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Social intelligence and comms: the new skills changing the industry

Dr Jillian Ney
Sep 10, 2020 4:15:00 PM

This is a guest blog written by Jillian Ney, founder of The Social Intelligence Lab and the first academy for professionals using social data as part of their work. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Working in communications isn’t easy. In fact, I’d say it’s very hard, much harder than some imagine. When I started out as an analyst in a digital agency, I often thought the comms team had the toughest roles. That was over 10 years ago. Now one of the hardest parts of working in comms is the speed of change and the effective use of data. Here’s where social intelligence presents a huge opportunity for comms professionals.

Communications and social data - the perfect match

We most commonly see the use of social data in comms in campaign performance measurement* but social data can do so much more. The use of social data for insight is relevant at every stage of the comms journey, from strategy to creative and distribution and measurement and optimisation. Some examples;

  • Competitor intelligence
  • Audience intelligence
  • Branding and positioning
  • Influencer intelligence
  • Creative and messaging
  • Customer experience
  • Product positioning/development
  • Reputation management
  • Crisis management

Basically, anywhere where comms needs to make a decision or choose a direction, social data can be used to find the insight needed. Social data as a source (and social intelligence as the practice of finding the insights) is perfect for comms because it’s live and broad. Embedding social intelligence into strategy means removing the guesswork and assumptions, those grey areas that can see comms performance fall down. Plus you can get very specific with social data, allowing knowledge of niche audiences on specific channels to get closer to the key to successful comms - getting to know your customer at a whole new level.

Using social intelligence means having an engine that’s plugged into what’s happening right now, that can answer complex questions and solve real problems.

Comms professionals make great social intelligence practitioners

Communication has always been about society, facing into the world rather than into the business and a focus on people is what makes social intelligence what it is.

You don’t need to be a data scientist to use data. In fact, some of the leaders in social intelligence started out in comms roles. Communications people are great at social intelligence for a few reasons:

  • Comms people are often great at asking questions, an essential skill in social intelligence projects.
  • The marketing mind is looking to drive action which means they go into social data looking to come out with something actionable.
  • Seeing patterns and telling stories. Skills in storytelling, turning bits of information into digestible and compelling stories is so important to social intelligence, it’s not about the 50 page findings report but the stories that can be told with the data.
  • They love it! I often find that people with a background in comms come to social intelligence with passion to uncover insights that will really impact their business

Up skilling for social intelligence

The next step of social data for professionals is setting up a social intelligence function. The SILab brand community includes 50 of the world’s largest brands who are building out social intelligence as a Jillian Neystandalone function to support the organisation, a massive move beyond social listening reports. Mastering social intelligence is more than being able to download a report and create a wordcloud. It’s a craft in the effective use of a very particular type of data to answer complex questions and find a way forward with the answers. To become a social intelligence practitioner, comms professionals have a bit of work to do. The good news is there are tried and tested frameworks and models being used by leading brands.

There are three pillars of development:

  • Planning and organisational framework knowledge to develop out Social Intelligence functions, get organisational buy-in for projects and define the most valuable use cases.
  • Technical skills to effectively plan, run and manage social intelligence projects. How to find the right data and understand the quality of that data, and getting the right tool stack.
  • Soft Skills to interpret the data (instead of simply report), tell better stories and cascade your insights across the organisation in an easy to digest way.

Social data will continue to grow in importance, it’s just a matter of who will grab it and run. I think the comms roles are an ideal springboard to unlocking the true value of social data.

*State of Social Intelligence 2019, Painting a Picture with Social Data.

Audiense is committed to having a more diverse and inclusive selection of contributors and industry thought leaders in our articles. If you’re interested in collaborating with us, please email and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash.

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