.”
For your free copy of the Brunner 2019 Atlanta Marketing Report, visit go.brunnerworks.com/atlanta-business-chronicle and find out how Atlanta-area brands connect with their audience throughout the buying process — and where opportunities exist.