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    Conversation Research

May 2, 2017

Conversation Research Requires a Coding Plan

We kicked off a client project today at CRI and spent a fair amount of time deciding on our coding plan. This is the approach we’ll use when reviewing the conversations found using social listening platforms to code the conversations.

What do you visualize when you hear that we “code the conversations?” For some, it means reviewing each individual post and slapping a topic on it. For others, it might mean double-checking data like sentiment or gender. For us, however, coding a conversation requires an understanding of the client’s product, services, competitors, marketplace and more; preliminarily reviewing a sample of conversations to understand what types of posts we’re going to be reviewing; anticipating what people might say about the brand or topic at hand and more.

Our Coding Plan gives us the list of unanswered questions about the data. Social listening platforms can find things like sentiment, gender, location and even parse out a topic or theme, but not to a level of certainty we are comfortable with, nor at a level we would recommend you make marketing decisions upon. So yes, we review the data collected for accuracy.

But our Coding Plan also determines what else we want to know about the data the social listening platforms do not provide. Take a look at this snippet from a spreadsheet we recently coded:

You see entries for Sentiment, Account Type and Gender, all of which can be automatically detected. Our first step is to verify the automatic detection worked. Frankly, sentiment accuracy in social listening tools is incredibly disappointing. Our estimation is that only about 10-20% of posts are even scored at all. About 30-50% of them could be. Gender is only detected about 20-30% of the time, but can be determined manually for about 60-80% of the posts, so there’s some heavy lifting to be done.

The rest of the scoring columns you see are categories of information we determined would be insight-fertile categories for the client in question. We read each post to understand the context of the mention. Was it a promotion from a re-seller or a recommendation from a customer? Did they use any emotions in their description of the product or service (not did a word that describes an emotion appear in the text, which is what social listening platforms present)? What feature of the product did they mention specifically? Was there a specific issue or topic about that feature that stood out? What was the use case of the product or service (in this case, what type of location)? And were there other use cases that emerged than what the product or service was primarily sold for?

Planning your coding means anticipating where you’ll find the most useful answers in your research. It’s the social media analysis equivalent of crafting the right questions in traditional market research. We like to think we’re pretty good at that part. Hopefully, this helps you get good at it, too.

If you’d like to see what conversation research can reveal about your business, customers, competitors and marketplace, drop us a line. We’d be happy to discuss it with you.

March 14, 2017

Why Tag Clouds and Topic Wheels Hold You Back

One of the most common forms of data visualization among social listening softwares is the tag cloud. The graphic representation of which topics are the most common organized by word, size and color is easy for the layman to decipher so it is dangled at the end of the software company’s string like top sirloin.

But it’s just a chicken nugget. Or, more aptly, just the breading around the chicken nugget.

Tag Cloud

Topic wheels are a bit more informative methods of data visualization. They enable you to see subtopics easily. But the data visualization is still just a superficial layer around the insights your data contains. They help you see one layer down.

Topic Wheel

But insights are seldom found one layer down. Understanding of the conversation — the why behind the emerging topics and themes — means drilling down deeper.

Take our study of Dirt Devil, for instance. We may notice looking at Tag Clouds and Topic Wheels of data visualization that durability is an issue that surfaces in the negative conversations around the brand. But why does Dirt Devil have durability issues? To know that, you have to drill down into the negative, then into the durability topic, then analyze and understand the various issues there.

Conversation Research breakdown

The level of detail that can provide a product manager with actual insights to improve the product is not found using a tag cloud or a topic wheel. It’s found by diving in and analyzing and understanding the full context of the conversation. With this information — certainly represented visually for ease of understanding — we can tell the product manager that there are structural issues in quality of construction, weakness in the unit handles and motor issues, particularly when used for pet hair. These insights give the product team direction so they can either A) Ask deeper questions in further research or B) Focus on the opportunities to improve the product.

The overarching point is that if you’re relying on visualizations of your data rather than analysis of it, you’re missing a lot. In fact, we would surmise you’re missing everything.

We would love to help understand your data. Want to know more about what customers say about your brand? Your products? What you can do better? Drop us a line. We can help.

March 7, 2017

Why CMOs Aren’t Using The Data They Pay For

Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are spending more on analytics now than ever before, but also admit that barely 1/3 of the data they’re paying for gets used. That’s according to The CMO Survey from the American Marketing Association, Deloitte and Duke University’s School of Business. One of the biggest reasons CMOs aren’t using the data? They say it’s too complex, lacks insight and relevance.

This is exactly why we started the Conversation Research Institute. No, we’re not going to solve that problem for all aspects of marketing analytics. But when a CMO gets a report from a social listening platform, it’s a vague assortment of charts and graphs. It doesn’t explain the WHY any of those bars are as big or small as they are, the pie chart looks the way it does or the colors are one way or another.

What Factors Prevent Your Company From Using More Marketing Analytics?

When you pay for software as a service, all you typically get is the software. The service part of it doesn’t refer to someone to serve you insights or make the software work for you.

CRI is focused on taking either your existing social listening software or implementing the software we use on your behalf, then interpreting that data so it is:

  1. Easy to understand
  2. Delivers insights you can use
  3. Focuses on the voice of your consumer to deliver relevance

CMOs are too busy and have too little time to interpret the data they receive. A strong analyst is going to see that and deliver what the CMO needs when he or she needs it. They’re going to focus on the stakeholders in question and on the issue of relevance. Without those two focal points, no amount of data or charts or graphs will help the CMO make decisions.

It is true. CMOs are spending more money on analytics. According to the study, analytics will jump from around five percent of marketing budgets to almost 22 percent in the next three years. Why on earth would they pay more money for something they use less than 1/3 of?

We owe it to ourselves as analysts and evangelists for conversation research, social listening and social analytics to close that gap and ensure that CMOs are getting their money’s worth. We know what we’re doing about it at CRI. What are you?

February 16, 2017

How Analyzing Online Conversations Builds a Better Brand

The fun for me in analyzing online conversations is the proof points the data provides. No longer do product, experience or marketing communications decisions have to be left to assumptions. The data allows you to turn them into assertions.

In our recent report on senior living, we analyzed online conversations of people discussing the major types of senior care facilities. We found hundreds of conversations mentioning nursing homes, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and long-term care options. We broke each of those conversations down by facility, sentiment and topic.

When you do this, you get a glimpse into what consumers truly think. Not only are we not prompting them for answers, which in and of itself biases the information, but we’re simply recording when they talk about the topic in question voluntarily and freely.

What does this type of analysis tell us? Take for instance this visualization:

Assisted Living Family Experience Negative Conversations

This is a breakdown of the conversation topics within the posts we categorized as focusing on assisted living facilities where the main topic was the experience of the family of the patient (which is important since the primary buyer is the adult children of the patient), and those experiences were scored as having a negative sentiment. So 30% of all negative conversations about assisted living facilities (represented in the circle to the left) were determined to be about the family experience. The right hand circle breaks those down by specific topic.

What this tell us is that 32% of the negative family experience conversations were about shopping for the facility overall. What is it that is so bad about it? We’d need to move a layer farther in analysis to discover that, but since we have the data, we can! Another 32% mentions they prefer an alternative to an assisted living facility. Further analysis shows that they don’t prefer independent living or nursing homes, but rather staying home and not needing a care facility at all.

While this may seem a logical conclusion if you understand the consumer, that has not been statistically proven before, to our knowledge. Now it has. But that insight can also give assisted living marketers more pointed insights to develop better copy, sales materials or even sales strategies, enhancing conversions and driving more customers.

Emotions while enrolling and family in-fighting are significant portions of the negative family experience, too. What can that tell an assisted living marketer hoping to land more clients? Those conversations can be further vetted to see if common threads run throughout.

The more you peel back the layers on analyzing online conversations, the more interesting nuggets you discover to fuel decisions for marketing, user experience or even product development. And those can build a better, more profitable brand.

The only question left to answer is why haven’t you started?

For more analysis of online conversations around the senior living industry, including a mapping of the buyer journey for senior care, see our Conversation Report. For more about how CRI can help you in analyzing online conversations around your brand or market, drop us a line.

February 6, 2017

5 Things You Don’t Know About Senior Living Shoppers


New research shows there are five critical pieces of information senior care marketers and executives don’t know about their target audience — those shopping for or considering senior care solutions for themselves or their parents. The insights stem from our newly published Conversation Report entitled Independent Living to Nursing Homes: Understanding the Buyer Journey for Senior Care.

While the industry seems content to continue to present dreamlike worlds where mom and and dad can retire in peace, the reality of the buyer journey for senior care reveals the industry is not addressing critical questions. For nursing homes, assisted living facilities, independent living businesses and long-term care providers, addressing these bits of information in their marketing and communications could fill consumer needs and position the businesses more successfully.

  1. Senior care shoppers don’t know the difference in products

Most senior care shoppers refer to the search for care as finding a “home for mom,” or “putting mom/dad in a home.” In fact, 66% of senior care conversations call out nursing homes as the facility in question. The default thinking is “nursing home” despite a variety of options that can be solutions before the parent even needs that level of care. Independent Living and Assisted Living Facilities are likely being overlooked by those seeking care because of the lack of product awareness.

  1. Senior care shoppers turn to social media for comfort, not shopping

We asked a small survey group a set of questions about how various digital marketing assets played a role in their selection of senior care options. While the average shopper acknowledged social media served a role in comforting them in an emotionally turbulent time, only two people out of 15 indicated that social media played a role in their decision and neither of those indicated it played a significant role.

  1. Senior care shoppers think they’ll lose their house if their parent can’t pay

The most frequent proactive question senior care shoppers asked online about the experience had little to do with the quality of care or even type of facility. More than half of all questions about senior care from shoppers were centered on the legalities of paying for care. The prevailing question: If mom’s insurance runs out, can the nursing home take my house?

  1. Senior care shoppers ask questions that brands don’t answer

In addition to the legalities of paying for senior care, customers next two largest categories of questions were other legal questions and financial questions not related to legal liability. Only then do the topics center around the shopping experience (how good is the care, what is the facility like, etc.) The three legal and financial topics combined account for 79% of all questions asked by consumers in online conversations.

  1. Senior care shoppers talk to their existing communities, not brands

While some consumers will turn to social media accounts of senior care providers for specific questions, the lion’s share of the conversation about senior care is happening on forums and message boards. And while AgingCare.com ranks as the most fruitful place for these conversations, sites like WeightWatchers.com and BabyCenter.com rank high as well. This shows that people shopping for senior care turn to communities they already trust for advice and do not seem to seek out topic-specific resources.

Many more insights can be found in Independent Living to Nursing Homes: Understanding the Buyer Journey for Senior Care. A free copy of the Executive Summary is available on our website. The full report can be purchased there as well.

Independent Living to Nursing Homes: Understanding the Buyer Journey for Senior Care offers analysis of 12 months of online conversations focused on the shopping experience for consumers choosing senior care solutions for themselves or a loved one. The report is the first industry report offered by CRI and traces its inspiration back to the first-ever conversation research report published by my old agency, Social Media Explorer in 2012. That report, on the banking industry, ushered in conversation research as an effective method to understand consumer insights by analyzing social media conversations.


February 2, 2017

Conversation Report on Senior Care Buyers now available

The average consumer searching for senior care for a loved one has little understanding of what types of care are available; doesn’t distinguish between assisted living, independent living and nursing homes; and turns to social media not for information, but moral support during the buying process. Those insights are just the tip of a virtual iceberg of information we uncovered in our new research, From Independent Living to Nursing Homes: Understanding the Buyer Journey for Senior Care.

Conversation Report: Senior Care Buyer JourneyThe market research report is the first of its kind in the senior care industry and just the second such consumer research ever produced after a banking industry report I authored under the Social Media Explorer brand in 2012. The analysis for this report was conducted on social media and online conversations that occurred from Nov. 1, 2015 through Oct. 31, 2016 and focused on purchase and use indicators for senior care facilities and services.

Our conversation research focuses on the true voice of the consumer. What we’ve uncovered in this report are insights from true, unbiased opinions of people considering and even actively shopping for care for them or their loved one. This is deeper than a survey or a focus group. It’s actually mining the conversations of the largest focus group in history: social media users.

The report is 55 pages, features over 60 charts, graphs and informative displays and dives into the mindset of those searching for senior care options for themselves or loved ones. Among the insights, the report uncovers:

  • A mapping of the five phases of the senior care buyer journey reflected in online conversations
  • A breakdown of the conversation drivers around decision points in that journey
  • Analysis of both positive and negative conversation topics to reveal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for the industry
  • Consumer focus group data around the use of digital and social media to make care decisions
  • Demographic, psychographic and socialgraphic data points for more meaningful audience understanding
  • Specific issue discovery around the quality of care, the emotional journey and primary questions of the senior care shopper

The executive summary of the report is available as a free download. The full report retails for $1,250.00 and can be found on our Conversation Report Product Page.

We will share more from the report in the coming days here on the CRI blog, but if you are in or have a connection to the senior care space (nursing homes, assisted living, independent living, long-term care, hospice and more), this report is never-before-seen data around who, what, where, when, why and how adult children of seniors discuss, investigate and decide on where to enroll their parent.

Get your free executive summary now. For more than single-license purchases (to buy access for your department or team), drop us a line and we’ll be in touch quickly to get the reports in your hands.


January 24, 2017

What Social Listening Tools Don’t Tell You (That Conversation Research Does)

If there is one core reason the Conversation Research Institute exists it is that social listening tools only collect and represent data. They don’t analyze it. Try all you might, but you will never get an algorithm to produce 100% reliable insights from counting things. It’s the human processing of the counted things that results in usefulness of that data.

Case in point: The topic analysis of social listening tools. What this feature does in most softwares designed to “listen” to online conversations is count keywords. Topic analysis are often presented in word clouds. We prefer to look at them in terms of pie charts so there’s a more natural understanding of the volume of that particular topic in relation to the whole.

Here’s an analysis of specific “Dislikes” around Kentucky Fried Chicken I conducted in 2012. This is very much like the topics chart that a social listening platform would produce. You can see that 30% of the negative conversations mention “chicken,” eight percent mention “chip,” and so-on. (Note: Because this was produced from an automated topic analysis, the keywords it counted and collected are raw and what was present online in the conversation at that point in time.)

Topic Analysis Example - KFC

But looking at this you only know that these keywords were present or popular in those conversations. You don’t know the critical, insight-producing answer, which is to the question, “Why?”

When you perform conversation research, even if you do it using automated tools, you dig a layer or two down to uncover that answers. So here’s a look at Olive Garden’s negative themes from that same research in 2012. We broke out the negative theme of “Taste” to show that the qualifiers … leading to the answer of “Why?” … include Nasty, Disgusting and Like Shit. There’s also Bland, Gross, Like Microwaved Food and Weird.

Topic Analysis - Olive Garden

So we can now apply more specific context around why people who didn’t like the taste of Olive Garden. Drilling down yet another level, to analyze the mentions of “Nasty” or “Disgusting” to see if there are specific menu items, specific reasons or perhaps even specific locations where those qualifiers emerged, we may uncover insights that inform Olive Garden’s business.

The point here is certainly not to pick on KFC or Olive Garden. These charts were produced in 2012 using automatic theme analysis. Chances are, the results today would be very different. But the automatic theme analysis is the key point to consider. At Conversation Research Institute, we insist on human analysis to break down the “Why” and offer more concrete insights to help your brand.

While a few researchers can’t possibly analyze hundreds of thousands of conversations manually, our process is a two-step one for larger conversation sets. We first isolate posts we consider to be the voice of the consumer. That definition changes slightly depending on the client and project at hand. Once we have filtered out posts that do not fit that definition, if necessary, we sample at rates much higher than traditional research sampling standards.

The bottom line is this: If you are relying on machines to spit out insights, you are being tricked into thinking charts and graphs are insights. There’s a big difference in counting (to get the what) and analyzing (to get the why).

Let us help uncover more about the voice of your consumer. Drop us a line today for an introductory discussion.

January 17, 2017

Sneak Preview: Senior Care Industry Report Shows Conversations Happen In Known Communities

Our first industry report is due out any day now. The Conversation Report: Independent Living to Nursing Homes: Understanding the Buyer Journey for Senior Care looks at online conversations over the course of a calendar year in which people discuss senior care facilities and services with some level of intent to buy. We’ve researched, indexed and analyzed over 19,000 conversations, surfaced almost 1,200 that are true voices of the consumer and have a laundry list of insights to share with those buying the report.

To ensure you get first chance to download the executive summary and purchase the full report, be sure to join our list. The report is due out any day now.

Our exploration surfaced many insights about senior care shoppers we didn’t expect to find, as well as some we did. While I personally had not explored the conversation set in the senior care industry much before the endeavor, my experience with conversation research as a whole tells me that consumers have conversations in exactly the types of communities that social media marketing often ignores: forums and message boards. And for senior care, that is accurate.

So while we can all agree that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks are the sexy, consumer-driven platforms that quickly surface as popular for social media, as brands we should understand that consumers often turn away from them and to known and more intimate communities for recommendations, referrals and support during buying decisions. In my experience, the more personal and private the decision, the more this hypothesis proves true.

Forums and message boards make up more than 80% of the online conversation about the senior care space. Consumers there turn to communities they trust built around the topic at hand (AgingCare.com was popular) but they also turn to known communities — ones which they are already a member of for other reasons (WeightWatchers.com ranked high as well).

For brands this means to truly engage potential customers, you have to be more aware of social media than most seem to be. Facebook and Twitter alone won’t cut it. Minding your own social profiles doesn’t scratch the surface of where your audience is engaging around the topics most likely to lead to new business for your brand. It also means investing in true community managers who go beyond minding the social profiles and assimilating into existing communities to be a formal or informal representative of the company could be a smart play.

While charts like this have existed for years and the knowledge that forums and message boards play a big part in any brand’s online conversations is not new news, it is shocking how poorly brands have adapted to it. We found no instance of a brand representative responding to these forum posts.

Don’t miss more insights in the upcoming Conversation Report: Independent Living to Nursing Homes: Understanding the Buyer Journey for Senior CareSubscribe to our updates on the form on our home page.


January 10, 2017

Identifying the Buyer Journey through Conversation Research

The first Conversation Report is due out any day now. Our dive into understanding the buyer journey for the senior care space, which includes nursing homes, assisted living, independent living and more, is coming in at around 15,000 words, over 75 charts and graphs and dozens of insights we’ve synthesized from the data that help senior care brands understand their customers better.

In conducting the research, we had a peculiar challenge. Our goal was to not only find only the posts produced by true customers, but those actively considering senior care options for themselves or a loved one. How do you isolate not just the consumer, but one that is actively looking without knowing first who they are or where they are — both answers you get from the research?

It seems a Holmesian Catch-22.

But it’s not.

All of our broad level research begins by trying to understand the consumer’s conversation habits first. We seek and discover individuals who have been, or are going through, the buying process and interview them. But we don’t necessarily ask all the questions we hope to answer with the research. Instead, we focus on how they go about discovering information about the product or service at hand. We uncover how they talk and think about the topic in terms of lexicon and verbiage. We try and get at what they might say in an online conversation should they resort to social media and online communities to ask questions about the topic at hand.

By canvasing a small focus group on how people talk about buying or shopping for the product in question, we can then produce more accurate search variables to uncover similar conversations on the web. Consider it our social media version of Google’s Keyword Tool. While search terms also contribute to our pool of knowledge and understanding about the audience, people may search for “senior care” but they don’t use that term in a sentence when chatting about the search for a solution online.

As you approach conversation research, you should consider that your assumptions about your audience and how they discuss certain topics in online conversations are biases. You need to vet them properly to get to a more accurate read on what is being said. One misstep in the search variable construction and you could eliminate thousands of relevant conversations. Or, perhaps worse, you could create thousands more to weed through that aren’t relevant at all.

This reinforces something you’ll hear us say over and over at CRI: Social listening software isn’t enough. You have to add the human element to your data gathering mechanism to make sense of all this noise.

How do you go about constructing your searches? We’d love to hear your thoughts and processes in the comments.

December 22, 2016

How Conversation Research Supports Traditional Advertising

An advertising agency friend recently challenged me that conversation research isn’t relevant to traditional advertising. “We focus on print, radio and TV, so that online stuff isn’t a primary concern.” Yes, I laughed and performed a hearty shaking of my head.

“So when consumers see those advertisements, what do you think they do next?” I replied.

“They either buy or they don’t.”

More furious head shaking.

“No, they go online to research. They talk to friends to see if someone knows more about that brand or has experience with them. They look for validation. In fact, I would argue that the online conversation is more important to purchase consideration than your ad in the first place (though they go hand-in-hand and one isn’t likely without the other).

So he asked me to prove conversation research would support traditional advertising. Even in a three-month-old company, I had a case study.

We were approached recently by a high-end home and lifestyle brand who had some suspicions about their advertising campaign. They didn’t think their messaging around quality and style was really resonating with consumers. Their campaign was developed on assumptions, not assertions and they felt like they’d guessed wrong.

So we analyzed what consumers were saying about their brand — when they turned to the social web to find out more about it — and discovered the brand’s suspicions were correct. The buying decision topics that emerged were almost completely focused on price. There were no (as in zero) conversations discussing quality and style.

Now, the presence of topics (or lack thereof) doesn’t an insight make. Deeper conversation research could yield more understanding of why. Were style and quality assumptions? Did those decision points even matter? Were they simply too high priced for consumers to focus on anything else?

All of those questions made for a great follow-up research project.

The point to my friend was to say that conversation research supports traditional advertising many ways. Some include:

  • Validating assumptions made without adequate consumer research
  • Confirming consumer talking points about the product to focus one’s messaging
  • Discovering tangential topics or qualities resonating with consumers the brand isn’t aware of
  • Uncovering audience segments for better targeting that fall outside the brand designation of its target

And there’s more.

So how’s your advertising doing? Are you happy with the results? Does your messaging resonate with your audience? How do you know?

If you don’t, we can help. Drop us a line and we can chat about how.

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