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Published February 6th 2015

The Unexpected Complexity in Building a Feature Designed for Simplicity

Yesterday, we launched Automated Reports – scheduled reports sent to you via email that make regular reporting of your Brandwatch data much quicker and easier than ever before.

I thought I’d take a moment to give you a little insight into the development journey of this feature – including the unexpected complexity in building a feature that is, at its core, designed for simplicity and ease of use.

The challenge: to create something as flexible and powerful as Brandwatch Analytics Dashboards that you can automatically have emailed to you as a PDF to view straight from your inbox.

It sounds straightforward, and there are lots of other companies out there that do some form of automated reporting, including for social data. However, most companies don’t offer their users the power and flexibility that Brandwatch does, or collect the millions of mentions we do every day.

That turns a straightforward problem into a head scratcher. 

Why build Automated Reports?

The ability to schedule a report and have it sent out automatically is a frequent request and always has been.

For as long as I’ve been here at Brandwatch – even way back when I was an Account Manager – clients have been asking us, ‘please make it easier to quickly get a report out’. That’s why we added exports and image downloads to all our charts to make that process as flexible and easy as possible.

But still, users want that pleasure of knowing Brandwatch Analytics is going to deliver them a weekly update on their brand when they don’t have the time that week to log in to their Dashboard, so we decided to explore further.

We have built some really challenging things over the years: a data visualisation product that can take any social data thrown at it and make it look sexy, figuring out someone’s profession and interests with just a few sentences, not to mention allowing users to find conversation around any brand or topic they can imagine from over 5 years of social data.

But Reports presented a special sort of challenge – one I’ll admit I was not looking forward to, especially given that we had explored the possibility before – twice in fact – and the results both times failed to meet the standards we keep ourselves to. This was our third (and probably final) chance and this time, it had to work.


The challenges

I appreciate you might be wondering ‘why is this such a challenge? Can’t be that hard, right?’

Initially, we thought the same. But as we started to explore further, we found that the challenge was more complex than expected.

This is mainly because, when our clients think about getting a PDF report, they imagine and want their Dashboards in report form, or the ability to fully customise their own reports.

The problem is that our Dashboards were designed for a horizontal screen and to be interacted with. In those, we can hide data so you only see the topline until you click on the area you want to get more detail on, you can scroll and click around, and you can resize your window. A4/letter-sized PDFs don’t offer any of those features. 

There are other, background, technical difficulties too.

When a user opens a Dashboard in Analytics, it runs off to Brandwatch to go grab those millions of mentions and chart them. Some charts load quicker than others and the user can see when it’s all loaded and looks great. In order to send someone a report, we have to do all of that on the backend: make sure it looks great and is loaded, then, through some tech wizardry, turn it into a document that can then be emailed to lots of people.

To do this we needed a lot of new tech, which is what we’ve spent the last six months developing.

The result is Automated Reports, which we launched yesterday – meaning our users can now benefit from being able to get automatic Reports straight to their inboxes with the minimum of effort. They’re quick and easy to set up and we hope will be a valuable addition for our users.

reports set up

The journey doesn’t end here

We’ve made it much further than we have in the past, but there’s still more we want to do.

As we mentioned yesterday, this is just the first step in our automated reporting functionality.

There are short term plans, such as adding more templates and some more functionality, but in the future, we want to make it possible for users to customise and adapt their Reports to suit their needs.

Right now the Reports are templated to meet the core use cases of a quick overview, owned media report or benchmarking against competitors, but with each template that we build we are increasing the visuals we can use for future customisation.

jThe challenge for us now is figuring out what that journey looks like.

We want to make sure that whatever we add is intuitive and leans on all of the past development that allows users customise their Dashboards so we aren’t duplicating effort – without just making another version of Dashboards!

We also want to explore how we allow for more customisation of the visuals, be that colours, logos, titles or annotations. How do we build the ultimate social media reporting tool?

That’s the journey we are on now and this is just the start. We have a full team dedicated to this new product (and a wonderful group of beta testers – thank you!) and we would love to hear your feedback for the team to use in the coming iterations. Expect to see lots more in the coming months.



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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.