Rising Stars

Afroz Iftekhar Husain

Lead, Insights Analyst


Winner 2024

Afroz Iftekhar Husain

What is your job title? How do you use social listening in your work?

As a Lead, Insights Analyst, I live & breathe social listening in my work. I’m a member of the Sprinklr Analytics & Insights team, a squad of skilled management consultants who don't just talk the talk but walk the walk. We're the data detectives, channeling our inner Sherlock Holmes to dissect data sets from the Sprinklr platform. Our core mission is to extract actionable insights and craft recommendations that play a pivotal role in decision-making across various client departments, including marketing, brand management, product development, customer service, research and development, and corporate communications. Our focus goes beyond mere data analysis; we strive to deliver the "so what" factor that influences decision-making and yields tangible results.

While I initially began my journey in social listening assisting corporate brands, my work has evolved to include collaborations with government entities. Unlike brands chasing rainbows of followers and likes, these entities are more interested in understanding narratives and addressing social issues, making my social listening work both challenging and intriguing. My ultimate goal is to provide insightful solutions that go beyond traditional metrics, ensuring that my work contributes meaningfully to the goals of both corporate and government clients.

What attracted you to social listening?

Back when I was a student, diving into engineering in metallurgy and later pursuing an MBA in finance, the idea of ending up where I am today seemed like a far-fetched dream. Social media, at that time, was just seen as a fun distraction with no bearing on reality. My professional journey kicked off as a management consultant in the field of market research. However, as the years unfolded in that field, I couldn't shake the feeling of questioning the sluggish pace of traditional research methods. It was during this time that the genuine nature of social media started to unfold before me — an endless stream of raw, unprompted, unfiltered, real-time information. Social media didn't seem like an escape from reality anymore; instead it laid bare otherwise concealed emotions, evolving into an exaggerated & dramatized version of reality, what some might call hyperreality — a concept speculated by Baudrillard.

This revelation showcased the power of social intelligence, surpassing the capabilities of most traditional market research methods. When the opportunity to dive headfirst into the field of social listening came my way, I grabbed the bull by the horns. Today, I take immense pride in being at the crossroads of sociology, psychology, analytics, and technology — navigating a field that not only captures the catbird seat of human behavior but also shapes the future of how we connect with diverse audiences.

What’s the hardest thing you have learned or challenge you’ve overcome? How did you do it?

I have been working closely with meteorologists as they seek to pinpoint the challenges in their outreach efforts and identify communities that are underserved. Meteorological forecasts often involve sensitive terms and scenarios, such as hazardous weather conditions or potential disruptions. The challenge arose when the AI, designed for general sentiment analysis, consistently tagged these mentions as negative, irrespective of the context in which they were shared. For instance, discussions about a forecasted flood or power outage or roadblocks were being classified as negative, even though the intention was to inform rather than express dissatisfaction. 

This realization led me to understand that AI models are not a one-size-fits-all solution for sentiment analysis, and the same content can be interpreted differently based on the specific use case. To address this issue, I collaborated with the machine learning model developers. Together, we devised a strategy to retrain the AI to align with the specific requirements of meteorological forecasting.

Even though our AI models are highly sophisticated for the time, 'AI hallucination' is a genuine concern. It became evident that results should be taken with a grain of salt, and cross-checking under the right context is essential. I advocate for a paradigm shift from a generic approach dominating the market to more use-case-specific solutions. By defining the purpose of the AI model in recurring projects, we can ensure it serves its intended function effectively and with repeatability. This experience emphasizes the importance of context and specificity in AI sentiment analysis, proving that sometimes you can't beat the good ol' human touch.

What’s your career highlight to date?

Reflecting on my career, I readily admit to having a goldfish memory, often overlooking minor feats while eagerly pursuing new accomplishments. Before achieving the title of Rising Star in the Social Intelligence Insider 50 2024, two experiences stood out as significant highlights, filling me with pride: being an international finalist in the MIT COVID-19 challenge and volunteering in the organizing team of EUvsVirus.

My proudest moments spring from using my skills to contribute to social causes. In collaboration with meteorologists, I strive to identify underserved communities, ensuring crucial information reaches those affected by natural disasters. My recommendations have become the catalyst for forging partnerships with local shelters, social services, and community organizations, establishing effective communication and outreach to vulnerable populations during emergencies. This ensures that individuals in need are well-informed about available resources, ranging from food packages to shelter and transportation options. Knowing that my efforts contribute to helping communities in need gives me a sense of satisfaction that's as comforting as a cozy blanket on a chilly night.

What key skills you need to get started in social listening?

In the whirlwind of social media metrics, it's tempting to be swayed by the allure of vanity metrics like likes and followers. But the real gold lies in keeping the big picture in mind. To do that, I always ask my clients/stakeholders questions, digging deep into the project’s objectives. Keeping these objectives as my 'north star,' I methodically slice & dice the data, answering the fundamental questions of what, why, when, where, who & how, all revolving around that core goal. Rather than presenting mere numbers, I craft a narrative by stringing together these insights like beads on a necklace. This storytelling approach not only brings the data to life but also adds depth and context when communicating with clients/stakeholders. While leaving some wiggle room to accommodate unexpected data outcomes, having a well-defined approach from the outset is crucial, preventing the aimless search for a needle in a haystack. The linchpin skill in this journey is maintaining a clear vision and breaking it down into achievable phases. Like a skilled craftsman carving intricate details, this strategic approach ensures success in the nuanced art of social listening.

Is working in social listening what you expected?

Stepping into the realm of social listening, I had this notion that it was just about dipping my toes into online conversations – the basic monitoring and analysis routine. Little did I know, it's a whole different ball game! Social listening is like opening pandora's box – layers upon layers of insights waiting to be uncovered. It's not just about skimming the surface of online posts; it's about diving deep into the vibes, attitudes, and behaviors swirling around in the digital sea. So, social listening has turned out to be what I expected and beyond. It is a fascinating journey, prompting continuous exploration that enhances the dynamism of the research landscape.

Is there anyone in the industry you look up to?

I admire the work of Dr. Daniel Miller and Dr. Jillian Ney in the field of digital anthropology. Similar to them, I am driven to contribute meaningfully, particularly by exploring ways to humanize social media platforms while avoiding capitalizing on the attention of young individuals and being mindful of potential mental health repercussions, including the risk of fostering an ADHD generation. In the face of the ever-changing phygital landscape and the introduction of technologies like Apple Vision Pro and OpenAI's Sora, understanding their impact on social interactions and the potential unintended consequences is crucial. It feels like our Oppenheimer moment, and we must tread lightly.

In my free time, I delve into books and research papers by thought leaders such as Dr. Daniel Miller, Dr. Haidy Geismar, Dr. Heather Horst, Dr. Hannah Knox, and Dr. Tone Walford. I also follow the works of media theorist Dr. Douglas Rushkoff to understand the intricacies of the field. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Jillian Ney, I aspire to conduct research that contributes to the industry once I gain more experience and tackle various real-life problems. Whether my path leads me to remain in academia or return to the industry will be a decision shaped by my experiences.

My admiration extends to Dr. Jillian Ney, not only for her impactful research contributions but also for creating a community that allows professionals like myself to stay informed about the social listening industry. Her commendable commitment is reflected through initiatives such as content sharing, events, and training opportunities, which have effectively fostered meaningful interactions within the industry.

As I embark on my journey, I hope to carve out my own path, with the aspiration that one day, others may look up to me in a similar light.

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