'Social listening? It has nothing on social projection!' - GSC on how to see what's REALLY influencing consumer behavior

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As part of an ongoing partnership with Taan Worldwide, a global network of advertising and communications agencies, each month sees an industry issue tackled head on by one of their members. Here, Gabrielle Shaw - founder of Gabrielle Shaw Communications - dives into why it's never sufficient enough to use social listening. It's about social projection, too...

As a globally focused luxury branding and PR agency, the perennial question remains: what levers in the marketing mix can we pull to make the biggest commercial difference to our clients? Working predominately in the global luxury, style and retail space, we have seen the digital landscape shift radically, with questions of influence and engagement at the core of what every client is trying to cut through.

We find ourselves working much more holistically with our clients as strategy consultants involved in conversations about overall marketing spend, new product development and the geographic role of brands to new territories. As such, we made it our mission to cut through the crap of the expensive and useless tools being offered to find something tangible for our clients to help take our work to the next level.

Social listening tools, by their very nature, miss the most pressing needs of any forward-moving brand in any sector and any location by not having predictive capabilities and yet they proliferate. 

Data-driven decision making is the latest tool in the modern company arsenal, with a slew of software’s offering so titled ‘social listening’ capabilities to pluck out recent trends and offer the post-mortem results of a campaign to anyone who will pay.  However, this only goes so far when brand teams and agencies are planning events, marketing campaigns, and collaborations to come.

The goal for any data mining tool you use should be to see what’s around the corner, what’s really influencing consumer behavior, and what will influence them in the near future. Anything less is simply distilling what people are saying online on any given topic and leaves the marketer flying blind into the future armed with numbers that no one can trust.

In a study we did with our newest partners Enflux on the North American destinations being talked about by Weibo users in China in the first quarter of 2016, the raw social listening techniques we used found that Vancouver was ‘hotter’ than New York or Los Angeles in terms of online buzz.

However, using the preferential Enflux internal social projection tools, we predicted that Vancouver’s lead over New York and LA would be short-lived. Social listening was spiked by a Chinese television show being filmed in the city in January and the virality of selfies taken on-set by the stars making the noise bigger than the reality. While social listening can tell part of the story, brands and agencies reliant on rear-facing data are at risk of being only partially informed resulting in costly quick decisions.

This ‘social projection’ is the natural evolution of data-mining, a major improvement on social listening, enabled by recent advancements in artificial intelligence and data science. Using historical data not as an end, but as a means to inform machine learning algorithms and make forward-facing predictions on how consumer behavior will shift and change in the weeks and months ahead Social Projection can read the future.

Brands, across sector including retail, luxury, healthcare, travel and beyond can make informed decisions on how much to devote to upcoming campaigns, where to focus their attention, and how to design efforts using adaptive data insights rather than guesswork.

Using raw social listening tools, this list of individuals selected at source for an influencer campaign of a US-based luxury shoe brand in China appeared very impressive, with celebrities and influencers boasting millions of followers and high average engagement rates.

Using the Enflux social projection capabilities, we found that none of the chosen individuals had true impact or influence among audiences interested in this luxury brand’s vertical - accessories and footwear. Rather than throwing money at an uncertain outcome, the brand was given a list of alternate individuals whom we predicted would actually motivate target audiences with an existing interest in the brand’s product segments.

The social projection capabilities at Enflux are powered by a complex machine learning infrastructure built from scratch, and more than 18,000 data sources layered atop public social media APIs and sentiment analysis tools, which come together to paint a detailed picture of where a company is now and where we expect it to be in the near future.

Ultimately what this means is more targeted and less wasteful marketing spending and an easier and more informed decision-making process. Considering how many firms see their marketing expectations as burning half of their campaign cash and hoping for the best with the other half, social projection is a powerful new tool in their arsenal, helping them engineer future efforts rather than pore over past results.

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GSC – the London-based luxury strategic communications specialist - are the sole sales outlet for Enflux globally with a wealth of experience in the luxury, retail, travel  and lifestyle sectors. Their work with private family offices and international luxury strategy and positioning make them uniquely placed to utilise the unique facets of the Enflux platform through their intricate understanding of the global retail landscape and the luxury consumer.

Having worked internationally with clients including Selfridges, Harrods, Peroni, Corinthia, Value Retail and American Express to name but a few, they specialise in big-picture campaign work and industry shifting programmes that engage consumers and alter established perceptions.

 For more information on Enflux please contact letstalk@gabrielleshaw.com

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