Aaron Bernstein

Insights & Brand Reputation Management


Winner 2022

Aaron Bernstein

How did you get into social intelligence? What was your career path to your current position?

As a byproduct of being intellectually curious, comfortable with ambiguity and willing to take on risk. My path wasn't prescribed. I began my career at the dawn of the digital advocacy movement, where I went to work building website and platforms to engage the 140M weekly customers as advocates for the brand. That morphed into a shift from government relations to more brand reputation, understanding the deep consumer complexity that is Walmart's reputation and seeking to understand why people feel like they do and how to persuade and alter a pre-existing point of view. Research at that time solely consisted of extensive quantitative and qualitative methodologies. In 2013/2014 I began harnessing the new wave of unstructured open source data and analytics available in the emerging tech space. Literally building this new capability from scratch with no job description, I hired and built a team, and embraced multiple technology platforms and utilizing integrating data and technology to help power the strategy and execution for the modern communications function. Our mandate expanded over time to be broader business counselors and provide always on business intelligence.    

What's your proudest achievement of your career to date?

Used transactional data and open source data to map out trends, creating an 'American Family Report' not just relying on what people say, but using unstructured open source data to identify themes i.e. too busy to get sick correlates to a rise in sales of herbal supplements and vitamins.    

How is your organisation using social data to support business decision-making?

The Insights & Analytics function I've built from scratch over the past 5 years represents the next generation of business intelligence by leveraging AI and technology to connect, process and analyze external and internal data sets at immense scale and speed. The insights and intelligence can more contextually and efficiently help inform business strategies across the entire enterprise - from customer and marketplace trends to brand reputation to competitive intelligence and more.    

There is an unlimited repository of information through unstructured open-source data that can be harnessed to provide insights and intelligence that will give Walmart a huge competitive advantage. Think about the power of that knowledge and the predictive signals we can extract from data generated by news, blogs, social media, economic reports, patents, 10-k filings, academic papers, VC investments, etc., and how that can inform all customer strategies.    

Looking into 2022, what are your expectations for how social intelligence is going to support your organisation?

We are truly living in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. Changes in technology and markets are happening at an exponential rate. New retail eco-systems and competitors are forming more rapidly than before. The customer is more sophisticated and nuanced in how and when they shop. By being people-led and technology-empowered, Walmart aims to foster a culture of curiosity, creativity, decisiveness and speed that will allow us to retain market leadership and the highest standard of operational excellence. We are continuously striving to gain a rich and nuanced understanding of our customers' needs and the world that they live in. With the amount of available data increasing at exponential rates and the amount of time people have to collect information and make decisions decreasing, the intelligence gap is growing. The very traditional data gathering approaches, insights methodologies and analytics processes currently being used are too standardized, biased, slow and expensive.    

As a result, it's imperative to integrate social intelligence capabilities into every facet of the organization in a de-centralized way.    

What's your view on how to develop social intelligence and get organisational buy-in?

Begin by answering some basic questions.  

• Broadly, what's the communications function of the future and how does it work?

• What existing data and technology systems can we put in place to help teams do their jobs quickly, efficiently, and intelligently?

• How do we scale these systems to ensure they are widely supported and adopted?

• Beyond technolgogy, how can we adjust team structure and work flows to best fit within this new process?

• What are the highest value communications use cases we can identify to share this new approach? Highest value would focus on criteria like speed, scale, and applicability to the business.


What piece of advice would you give to others working within organisations doing social intelligence?

Define your goals and objectives first. Don't look to the data and technology to define them for you. Leverage data and technology to help you achieve your goals and objectives faster, more effectively and efficiently.    

Where would you like to see the discipline of social intelligence going in the future?

My philosophy represents that of New Power. I believe in the transparency and democratization of data, technology and information which empowers people to focus their time on decision making and implementation. As a result, the capability of social intelligence needs to be de-centralized and integrated within every part of your organization. Allow the capability to be the tip of the spear when answering strategic business questions. Let the capability get you at least 60% of the answer before embarking on whole scale research initiatives.    

What would you say to business leaders about why they should be incorporating social intelligence into their growth strategies?

Because if you don't, you will be left behind and lose any competitive advantage.

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