“Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” Roald Dahl

At The Forge Watching is focused on the world of social media analysis. From facebook to twitter, from Pinterest to blogging platforms, social media brings a new and exciting source of people’s expressions into play.

The overwhelming and unique advantage of these approaches springs from their passivity. Because they merely observe rather than interact, they can deliver a level of unprompted understanding that plays yin to the yang of conventional asking techniques.

Social media also brings the power of spontaneity. It is the analysis of real-time, in the moment expressions. By definition these expressions are far less bound by the need for logic and rationality.

Sentiment analysis enables us to capture genuine, unprompted feelings towards a category, brand or proposition. Content analysis can help us to derive a truer picture of unmet needs and desired improvements. Ultimately by removing the influence of the act of asking we can gain a more accurate picture of how people really behave (rather than how they say they behave). And all of this is couched in genuine consumer language, uninfluenced by the inquisitors map of the world.

The growth in Geotagging adds another layer of depth and potential to these social expressions – offering the opportunity to understand the ‘where’ of brand interactions and expressions as well as the ‘who’ – and so shedding more light on the dynamics in play.

We also use social media expressions to deliver influencer analysis, a cutting edge application that can drive a much more dynamic understanding of a category or brand.  Exploring who has disproportionate influence, and understanding how different brand activities and touchpoints impact on different influencers not only highlights the most efficient targets for a brand to chase, but also helps to identify the brand activities that will make provide the biggest bang per buck.

But despite all of these benefits and applications watching still only delivers a part of the insight picture. Its power can be limited by the fact that those expressing themselves through these media are self-selecting and therefore often not representative of the broader population. Its power can be limited by the fact that categories, brands and products need to generate enough content to deliver worthwhile volumes of data (analyzing social media expressions around mobile phones is achievable, analysing social media expressions around toilet cleaners probably isn’t).

Watching also suffers from a lack of context. What are the broader needs that people are trying to fulfill? What competitive offers impact the category landscape? How do demographics and attitudes impact? How do findings reflect variables such as brand awareness, usage or intention?

And in a world that generates 41,000 Facebook posts a second and 278,000 tweets a minute, good watching is fundamentally challenging. It means asking the right questions of the data, and it means developing ways to filter the sheer volume of information into meaningful chunks.

We’ve noted the explosion of tools and businesses aimed at unlocking this source of insight – but most of these struggle to add real value to the quest for insight. Ultimately, synthesis and distillation is not enough to simplify and drive action.

Finally our experience with this source area tells us that findings need to be validated by other sources and approaches if they are to engender the genuine confidence required to take action. Another reason why at The Forge Watching is just one of our four key source areas. For us, genuine insight comes from applying effort to multiple sources of information and forging them together to reveal true growth opportunities.

Insight isn’t found. Insight is forged.

With thanks to the US Navy for the image