•  The Conversation

    Turning Social Media into Consumer Insights.

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 23, 2017

The Truth About Cognitive Technology for Social Listening

On Wednesday, I presented a talk at IBM Amplify in which I explained the need for human analysis in social listening which produces what I call conversation research. I’ll admit the opportunity was intimidating. My task was essentially to look IBM executives, developers and users in the eye and say the social listening tool fueled by the famous Watson cognitive learning software was not very good.

But it’s not just Watson’s attempt at social listening that has issues. It’s all of them. Three of our most recent projects at the Conversation Research Institute tell a disappointing story. When we program these listening platforms to go find relevant conversations, we should see a respectable amount of just that in return. We don’t.

Social Listening Problems - Tim Moran photoFor our Dirt Devil project, we only scored 8.9% of the total posts our social listening software returned as relevant. It was worse for our industry report on the senior living space with only six percent of the results being the voice of the consumer. A brand study we did for a major healthcare company returned just 7.2% relevant results.

And we’re talking about three different social listening platforms. No one we’ve tested scores any better than these numbers.

What this means is without human analysis, scoring and curating of your social listening data — which is time and resource intensive — you’re paying for a lot of crap. And the technology is only getting incrementally better. It’s not growing by leaps and bounds the way the sales people tell you. Even Watson and IBM’s powerful engines have trouble weeding through and deciphering unstructured data like social conversations.

The truth is that when the data is unstructured, inconsistent and unpredictable, cognitive technology can only do so much. At least so far.

In the hopefully not-too-distant future we’ll be able to say, “Watson, find relevant consumer conversations about Dirt Devil vacuums and tell me the themes that surface around product problems,” then see meaningful results in seconds. But that day is farther off than you think.

In the meantime, CRI can help. Let us know how we might help you separate the signal from the noise and deliver consumer insights that help drive smart marketing decisions for your brand.

NOTE: Photo by Tim Moran, one of my fellow IBM Futurists.

March 21, 2017

Does How Customers Identify Your Products Matter?

Dirt Devil has seven categories of products. Each of those categories has up to 28 different products within it. So it’s not enough to say, “You should buy a Dirt Devil.” That will only confuse the customer when they go to the website or march up and down the vacuum aisle looking for the recommendation. If there are dozens to choose from, how is the customer to know what’s best for her (or him)?

As Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently explained in a now famous TED talk, at one point in time, customers wanted choice. Diversifying it’s product offerings made Ragu a mint. Then there’s more recent examples about the paralysis of choice that indicates too many and customers will not buy anything.

We looked at some conversation research around the Dirt Devil brand and discovered that while we cannot pinpoint a correlation between too many choices and hard sales data in online conversations, we can observe how Dirt Devil customers refer to the products they use.

Dirt Devil Conversation Research - Products UsedWhile the categories led the way — indicating consumers are more apt to describe their Dirt Devil in broad form — there were several attempts at identifying specific product names and models. AccuCharge and SimpliStick were among the top six results of product identifiers in our research. That could speak to strong branding for those products. But why don’t others emerge? Does the brand divide its marketing among different agencies or marketing initiatives? Is that why some standout and others don’t?

Online conversations my not tell us the answers to those very specific questions, but a hearty conversation internally might.

And is it more beneficial to have everyone referring to Dirt Devil stick vacuums as such rather than in hodgepodge ways of reference? One hundred people shouting praise on a Dirt Devil stick vacuum is probably more beneficial than 24 complimenting the SimpliStick while 15 talk about the Power Stick and nine refer to the Power Air Stick, right?

This exercise is not to imply that Dirt Devil has a branding problem or unnecessary confusion among consumers about what products they offer. It is simply a way to open a dialog about the Paradox of Choice and whether or not branding initiatives could or should solve for it.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing is up to 200 times more effective than advertising, according to the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association. Shouldn’t your brand’s conversation focus then be on unifying how people talk about you so you can deliver a more consistent wave of conversation when they do?

It’s certainly good food for thought and something you’ll never get a grip on unless you’re studying the online conversation about your brand. If you need help doing that, drop us a line. We’d love to help.

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?

March 2, 2017

How Conversation Research Can Help Discover New Product Lines

One of the first case studies of conversation research I can remember is when Listerine used social listening tools to find out what their customers said about their product. They discovered that many talked about the taste and burn in using it, but also that people sometimes use it to fight toenail fungus.

While that may sound funny, it’s no joke when you’re a brand manager and seeking to create new revenue streams for your company. Could Listerine have repackaged the formula as an application to help fight toenail fungus? Perhaps. Whether or not they did isn’t the point.

The point is are you looking at your customer’s conversations online to discover insights like use cases which can help your product team develop better or even different products?

We took a close look at Dirt Devil recently, not because they’re a client, but we wanted to run some tests on a consumer product that wasn’t difficult to distinguish from similarly named products. (We easily weeded out references to the weather anomaly and off-road race course and race truck by the same name.) These are the use cases we discovered:

Dirt Devil Use Cases - Conversation Research

Pet hair, hair, college dorms and hardwood floors were expected. But look some of the others.

An air pump for blacksmithing? That might be a new product idea. Sticker removal? That’s interesting. Beekeeping? Okay, maybe a little weird but what if you dive into the conversation and discover that the lower power hand-held vacs are able to remove bees from honeycombs without harming them and beekeepers everywhere would pay for one with larger receptacles?

If you’re only looking at word clouds and pie graphs of themes, sentiments and genders, you’re not seeing the fullness of the conversation. From a product innovation and feature enhancement standpoint, conversation research can be a treasure trove of opportunity and, eventually, treasure itself.

And as an aside, none of this type of conversation research is available using just software. These conversations about Dirt Devil were filtered and coded by hand. (Okay, by hands on a computer.) But you don’t get use cases for products as an output of automatic or algorithmic topic surfacing.

Are you ready to do some product innovation research with CRI? Drop us a line. We’d be glad to chat.

February 21, 2017

Join Us at #IBMAmplify March 20-23

For those interested in the world of Artificial Intelligence and Conversation Research (which is driven by A.I. algorithms), IBM Amplify 2017 is a must-attend event. And I’m pleased to report that I have been invited to speak as part of the event’s innovation leaders series.

The event will be March 20-22 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. You can register online at http://ibm.com/amplify

IBM Amplify 2017My talk, which is slated for March 22 at 10:15 a.m. local time, will focus on the need for human analysis to close the gap on Artificial Intelligence and its usefulness when used to make sense of unstructured data. As with most talks I give, it will raise a few eyebrows, but hopefully push the industry forward in building A.I. that works better.

And for those of you interested, I can score you a VIP invite to an influencer dinner with myself, Jay Baer and others. Just drop me a line before you register and I’ll tell you how to score that invite!

CRI is excited to be represented at what is essentially the thought leadership home for A.I. and it’s conversation research offshoot. IBM Amplify is essentially the user conference for IBM’s fabled Watson A.I. engine. To be included is a nice honor for both CRI and me.

See you in Vegas!

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.


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