Transform Your Market Research With Social Conversation Analysis

Jason Falls, Founder and Partner of the Conversation Research Institute, joins the Social Pros Podcast to outline the differences between social listening and conversation research and how one of them will revolutionize your marketing strategy.

In This Episode:


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Full Episode Details

The Difference Between Conversation and Context

Social listening software is the latest hot tool for social marketers to measure the effectiveness of their strategy. It provides data on keywords and how often your business name is mentioned.

Sounds great, right?

Well, as Jason points out, you are missing a key piece of information with these tools: the context. Are your customers happy or do you sense sarcasm in their response? More importantly, what conversations are they having about your general field that could impact your success within the market?

Understanding the broader context of conversations your customers are having in, on, and around your business provides a deeper level of knowledge that can truly revolutionize your business strategy. Jason’s experience in social conversation research has shown him the power of context in applying social listening data.

By knowing what is going on around keywords, you can provide customers with things they (and your competitors) didn’t even know they wanted.

In This Episode

  • Why finding the right social platform for your brand means understanding the audience of each platform and how it fits with your product
  • How looking at the context, not the brand, leads to deeper and more insightful consumer research
  • Why the rise in stories as social conversations means a decrease in the effectiveness of social listening tools
  • How conversation research leads to data that makes a difference

Quotes From This Episode

“The social listening platforms that are out there do a really good job of counting key words for you, but they don’t analyze the context of the conversations.” —@JasonFalls

We are long past the days where social media is a young person's game. Click To Tweet

“Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla in the conversation sphere and you just simply can’t get the lion’s share of it.” —@JasonFalls

“When you broaden your perspective and look at the broader conversation about your category or a given topic in your category, that’s when you start to get really smart.” —@JasonFalls

There's far more than just marketing insights that can come out of conversation research. Click To Tweet

“Keywords are useful to a degree, but many people have been misled to believe that the word cloud is a topic cloud.” —@JasonFalls

“The frustration most brands have with social listening software is they can’t decipher signal from the noise.” —@JasonFalls


See you next week!

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Episode Transcript

Jay: Welcome, everybody, to Social Pros! The podcast for real people doing real work in social media. I am, as always, Jay Baer from Convince and Convert, joined as usual by my special Texas friend. He is the executive strategist of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. He is in Austin, Texas. He is your friend, my friend, everybody's friend, the one, the only Mr. Adam Brown.
Adam: Hey, Jay! It is great to be here! You know, I just realized something as you were doing that open. You always discuss where I am, here in the great state of Texas, specifically Austin, Texas. But we never talk about where you are as you record this particular-
Jay: I'm trying to not get all my shit stolen, that's why! I mean, I don't want people to know where I am!
Adam: I'm not asking for a zip code or a-
Jay: Not a longitude coordinates?
Adam: Where are you?
Jay: I am in Unionville, Indiana today, just outside my home town of Bloomington. The family and I moved to the lake for the summer, so we are out here at the lake house all summer, which has been great. After I close up shop for the day we can jump on the boat and tool around and all that. It's been fantastic. A little more family time and getting a little aqueous and it's been terrific.
Adam: You don't have to do your check ins with your parole officer, too, so I mean, it's-
Jay: That's right, I'm outside the county. Yeah, I'm outside the county, which I probably shouldn't be. Speaking of somebody who probably could visit a parole officer, that is the reason why we have our special guests on the program today. One of our very few repeat guests on the show. Adam, as you know, I think we've only had ... I bet you it's not five repeat guests in the history of the show. Here we are on episode 279, ladies and gentlemen, of Social Pros. 279. This gentleman was originally on episode 14.
Jason: Did you know that off the top of your head or did you research that?
Jay: I had to look it up. I had to look it up in the database. I knew it was a while ago, I didn't know it was that early. I'm sure the show is maybe a little better 265 episodes later, and probably five co-hosts. I am delighted to have back on Social Pros, a man who needs no introduction, but I will give him one anyway. He is now the chief instigator of the Conversation Research Institute, two time best selling author, speaker, a fantastically smart and exceedingly entertaining individual, my friend Jason Falls.
Jason: Hi there everybody. Thanks for having me back guys!
Jay: Yeah, we figured every five years we'd give you a shout and here we are.
Jason: That's typically how long my paroles last, so that's good.
Jay: Nice. Let's see, you are out on parole, back on Social Pros. Let's talk about the Conversation Research Institute. What does it do?
Jason: If you think about traditional market research, trying to find insights about your customers, you typically think of survey and focus groups. There's lots of great value to be had in that approach to market research. But what I've been doing behind the scenes for the better part of six or seven years, which I've now turned into a service that the Conversation Research Institute provides for brands and agencies is we actually tap into the world's largest focus group, that being conversations on social media, to try to uncover insights that can help you understand your customers better, understand the marketplace better, position your product better, or just mine and cultivate what your customers are saying about how they use your product, how they use your competitors, etc. Going deeper than social listening, which I think is a very superficial look at what's being said out there, and actually trying to analyze and understand those conversations to make smarter business and marketing decisions.
Jay: You've been interested in this topic and this kind of work for a long time. Now you have an entire research institute devoted to this topic. What has changed since you first started to do this kind of conversation research versus today? Is it a more mature industry? Is it still immature? Do you feel like brands and agencies are more receptive to this kind of market research compared to where they were a few years ago?
Jason: Well, I don't think much has changed because I don't think there's been a great deal of work or innovation in the area. I've been doing it behind the scenes for clients at the various brands and agencies that I've worked with over the course of the last five or six years. I don't know very many people out there who are offering deep conversation research as a service or a product. The social listening platforms that are out there do a really good job of counting key words for you, but they don't really analyze what the context of the conversations are. You almost have to have human eyeballs on the conversation to be able to do that. What you're seeing out there from brands is they don't understand that they can get more out of social media from a consumer insights or a research perspective because they've been using social listening tools now for let's say ten years, and it's just "Oh look how many people said the word 'poop' this month. That's great. That doesn't really tell me anything." What I try to do is go in and say "Hey, when people mention your products, 17% of them say that they are intending to purchase the product and of those 17%, 64% wind up saying that they've changed their mind because a competitor had a better selling proposition." I try to actually get into the weeds of the conversation and find out where the problems are and where the opportunities are, whereas a social listening software, which is really just an algorithm that runs on what's out there, counts things and puts them in pretty charts and graphs. Having that analyst go into the conversation and look at it is something that I don't think most brands or agencies are used to having as an option, and so not very many of them have taken advantage of it. There also, certainly I think, is the problem that I don't know that there's a lot of people out there doing it. I know some of the social listening platforms have analyst teams and there are some larger agencies that have data analysts on staff that will dive into conversation research. But it's very intimidating data set to dive into because it's unstructured. It's not organized and it's very time consuming and laborious to try to mine through and find out what people are saying.
Jay: Is this something that an individual brand or a social media practitioner, a Social Pros listener, could in theory do themselves if they put the time into it and knew how or is it the type of research that you know what, you probably ought to use a professional who really focuses on this kind of work?
Jason: Well, I absolutely thing that any Social Pro out there could certainly do this in theory. I'm sure that I could help someone figure out how to do it in practice as well, especially if you're focused on one brand. Once you get the initial research done, you know what to look for, you can make your Boolean searches in your social listening platform. Tweak them so that they're delivering good results. None of them really deliver great results. Then you take those good results and take the time to go through and whittle out what you really need to be able to understand. I definitely think Social Pros can, in theory, do it on their own. The sad fact, though, is that you're talking human analysis here, so if someone has an already packed 40, 50, 60 hour week worth of work, conversation research is basically going to add hours of time to their docket of things to do. It's not something you can just print out a report out of a software package and say "Okay, I'm done." The whole philosophy of conversation research versus social listening is take the superficial layer of data analysis that a social listening platform gives you, take the data set that it gives you, and actually dive into it using human eyeballs. It's not something that can be done quickly, and therefore you're gonna add a lot of volume to it, which is where someone like me or the Conversation Research can come into play.
Jay: One of the things that you mentioned about is that you are using LinkedIn and Facebook most particularly in generating leads and awareness for the Conversation Research Institute. I found that interesting, because you and I came up around the same time in the social media industry. In fact, ladies and gentleman, a quick digression if you'll permit me to do so here on my show. Jason Falls was the first person in the history of social media who had any sort of audience or reach who ever tweeted a blog post that I have ever written, so in large measure, my career is due to Jason Falls recognizing that I had something worthwhile to say and I will be forever grateful, my friend.
Jason: I'm still waiting on my commission check.
Jay: One of these days it's going to be in the mail. Yeah. Confederate currency. But the reason I bring that up is that you and I sort of made our bones on Twitter. I think it's safe to say Twitter plus blog equals what minor recognition you and I have. But yet you were saying quite clearly that today you are using LinkedIn and Facebook as the primary ways to generate customers and leads and awareness for your new project, the Conversation Research Institute. What about Twitter? You just feel like it's died on the vine and I find that even more interesting because isn't most of the data, or at least a lot of the data, that you have access to as a conversation researcher, Twitter based data?
Jason: Yeah, that's very true. I'll attack it from the front going toward the back. The first question is "Why Facebook and LinkedIn?" I have found that Facebook and LinkedIn to be better venues to market and promote the Conversation Research Institute for two reasons. LinkedIn primarily because we're a B2B company. We're going to sell things to agencies and or brands. We're not necessarily selling to consumers. Being able to participate in discussions where agencies and brands are engaged more, which LinkedIn is a much more compelling network for that type of conversation. Putting posts out there, not just on my personal LinkedIn feed, but also within the Conversation Research Institute's brand page, gives us exposure to an audience that has just a little bit more of a business mind and bend. Facebook has become a good venue for us to drive exposure awareness and potential leads because we're able to target better with paid promotions. We're able to make sure that our message is appearing in front of brand managers, marketing managers, potentially account executives at agencies, research managers, the types of folks who would understand what social listening is and who would understand potentially the benefits of conversation research as a market research tool. We don't spend a great deal of time on Facebook or LinkedIn, but we certainly share content there. There's some thought leadership pieces out there. But they have lead people to understand and know who we are and have opened the door to those conversations. The second part about that particular question is what do I think of Twitter. I think Twitter is still a fantastic place for exposure. It's a great place to drive links and drive some broad awareness. But I think Twitter for most people now is a very fast, superficial, attention deficit disorder place to be, whereas on Facebook especially, but I think also on LinkedIn too, you get into more deep discussions. We're not an easy product to describe nor is it easy for us to describe the solution that we provide for people. We need a deeper discussion rather than a back and forth at 140 characters.
Jay: One of the projects that I know you have worked on recently is some interesting analysis and discovery for the senior living industry, mining conversations about senior living to uncover some truths and opportunities that perhaps they have not picked up on previously. Can you describe that work a little bit and also I'd love for you to mention how this makes sense, because when you say "Senior living industry plus social media conversations," that may not make as much intuitive sense as perhaps it does.
Jason: Sure. We published our first industry report as Conversation Research Institute in February and it was about the senior living, senior care space. To your point on that question, you don't think of senior living, senior care, as active in social media. It's not the brands that we study when we're studying the marketplace when we're doing an industry report, it's the consumer conversation, because that's ultimately what we deliver is consumer insights. We did some initial research to find out from talking to people within the senior care space the primary customer in the senior living space. Someone who is going to be the purchase person for a nursing home care, long term care facility, assisted living, or independent living facility is typically the oldest adult child or the oldest female adult child, to be more specific, of the patient in question. It's typically not the actual elderly person who chooses their care, because in many instances, but not all instances, that person is incapacitated, ill, etc. It's typically the oldest adult female child. We know that there are plenty of social media conversations out there, not only of older Americans, but certainly sort of that middle aged tier of folks, people who are in their forties and fifties who are deciding for the care of an older loved one. They're having conversations on social media, too. We are long past the days where this is a young person's game. We launched into analysis of any conversation online that would mention one of these types of care facilities and try to figure out okay, do people go online and talk about this? If so, at what point in the buyer journey do they go online and talk about this and then what do they say? The report's about 80 or so pages. It's pretty in depth. Lots of insights and information that breaks down the conversation about senior care consumers and maps out the buyer journey. We've discovered that the point of realization that their parent is going to need some sort of care outside of the home is the first point when people turn to social media and say "I think I'm gonna need some sort of care for my mother or my father. What do I do?" When they actually decide that they have to start selecting a facility and shopping is a second point. When they actually enroll the parent is a third point. Dealing with the facility after they have enrolled the parent or grandparent is kind of a fourth point in the buyer journey. Then there's a sort of asterisk fifth point, which is opportunity for change. Maybe the health of the patient improves or it declines, they have to move to a different facility. We actually mapped out the buyer journey and the insights that we were able to put out of those instances when the customer goes online and looks for feedback, looks for information, or even just vents frustration, turns around some pretty interesting insights to the brands that are in the senior care space so that they can understand their customers better so that they can design better messaging, better targeting, better products, better services.
Jay: Jason, there were a couple of fascinating things you just said in that example for the senior living industry. I want to take two of them and have you elaborate a little bit further. I'm curious whether those conversations around caregivers and family members who are looking or in that consideration funnel, if you will, for senior care, for a family member or someone like that, are those types of conversations taking place on the big three of Facebook and Twitter or is it taking place in very specific and targeted forums, message boards, communities, etc?
Jason: You nailed it. It's forums and message boards. The health care conversation is deeply personal. It is not a short, as I was saying earlier, it's not a 140 character conversation. It's one where you want to go back and forth with people who are of like mind or have some sort of expertise or experience. You're going to go to a forum or a message board. I can't remember the number off the top of my head but I want to say something like 65-75% of all the conversations we found were on forums and message boards, which leads to a really interesting insight for the brands in question. If I am the senior marketing manager for an assisted living facility, I'm not gonna worry so much about participating on Twitter conversations or Facebook conversations or LinkedIn conversations. I'm going to maintain those brand presences on those networks, certainly, but I'm gonna spend my time actually going into forums and message boards on sites like and try to see what potential customers are asking, what they're saying, are there any in my geographic footprint that I could say "Hey, I can help you, I'm in your neighborhood. We might be a good option for you." It really changes the way you think about social media when you think forums and message boards first. I found that in other industries as well. When there's a longer buying process, when there's a high price tag on the final product, the majority of your conversations tend to shift to those more in depth opportunities and networks.
Adam: I think that's such an important point. I know in Jay's book "Hug Your Haters" he also talks about this. One of the things when I talk to customers around Salesforce Social Studio is it's so easy to kind of get a false sense of security if you're thinking that social listening and that's, again, as you articulated Jason, different than conversation listening and conversations research, is not just Facebook and Twitter. You've gotta look at those millions, if not billions, of communities and message boards, and I think you really articulated that.
Jason: Sure. One other thing I need to throw in here, cause Jay mentioned it earlier. He was right in asserting that the lion share of what you do find in conversations as a broad statement does come from Twitter. It's because Twitter has so many users and is basically a public sort of open network and can be indexed, so as long as you don't have your account set to private I can mine the insights from any Twitter feed. Facebook, however, is a private network, and despite what people may have in mind as a stereotype about how Facebook approaches consumer privacy, they don't allow folks like me or the social listening platforms to go and read your Facebook pages, your Facebook posts. The only thing that's available in social listening platforms for people like me or social media analysts out there to look at from Facebook are public Facebook groups or brand pages. Anything that an individual user goes and posts on their timeline talking to their friends and followers we don't see. We've done some testing to find out how much of the conversation are we missing because we can't get to Facebook and I think we've done seven or eight different sort of benchmark tests against known quantities of conversation on Twitter and whatnot versus what we can find using Facebook topic data, which is not quite perfect. The best correlations that we have done over the course of six or eight different examples, we estimate that we are missing at least 60% of the conversation at any given time by not being able to index Facebook. Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla in the conversation sphere and you just simply can't get to the lion share of it. What we have to say when we're analyzing conversations for people is "Look, Facebook is just off limits. Nobody can get to it. It's not something that a competitor will be able to do. No one can do it." Until Facebook says "Okay, pay us a fee and we'll let you analyze those," nobody can do it. What we're giving you is an analysis of everything else. Anything that's public and indexable we can analyze.
Adam: Yeah, it is a log garden. The only real way you can kind of get in there, as you said, is the public posts, either that you flagged as public or on a, as you said, a brand page. It's gonna be very interesting to see how Facebook moves forward. Certainly they're letting advertisers go in and do some keyword buying and lookalike audiences and things like that, but again, very different than the fire hose, if you will, we get from Twitter and other social providers. I want to kind of go to one other interesting thing that you mentioned, Jason, when you were talking about the senior living project. You mentioned that, in this case, you really weren't looking about conversations around specific brands initially, you were more topical. I'm curious; are people talking about brands more or less than they were a few years ago? I think we're certainly seeing a trend towards a lot of brand, customer service type conversations, as you mentioned, on Twitter. But are people talking around those types of things and mentioning brands more or less than they used to?
Jason: Well, I think it depends on the industry. Here's a stunner for you. In all of the conversations we found about the senior living, senior care space, I think the final tally after we weeded out the irrelevant non-consumer posts was about 1200 conversations over the course of a year, which is a really nice sample size when you get down to we got rid of everything other than an actual customer/consumer talking about the process. 1200 over the course of a year is a really good sample size for that type of thing. In those 1200 conversations, there were exactly two brand mentions. Two. Not 20, not 200. There were two. In that particular space, in the senior living space, people do not talk about brands. They don't talk about brand names. They don't talk about Brookfield or Atria. They talk about nursing home or assisted living facility or someplace to enroll my mother. They don't talk about a brand. There's very poor brand recall, brand recognition, among that buyer set, at least with regard to the online conversation. Now, if you surveyed them during the process and they know where they're going they may be able to recall it a little bit better. But again, in conversation research you're not asking questions. You're a fly on the wall listening to what they just naturally say. The context is a little different. But at the same time, in that particular area, they're not talking about brands at all. However, when you look at automotive, when you look at dining and food, when you look at fashion, those are very brand centric industries and the conversation almost starts with the brand at that point. People don't just say "I'm going out to dinner." They say "I'm going out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory" or wherever it is they're going. It depends on the industry. It depends on what you're looking at. One thing I will say, because this is a really good point I think to interject this: When I'm talking to agencies or brands about using conversation research, we are still at a very immature stage where they will say "Well, we want you to study everything people are saying about our brand." Let's take The Cheesecake Factory as a for example. If I were working with their marketing team, they would say "We want to know every time someone talks about The Cheesecake Factory, what are they saying?" That's a brand audit and it's very useful and we do them. We do them frequently and we're very good at them and we can give you all sorts of insights about the audience when they're talking about you. But I think a more important thing to consider and something that I don't think we've reached a maturity level in the industry among marketers is they never say things that I think are smart like "I don't really want to know as much about what they say about me as what they say about going to dinner, as what they say about dining out, as what they say about healthy food options, as what they say about dessert." Cheesecake in general, not just The Cheesecake Factory, right? When you broaden your perspective and you pull back and look at the broader conversation about your category or about a given topic in your category, that's when you start to get really smart because you're not just looking at the conversation about you, you're looking at the conversation. That gives you a heck of a lot more insights into what customers are thinking, especially those customers who aren't necessarily shopping with you.
Adam: It certainly does. I would like to say there's this kind of three rings on social listening, as you articulated. First, okay, let's see what people are saying about Cheesecake Factory. Second rung is okay, what are people saying about my competitors, whether it's Grady's or Maggiano's or Mozzarella Grill, whatever that happens. And the third as you said, it's topical. It's category. Going out to eat. Favorite menu items. Those types of things. I think that's one of the reasons, Jason, why having an expert like you involved is so critical. That's kind of a tee up to my last question before I hand it back over to Jay. I think with social media overall, one of the things that social media practitioners have really been adamant about is what I call embedding social media into the fabric of the organization. Going away from having this social team that is the gate keeper and the only people listening to social, the only people publishing, really empowering the rest of the organization to do that. Are you seeing the same trend with conversation research, market research, customer research? I would think that that would be a challenge, because as we've been kind of talking here, there's so many little pieces and nuggets of wisdom that a lay person who maybe doesn't do conversation or market or communications research is going to miss.
Jason: Yeah, and I think what our job in counseling our customers and our clients is to say "Look, here are all of the things that we found. Here are the things that are relevant to marketing," which is typically who we talk to. We've talked to some senior level folks from a strategy perspective as well on product positioning and whatnot, but our job is to go back and say "Here's what we found. Here's what's relevant to marketing. But hey, here's what's relevant to your supply chain. Here's what's relevant to your product team. Here's what's relevant to your customer service folks." We try to help them understand that there's far more than just marketing insights that can come out of this. A perfect example that I love sharing, and one of these days I'm gonna get a cease and desist letter on this, which is fantastic. I'm kinda looking forward to that.
Jay: Well, it goes to your probation.
Jason: Absolutely. We did analysis of Dirt Devil vacuums, not because Dirt Devil hired us. We did it because Dirt Devil vacuums would be an easier brand to disambiguate from other things. We just wanted to do an example of a consumer brand and say "Hey, here's what we've learned about Dirt Devil." One of the things that we found out when we were analyzing conversations about Dirt Devil vacuums is when you analyze the conversations and you score them by use case, so when people mention Dirt Devil, what are they using it for? Obviously things like pet hair and hair and college dorm rooms and hardwood floors and things like that pop up. But I think it was the fifth most concentrated volume of conversation around use case for Dirt Devil vacuums was focused on a fan for blacksmithing. We were like "What the hell does that mean?" If you are a blacksmith, and apparently there are still a few of those left out there, whether they're hobbyists or actually professionals I have no roughly idea. We didn't do a lot of research into that particular category. But if you are blacksmithing and you are working with hot metal, you need a fan to constantly blow on the metal to keep it hot, to keep the embers hot. What blacksmiths apparently do and go online and talk about is hacking a Dirt Devil hand vac to use the fan and the motor to keep that flow of air going on the subject that they're working with. How brilliant would that be if that conversation research were done by or taken by Dirt Devil and they turned around and said "We need to start manufacturing blacksmithing fans." That's an interesting niche segment that we could show that we're responsive to our audience and what they're saying. We found out that they're saying that they hack our product to use it for this, so we're just gonna work with them and figure out how to make one that actually works and is built for that reason so that we can sort of own that market. I mean, that's a new product. It may not be bazillions of dollars for Dirt Devil, but at the same time, what a great case study that would be if they responded to that and started making a product custom specific for that and served that audience in a very relevant way. I think that would be fantastic.
Jay: They could do a whole line for smithing, for haberdashers, the whole industry.
Jason: Absolutely.
Jay: I'm gonna do a quick acknowledgement of our sponsors and then I'm gonna ask you some quick fire questions. We've never done it on this show before but I'm going to start with you.
Jason: Oh, that's great.
Jay: I know. It's a new segment. I just invented it while you were talking. This week's show is brought to you by our friends at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, who in addition to employing Adam, also have a fantastic new E-book that I think all of us should actually download and read. It's called "More than Marketing: Exploring the 5 Roles of the New Marketer." It breaks down the five new essential marketing skills that we all need to have. There's interviews in there, there's stories, there's some cool interactive features too to let you know whether or not you already have these skills or whether you're missing them dramatically. A lot of immediately actionable steps for you to think about in your own career trajectory. Check it out. Go to That's Also this week I wanted to remind you of the brand new E-book that my team and I, Convince and Convert, just published, called "The 3 Types of Social Media Metrics (and Why They'll Get You Promoted)," all about how to measure your social media more effectively, which is a topic of some importance these days. You can get it for free. All we ask for is your e-mail address. Go to slash the number three social metrics. Jason, I'm going to say a series of words and I just want you to respond with your immediate one or two word reaction, okay?
Adam: Great.
Jason: And profanity is permitted, right?
Jay: Well, I mean, we'll get the explicit tag on iTunes, we'll see what happens.
Jason: Okay.
Jay: Word clouds.
Jason: Waste of time.
Jay: Sentiment score.
Jason: Completely inaccurate.
Jay: Emojis in social conversations.
Jason: Interesting but problematic.
Jay: Stories as a form of social conversation.
Jason: Ideal.
Jay: Let's talk about that last one. It seems to me that as more and more people use Facebook stories, Instagram stories, Snapchat stories, you see people say "What's next, Excel stories?" That becomes exceedingly difficult for you to ferret out from a conversation research perspective. Very compelling. You see some brands doing stories as well. Pretty good at Snapchat and Instagram. Where does that lead the conversation research industry? Does it mean that more and more chatter gets behind that wall that we talked about earlier?
Jason: Well, there's a couple things that I immediately think of. First of all, it's far more challenging from a research perspective to index, catalog, and understand disparate posts that are strung together because the way that social listening tools work now is they just deliver you posts. The posts are disconnected. It's just hey, here's the series of posts. Here's the timestamp on the post. Here's the comments and whatnot that are associated with it. It may offer you up, well, there was a link in this post to another post. But it doesn't show hey here's the series of posts about this one topic. That's the one thing that goes back to my answer on tag clouds, word clouds, is when you look in a social listening software at a word cloud, what you're seeing is a grid of the software's ability to count keywords. Keywords are useful to a degree, but what many people have been misled to believe is that that word cloud is a topic cloud. That word cloud has nothing to do with the topics that people are talking about. It only has something to do with the topics if the topic in question, let's say customer service, is a phrase that is repeated in that conversation over and over again. But what we've learned in really analyzing and understanding conversations is that when people are talking about customer service, they use a billion different permutations to describe what customer service is. It might be crappy service. It might be customer service. It might be the waitress was terrible, the waiter was terrible, the staff was terrible, etc. Stories are problematic from a research perspective because the software is not smart enough to group and string posts together, and it's certainly not smart enough, even though it's been reported to be smart enough, to tell you what the topic of a given post or a given set of posts is. That's why you need human analysis at this point. As artificial intelligence and the algorithms get smarter, my hope is that the human analysis need becomes less and less. But right now I'm not seeing it. I'm not seeing it to the degree of when I do a search for a given brand, just a brand name, in the advanced social listening softwares that costs thousands of dollars a month to subscribe to, I'm getting about 10% at best of the results that I get back are relevant to me. The rest of it is spam, crazy mentions, just stuff that's not consumer conversations. Stuff that's just noise. I think that's the frustration most brands have with social listening software is they can't decipher signal from the noise. That's why you need human analysis on it. Stories poses a huge problem because there's lots of other problems the social listening software is not solving. But, from the marketer's side of the aisle, remember I'm not just a researcher. In fact, I wouldn't even really say that I'm qualified to call myself a researcher or a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a marketer. From a marketing perspective, stories are ideal. It's the way it should be. We should be telling stories and bringing our customers along on a narrative path to some greater insight or resolution or persuasive point to convert them to a customer. Being able to translate that ideal into how do you quantify it, how do you measure it, how do you measure its impact, is a challenge that we're going to be figuring out over the course of probably the next 10 or 15 years or so.
Adam: Jason, I think you have such an interesting vantage point on this from where you sit and the work that you do with marketers, with communicators, with brands. I'm curious with what you've kind of said around social listening and that balance of the art and the science of it, do you have to sometimes push back on your clients and say "Listen, this is not what the data is showing." It's very easy to kind of look at a social listening snapshot and it's the kind of, since Jay already did this psychology quick take, I'll kind of make my analogy. It's almost like a Rorschach. You can kind of see whatever you want to see in a word cloud. How do you articulate that to customers and say "Listen, here's maybe what it looks like on the surface, but really here's what's meaningful and here's what you need to discount in terms of how you make decisions based upon this data."
Jason: Yeah. Really what I have to do is I have to, if they disagree or they say "Oh, this word is really big in that word cloud so lets focus on that," is I just have to dig in and show them. It's really kind of ironic and funny on one hand but sad on another. Typically, the marketer who fixates on something like the big, bold word in a word cloud, they never actually click on it. In most of these softwares, if you click on it and then open up the stream so that you can see the actual posts that make up that word cloud count, you'll see, lets say the word "customer service" is what you click on. You open it up and maybe 10%, 20% of the posts that you see are gonna be relevant, right? It's someone off-handedly saying the words "customer" and "service" in some regard, but not necessarily to say the customer service at this particular service is good or bad. You have to kind of hold their hand and show them. Let's drill in to what you think is fascinating and let me show you why it's not, and then after I've gone through and done all this analysis of the data, let me show you what is fascinating. Because I can tell you, I can actually go through and tell you exactly how many posts, after I've done my analysis, exactly how many posts are about customer service and then I can break that customer service down into subcategories to show you this is customer service inquiries about your product versus customer service inquiries about your staff or the experience of dealing with your company or customer service inquiries asking how to do something with your product or customer service inquiries about wanting to return a product. Now I can break that topic down into categories that are actionable for you to understand holy crap, let's break down the returns and see what products are being returned and why and with what frequency so that we can understand where we have problems in our product and in the delivery of a good product that our customers can use. You can focus on tag clouds and big words on the screen on a chart or a graph all you want. I'm going to break it down and make it make sense to you so that you can turn around to some member of your team and say "Take this information and go forth and improve what we're doing."
Jay: Well, and ultimately that's what we're really trying to get at, right, is actionable data, not just data for data's sake.
Jason: There you go.
Jay: Congratulations on the Conversation Research Institute. Fascinating work that you're doing. Keep fighting the good fight. Gonna close out today's show by asking you the two questions that we've asked every guest on this show, now episode 279. First question, Jason: What one tip would you give somebody who's looking to become a Social Pro?
Jason: Focus on your goals, and preferably the overall goals of the business. I think too many Social Pros are focused on building fans and followers or engaging their audience or whatever, and all that's great, it's all part of it. But if you are not doing what you do as a Social Pro with the business objective or business objectives in mind of the company you're doing it for, then you're gonna get lost along the way. Focus on your goals.
Jay: Last question for Jason Falls, Conversation Research Institute: If you could do a Skype call with any living person, who would it be and why?
Jason: Oh man. How did I answer this on episode 14?
Jay: I don't know. I'd have to check the database.
Jason: You know, I think if I could do a Skype call with any person right now ... My goodness, that's a great question. Kind of my default, the person that most fascinates me in life, is Robert De Niro. I've always been a huge fan of his acting and I would love to have a conversation with him. Doesn't have anything to do with marketing. Just I think Robert De Niro's a pretty awesome actor and I would love to talk to him.
Jay: And a heck of an entrepreneur as well, a terrific business man. He's got a hotel mogul and food and beverage and everything else. That would be a great conversation. I do not believe that's what you answered last time, nor do I believe that has ever been answered in the long history of this show. That's fantastic.
Jason: I normally stick out like a sore thumb.
Jay: Yeah, that's true. That's true. Jason, thanks very much for being back on the show. We're going to try and make sure we do this again before 2022. Check your calendar. We'll make sure to make that happen. Ladies and gentleman, if you want to compare Jason's conversation and his answers from episode 14 to now, episode 279, you can do that and a heck of a lot more at where we have the entirety of this show, every single guest, every single recording, every single transcript, and a bunch of other great stuff. Just go to and check it out. You can get lost in there for a long, long time. Don't forget, we would love your feedback on iTunes or just send me an email: Always excited to hear from our listeners, see what they're up to, how we can help them improve their social media practitioning. Until next week, I am Jay Baer from Convince and Convert. He is Adam Brown from Salesforce Marketing Cloud. This has been Social Pros.
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