Social Listening – How do you hear what’s not being said? 

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

by | 27 Apr, 2022 | Untapped Thinking

David Oglivy, research and marketing guru from the 1960s wrote: 

The problem with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.

At Untapped, we often talk about how the most powerful insights often come from what your user is NOT saying to you directly.  These unarticulated insights are much closer to the true motivations and drivers that govern your user’s actions and decisions.  

In qualitative research, we use 2 main tools for this:

  1. Observation – what are your users actually doing as opposed to say that they are doing?
  2. Projection techniques – that take users beyond the category/task/product to release deeper feelings and thoughts.

Tools like video-enabled research panels (e.g. Indeemo or Further) let you build these approaches into your research to uncover more meaningful and powerful insights

Social Listening

In the past few years, social listening has played an increasing role to augment qualitative research to hear authentic consumer voices.  An additional advantage is the sheer scale of data meaning you can pick up on emerging language, trends and sentiment around a category, product or service.

But unlike in qualitative research, where you can prompt and ask questions, listening to social data relies on what consumer are spontaneously posting.  That’s all good if your target consumer is very active on social media and/or is really passionate about your category (enough to post about it).  But what happens if your target is somewhat disengaged and may not be posting directly about the specific topic you want to explore? 

Is social listening still a useful insight tool in these cases?

At Untapped, we recently encountered this challenge.  We knew that our target consumer was experiencing and managing around pain points within the category.  But we also knew that they are de-motivated about the category and therefore won’t be the loudest voices “shouting” on social media.  We wanted to find out if we could still get insights around our target user using the social media tool.

Working with our expert associates (PSA consultants), we were able to crawl, mine and analyse deeper content that shone a light on these “disenchanted” consumers and learnt 3 valuable tips along the way.

Listen for “indirect” conversations associated with the topic.

Start by listening to direct conversations about the pain points related to the product or category.  But then go deeper – make a list of “associated” topics that may be discussed indirectly, together with compensatory behaviours that will provide a clue that you are listening to those who are quietly dealing with frustrations.  The consumer who’s disenchanted with hair colouring for example may not directly post about fade and hair condition, but instead may comment that they are washing hair less frequently (to prevent fade), doing more root touch-up, wearing hats in the sun or using additional conditioning products. 

Dig into product reviews

Disenchanted consumers may not be engaged enough to post spontaneously on your topic/category, but may feel more motivated to review a product.  Hidden pain points crop up all over product reviews (good and bad), so dig beyond the star rating to analyse what they’re telling you about your category in their reviews.

De-code imagery

Image analytics have come a long way and it’s now possible to decode images, photos, memes, emojis.  Look for images related to your product or key brands or the benefit (e.g. beautiful hair colour) and dig into the emotion and sentiment as well as the image content to uncover those deeper feelings related to the product as well as category standards of excellence.

We would always recommend qualitative research as the primary tool for unearthing these unarticulated insights.  But carefully designed social listening research using the tips above, can add to the picture of what consumers are thinking and feeling beyond just what they say directly.  

And to really power up the insights, we use qualitative and social data in combination with cultural and semiotic analysis to reveal the category trends and cultural forces that will be quietly influencing even your most disengaged consumer.

Together these tools can help you to get closer to what consumers really think, feel and do.  If you’d like to know more about how we bring these research tools together for powerful insights, contact us here.

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