Over the last five years I have been a part of hundreds of social and digital media research assignments for clients of all industries and sizes. There are nuances to each project, industry and client that make the research side of my brain excited with the process of exploration. That process is simply a series of steps that analysts follow to read and analyze the data, and then develop insights based on knowledge of the business and the data to inform a strategy and tactics. Those insights are what clients pay us for. Well… not entirely.

Let us take a step back for a second and explore the process we use to arrive at the insights development phase.

  1. Business input – An old colleague of mine used to tell clients that they will always know the business better, but the reason we were brought in was because of our expertise in translating the business into the written (or digital, in this case) word. Every project starts with a debrief on where the business currently stands, where it is going and what are the steps being taken to get there. It is critical for analysts who may come in and out of a particular industry or client situation to have the business context when reviewing the data. Without that context, the insights could totally miss the mark.
  2. Initial research – We always start with an initial research phase in order to hone keywords and test initial assumptions. It doesn’t need to be structured.
  3. Hypothesis development – Before you go into anaphylactic shock after reading the word hypothesis, you should know that I don’t mean it in the very literal, high school science class way. If you would like to format your hypotheses that way, be my guest. However, when I say hypothesis all I am referring to is a brief statement detailing what you as the researcher are expecting to see after the business input session. It can be something as simple as saying like, “the majority of conversations will be taking place on Twitter.” That’s a perfectly fine statement and it helps frame the research in such a way that you do not end up with 500 slides of data and no clear story or direction. More on this in a moment…
  4. Research/Analysis – This is where the analyst takes everything he or she learned during the business input session, initial research and hypothesis phases and applies it to the actual data. For the purposes of this post, just know that this is where the bulk of the work happens, particularly in industries that receive quite a bit of attention online.
  5. Insights development – After the analyst has gathered all of the data, he or she can start to develop insights based on what they learned during the business input session and in the data gathering phase.

Clients and internal teams alike are always looking for this insight, right? It is where the rubber meets the road. It is the basis for the development of our communications strategies and tactics, right? While it is certainly the goal to uncover that golden nugget of an insight that forever changes the business, sometimes confirming an initial suspicion can be just as valuable. For example, what if during the business input session your client or key stakeholder told you that there was some negativity about the brand. That the brand image itself had been tarnished in some way. What if during your research you confirmed that yes, in fact, there was a negative stigma attached to the brand? Would that not be valuable for the brand to hear? Obviously, it is your job as an analyst to help the team translate that finding into an action plan to counteract the negativity, but you have just confirmed their gut instinct.

What if you were conducting this same kind of social media research for a B2B company and the client or stakeholder told you that nobody is talking about the brand online and you then demonstrated that through your research? Would that not be valuable to hear? Again, it is incumbent upon you (the analyst) and the team to develop an action plan to counteract or grow the volume of conversation (if desired).

There are going to be those instances where finding the truly amazing insight in a set of data will not happen. Trust me, I have been a part of several projects over the last several years where that is the case. In those instances, confirming initial gut instincts can be just as valuable if translated into an action plan. Don’t forsake confirming your instincts in search of the magical insight elixir. If you do, you might be disappointed.