May 17, 2023

Social Intelligence Growth Series: What’s the meaning of social data?

Date & Time (GMT):
May 17, 2023 12:47 PM
Date & Time (EST):
May 17, 2023 12:47 PM

Success with social data is not easy. Whether you’re new to the whole thing or running a department, it takes a lot to harness the (huge!) benefits of this incredible method. The last post in this series looked at briefing. In this post, we look at how to approach social data.

We are very familiar here at TheSILab with the term ‘asking the right question’ and as you’ll see from the first post in this series, it’s crucial to get the briefing right. But there’s another very important ingredient at the beginning of your journey with social data…or at the stage when you feel social data needs a shake-up. This is for

- People starting out on their journey and wondering what all this is about.
- People who think social data has given them everything it can give.

The question we’ve asked ourselves and our network is; how would I advise a newbie to think about social data? What is social data? What makes it have meaning?

Don’t let technology or tools lead your work

Technology can be the first thing people think about when it comes to social data. It shouldn’t be. There’s some amazing technology out there (we are working hard to bring you the best of it) but our work is about much more than technology. One rule we like is to make sure all your decisions, whether it’s what data source you’re using, your analytical methods, or anything else, see if you can think outside of the technology first. When we’re led by what features we have access to, we miss opportunities.

Set your mindset to curious

So rather than focusing on what tech can do and how you can use it, you’re looking for a mindset that takes the question(s) you want answers to and looks at the different ways of answering it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If it does feel simple, you’re probably missing something. Take your question and think about

- Places you might find the answer.
- Approaches you might use to find the answer.
- The strengths and weaknesses of each, plan how it all fits together.
- Then, and only then, do the tools come in.

You’re looking for an approach here that makes space for the ‘unknown unknowns’. The great thing about social data is you don’t know what you’re going to get - the unknown unknowns are those things you wouldn't have thought to look for and they are an amazing benefit of social data analysis. But if you think you're just going to find what you already know, you might just need to find that curious mindset by answering a different question.

Social data is about the story behind the story

When we ask questions in social data, we want to plan to find more than an answer. Cultural meaning is a great example. The data we’re working with, when analysed in the right way, can tell us a story of not just what people say or even think, but why they do, what influenced them…and then what that means for the wider narratives of society. Big stuff! But it’s far too easy to just listen to the small stuff.

Find analysis methods that work

Approaching social data with a curious mindset that’s searching out the ‘big stuff’ requires us to get smart about our analytical methodologies. The academic world is where we get this from.

For example, when it comes to analysing conversations we should look at discourse analysis to understand what people are trying to tell us (or hide from us). When it comes to analysing videos we should look at ethnographics to understand behaviours. And when it comes to visual analysis we should look at semiotics to understand the story people are portraying not just ‘what we see’.

Social intelligence is not about reporting on data, it’s about using data sources to apply methodologies that uncover insights.

It’s not easy to say what the meaning of social data is, we’re definitely still learning. But we can tell you what it’s not. Technology won’t create a meaningful social intelligence project, nor will a limited mindset or a methodology that ignores ‘the story behind the story’.

To learn more about how to use social data more effectively for your business, sign up for this year's Social Intelligence Growth Certification.

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