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Martech Buyers Guide

Social Intelligence & Insights

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Welcome to the MarTech Buyers Guide for Social Intelligence & Insights. Ahead, we aim to help you understand what social media intelligence actually is, and how it interacts with social listening and social media analytics.

Importantly, we’ll help you gauge where your organisation is on the social intelligence maturity curve, and show you the key considerations for marketers who are evaluating technology for the year ahead.

This guide isn’t a long list of platforms, or an attempt to rank them all, because not all vendors do the same thing, and not all buyers have the same requirements. Instead, we’re seeking to help you ask the right questions, in order to identify the technology you need within your organisation. In social intelligence, more so than any other marketing technology, the environment is paramount.


Conversational Intelligence

Taking social listening and analytics to the next level

Leader by Elena Melnikova, CMO at Talkwalker

The explosion of big data has led to an increase in the collection of information. Social listening and analytics has contributed to this, helping companies gather data from online media sources and enabling them to learn more about their customers. As a result, the biggest problem companies face is having too much data! Whilst around half of UK organisations apply big data for insights, only 30% of those are extracting value from the data. How can organisations analyse all this data and turn it into action?

Conversational intelligence is the next phase of the digital transformation of customer insights. It goes deeper than social listening, helping brands to protect, measure and promote their online presence effectively. Rather than collecting and analysing information from different sources using separate processes and tools, conversational intelligence brings together all sources of customer data - not just social data - in one platform, providing context and meaning to the information gathered. It creates a single source of truth that can be used for effective decision-making.


How exactly can conversational intelligence help transform the way a brand operates?

Firstly, by breaking down data silos within organisations. With the current method of social listening and analytics, data is gathered from online sources on a large scale, but it doesn’t factor in the ‘social’ element of the data e.g. the building of conversations, the sharing of joint experiences, the rave reviews of someone’s favourite brand. This is because the wider context of these online interactions are missing. 

Often, these contextual inputs - such as customer review sites, online surveys, website-user behaviour - are being analysed, but by different teams using different processes. Sometimes they’re not being analysed at all. With the current way of working, all this valuable information remains siloed, as teams focus only on the information they need, rather than trying to build the bigger picture. Through conversational intelligence, you can get the bigger picture because all the data is collected in one place. This breaks down barriers between teams, as everyone has access to the same data, and encourages a new way of approaching existing challenges. By working with one single source of truth, it also helps to align the whole company in one common goal. 

Secondly, conversational intelligence can transform organisations by increasing teams’ engagement with data. The current approach to gathering customer insights in many companies often reduces employee engagement with the data. Data silos create gate-keepers, which leads to bottlenecks as only a few people have access to any particular data set. A lack of technical knowledge in dealing with all the systems and processes, also prevents some employees from taking advantage of the insights available to them.


This conversation cluster shows the trends and connections behind millions of social, media and consumer data points in millennial conversations around the CPG food sector

Even when employees do want access to the data, there is rarely one single source of truth for them to go to. By reducing the number of systems and platforms an employee has to get to grips with and combining them into one, all-encompassing tool, it opens up and simplifies access for everyone, and gives more accurate insights by analysing a more complete data set. Within this, you can create data segmentation, for example through customisable dashboards and reports. This helps different teams and levels of the business quickly access the insights that are most relevant to them. 


Dashboards can be customised per team to extract relevant insights 

Finally, conversational intelligence benefits organisations by helping employees to make more data-driven decisions. With the data available in a single system that provides actionable insights through customised dashboards, employees can be empowered to apply these insights to their day-to-day work. By having a more accurate picture of their customers, an organisation can be more targeted in their activities. For example, by integrating all campaign analytics (owned, paid and earned) with sales-identifying data, marketers can monitor campaign results in real-time, and assess how consumers are responding. 

It’s not just the marketing team that will benefit from this complete picture. Customer service teams will be able to provide a more tailored service for handling customer complaints and feedback. Communications teams will be able to monitor any negative sentiment towards the brand, catching it before it turns into a crisis. Product teams will better understand customers needs and pain points, in order to improve their current offerings, or develop new ones. Content teams will be able to understand what topics and formats resonate best with their audience via which channels. And so on…

So why is conversational intelligence so key to brand success today? If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that creating a true connection with your audiences, especially through difficult times, is essential in retaining customers, maintaining loyalty and gaining new business. The only way to create a genuine connection is by truly understanding your audience and their needs. To do this, you have to be able to bring together all the information you have about your customers in one place, in order to build the complete picture.

Whilst social listening and analytics is essential in gathering data on the vast, and ever-increasing interactions that are happening online, it’s only one part of the big picture. As companies continue to improve data gathering, they need to be able to analyse it in a way that provides relevant and actionable insights. By implementing conversational intelligence, and bringing the data gathered into a single source of truth, organisations can avoid the challenges around big data. Instead, providing a tool that empowers their employees to take a data-driven approach to their work. By giving this power to employees, they'll be able to make that genuine connection with customers. This will strengthen the brand’s position in the long run, leading to an increase in trust, loyalty, and revenue.

Talkwalker delivers the social insights that help brands drive growth. In a world full of conversations, global brands choose Talkwalker to help them uncover, understand, and derive valuable insights - from social, online, and conversational data. Our listening and analytics tools enable thousands of companies worldwide to protect their brands, measure their impact, and gain the key consumer insights that drive purchase decisions.


The State of Social Intelligence

Before we discuss the state of social intelligence, let’s just be clear about what it is - and what it isn’t. 

In the simplest terms, social intelligence is the ability to gather social data, analyse it, and get actionable answers from it, requiring a mix of technology and human capabilities. It isn’t social media management; so it’s not about scheduling posts, automating responses, supporting customers on social channels, or running social advertising campaigns. Some platforms offer a combination of both social administration and social intelligence tools but - buyers tip #1 - “intelligent social media tools” does not always equal “social media intelligence tools”.

Now that we’re on the same page, assessing the state of the social intelligence industry necessitates a look at the potential applications of the technology, an examination of how typical organisations are taking advantage of it, and how it can impact real-life business performance.

Social intelligence is the ability to gather social data, analyse it, and get actionable answers from it, requiring a mix of technology and human capabilities

Research conducted by The Social Intelligence Lab in 2019 found that most organisations focused their social data analysis on the following areas (in order of importance); topic analysis, audience, brand, competitor, and finally customer behaviour. Broadly speaking, social intelligence technology can service these pre-defined requirements increasingly well “out-of-the-box” - certainly their ability to ingest vast amounts of data, create subsets, identify cohorts, perform lexical analysis, and provide analytics of the information required to examine these areas has improved at a staggering rate. 

But the technical capabilities of social intelligence providers are only half the story. In reality, the state of the industry is probably more derived from the role that social intelligence actually plays inside organisations - and that’s where the picture becomes less clear.


Joe Rice, Twitter’s data lead in EMEA, authored an interesting blog earlier this year, examining this. He suggests that companies’ journey to social intelligence involves three stages; brand monitoring, social listening, and finally, fully-fledged social intelligence. 

But fully-fledged social intelligence isn’t something you can just buy - it’s a comprehensive approach to understanding social data, and applying what you learn to your organisation. It needs a blend of people, process, and technology.

At a tactical level, it looks at the context of social data and the causality behind datapoints, by helping to answer questions like “why did that post get so many likes?”, but it goes further. At a strategic level, social media intelligence teams help organisations to identify and answer much more fundamental questions that can help leaders shape products, direct resources, understand customers and more.

People + Technology: Asking the right questions

Social data is not a panacea - it doesn’t intrinsically provide you with answers, because it can’t tell you what questions to ask. How can it? It doesn’t understand your business, your objectives, or your industry. For investment in social intelligence technology to deliver tangible results, smart organisations make a simultaneous investment in people.

Even with cutting edge trend-spotting and predictive tools, it takes a person to understand detailed context, and be creative in spotting opportunities for insight.

As a simple example; social technology might help you learn that people are dissatisfied with the market-leader in your industry - it might help you ascertain specifically that the design of their widget is not well-loved by their customers. What the technology can’t tell you is whether your organisation is capable of designing a better widget, or whether the price point of the newly-designed widget would be acceptable. By connecting those dots, liaising with design leaders in your organisation, and conducting further research on the price, you can translate social intelligence into real business results.

Technical Requirements


In the last decade, several important factors have brought themselves to bear on social media technology vendors. Firstly, the number of social channels has increased dramatically, meaning more integrations, more types of data, and differing levels of access or insight offered by each. Secondly, the sheer volume of data has increased exponentially, as user bases expanded, and social sharing has become an integral part of modern life.

Happily, the compute capability required to ingest, process, and analyse these burgeoning data flows has become readily and cheaply available - so you’d be forgiven for assuming that all social media technology vendors would have developed at a similar pace - but a closer look reveals this is not always the case.

Most importantly, as the social landscape has grown, so too has the need for actionable insights, rather than just simple statistics. Some platforms have developed advanced tools to help marketers identify and extract these insights, whilst others are less advanced. For the sake of simplicity, the maturity of a vendor can usually be graded along a scale, with social listening tools at one end, and fully-mature social intelligence tools on the other. A key point is that social intelligence isn’t “better” than social listening, it’s a different capability - but if a vendor offers nuanced tools for social intelligence capabilities, they almost certainly offer a developed social listening toolset.

Social intelligence isn’t “better” than social listening, it’s a different capability - but if a vendor offers nuanced tools for social intelligence capabilities, they almost certainly offer a developed social listening toolset.

Social Listening

Social listening is the ability to monitor and query social channels for specific events, such as brand mentions, competitor mentions, specific keywords, or phrases. 

Firstly, it should go without saying that you’ll need to ensure that your listening tool offers integrations for all the social channels you wish to report on. The majority of social listening tools offer comprehensive volumetric analysis, such as number of posts, likes, shares, etc. Some providers offer further functionality such as keyword-based sentiment indicators, comparison and more. 

Developed platforms are increasingly making use of AI to help deal with complex interpretation requirements, such as the difference between the Amazon rainforest, and, or to power conversational analysis, for better sentiment scoring, and similar capabilities.

Cutting-edge platforms are able to analyse images and video for brands or objects, allowing insights into previously more opaque channels such as Instagram - and offering a glimpse into the future, which will likely include facial expression analysis, and other AI enabled innovations.

Analytics & The GUI

Data itself doesn’t offer insight - in fact, particularly at the scale of social, it’s opaque and time-consuming to work with. So, when comparing social listening software, one of the most critical considerations is data visualisation. Whether you’re researching on an ad-hoc basis, or building dashboards for ongoing monitoring, a flexible graphical user interface (GUI) and a comprehensive set of data visualisation capabilities (graphs, charts, tables, etc.) is essential.

Top Tip: Platform proliferation is a concern for marketing leaders. Identifying vendors with a broad set of tools (alongside social intelligence) can help reduce overall cost and complexity – and improve martech ROI.

A pertinent example is that of social media advertising – if a social insight platform offers functionality here, benefits for your organisation might include improved reporting, faster ideation, and streamlined cross-department workflows.

Software Fundamentals

When evaluating business technology which comes into contact with other critical business systems, handles customer data, or contains sensitive business information, there are some basics that must be considered. Each of the following is worthy of its own paper, but warrants listing here, for further investigation.

  • Delivery method (cloud, on-premise, hybrid)
  • Support and service level agreements
  • Pricing - usage limits, user seats, general licensing
  • API’s, integrations, and third party platform relationships
  • Platform and data security
  • Physical location and data processing agreements and jurisdictions
  • Data ownership and portability

The Technology for Social Intelligence

As we’ve already touched on, social intelligence is a holistic concept - it’s bigger than just social listening. As such, the tools required to support it are more nuanced and typically need to be optimised for this kind of work - questions like “what should our next product be?” can’t be answered with numbers alone.

Predominantly, this is done in two ways:

  1. Backwards engineering your business objectives, until you reach questions that can be answered by the data. A simple example of this might be; if your objective is to increase profitability, your hypothesis might be “my price point is too low”, so you could gather posts of users who own your product, and analyse what they say about price. If they’re generally positive, you might be able to recommend an increase.

  2. Deploying technology to spot patterns and relationships in the data. Using the same example, your social intelligence technology might highlight that posts referencing your product often feature the word “expensive”. By reducing your price point, you might discover a pricing sweet-spot, that ignites sales and encourages advocacy.

Top Tip: Some platforms allow you to connect or import other datasets, such as CRM, or sales data. This can be particularly helpful when looking at customer service or product issues.

Brand Equity

The value of a brand is an easily encapsulated example. Brand equity is something that should concern any marketing leader, but is famously hard to measure - after all, it certainly isn’t the number of followers you have, or the number of influencers who mention your products. Best-selling author Neil Patel suggests that brand equity is primarily a measure of 3 things:

  1. Knowledge - how well known is your brand
  2. Preference - do people choose your brand over competitors
  3. Financial considerations - product pricing, market share, growth rate, etc

An easy-to-imagine social intelligence project would comprise skilled practitioners, working with carefully designed software, which makes use of advanced technology such as natural language processing (NLP), and external inputs (such as market share data and product pricing information) to identify relevant metrics and create a report for this purpose, significantly increasing speed and accuracy, whilst reducing the cost of monitoring brand equity on an ongoing basis.

In short, social intelligence software is optimised to help you solve business challenges, identify threats and opportunities, even facilitate the serendipitous discovery of insights that you can use to drive your decisions.

Social Intelligence in the Organisation

Successful social intelligence projects can be transformational for organisations, but often, (particularly beyond the marketing department) the function is not well understood. The SILab research shows that over 50% of senior leaders don’t understand social intelligence objectives or outputs clearly - and if leaders don’t understand a technology, they’ll hesitate to fund it, be slow to make use of it, or dismiss it altogether.

If you are the owner of the social intelligence function, it’s incumbent upon you to promote it throughout your organisation. In the same way as the insights gleaned from social data can be used by marketers for everything from shaping marketing strategy, all the way down to improving campaign performance, or tweaking artwork, the potential applications across enterprises are enormous. They range from customer service, to product development - even the HR department in large organisations.

Additionally, social intelligence software can help break down silos, and facilitate interdepartmental cooperation. When investing in social intelligence software, marketing leaders should strive to operate as the intelligence and insights centre-of-excellence within their organisation, offering access to other departments, facilitating training, and seeking to offer a unified source of truth and insight for every department.


Looking to the Future

The short-term future of social intelligence is a steady march towards maturity within the majority of organisations. As we’ve highlighted, that will mean exponential growth into other departments, and will precipitate the development of out-of-the-box models, templates, reporting methods, and more to support them.

Technologically speaking, leading vendors are already focusing on connecting more data sources, and applying conversational analysis in order to understand complex interactions - like CRM data and chat conversations. This combination of first party data and social data will offer powerful new insight.

Next, we’re expecting to see more complete onboarding of more media types in the not-too-distant future - predominantly video and audio - so more insight from sources like TikTok, YouTube, even call centre interactions.

Lastly, whilst AI is a much-touted feature of almost all modern software, the current real-life applications are not as pervasive as you might think. The year ahead is likely to see AI being applied to data analysis more broadly. Perhaps most interestingly, it will be applied to the interpretation of complex user requests. This will help to surface complex, multi-dimensional information more easily, and help to minimise coding or manual query-building.

ROI Graph


Particularly for marketers, leading technology platforms in this space offer powerful engines, capable of analysing massive amounts of social data, and rich features to give organisations potent insights from day one.

Investment in social listening, analytics, and social intelligence research technology can offer significant gains, but a whole-organisation approach and a focus on people is key to success. Wherever you find yourself on your social intelligence journey, it’s how you are positioned to take advantage of your new-found understanding that will determine ultimate ROI.

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