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Published October 5th 2016

How to Confidently Generate Actionable Marketing Insight from Social Data

I was at an insights conference a few months ago to hold a round table on social media intelligence.

Surrounded by professionals from the world of marketing intelligence, the one thing I took away from the event was ‘underwhelming’.

Every person I spoke to told me about their woes of ‘underwhelming’ social insights reports.  Maybe you have felt this way before too? “I’ve never received any insight that I can use”. “It’s nice to know not need to know”.

It’s an epidemic but there is a way to overcome your insight woes.  In this two-part blog series we are going to explore how you can mine social data to generate actionable insight for your marketing campaigns.

The Illusive Insight

When interpreted properly social data can provide business intelligence into your audiences’ current position and future needs.

Every interaction we make online, our interests, thoughts, experiences and opinions are turned into data points. Social data offers the opportunity to analyse all aspects of human behaviour, there are literally no more secrets.   

Don’t believe me?

The good folks down at Facebook can predict both the start of a new relationship before it becomes ‘Facebook official’ and the likelihood of a relationship ending.

Researchers even used social data about the possible location of Osama Bin Laden and found that ‘collective wisdom’ had placed him in the vicinity 200km from where he was found.  

Then, why are marketers finding it so difficult to interpret and action social insights?

Marketers Need to Focus on Behavior

There is one key reason that marketers fail to generate actionable insight from social media – they focus on their brand; they don’t focus on audiences or their behavior.

All the best marketing books aren’t so much about the technical aspects of marketing but the psychology of people – ask any marketing influencer and they will tell you that to succeed in marketing you must understand human behavior!  

Gary Vaynerchuk believes that “attention is the single most important asset in digital marketing”.

If we look at the neuro-science behind communication, then we begin to see that grabbing audience attention is not straightforward.  It’s not just about having the best creative concept that looks good on paper.  It’s about communicating, in sequence, to the three parts of the brain.

  • The Reptilian Brain: also known as the old brain is responsible for governing basic survival.  It’s also the part of the brain that is responsible for much of the decision-making process.  This part of the brain is highly visual, and largely governed by fear, making it extremely selfish.
  • The Middle Brain: also known as the mammalian brain is responsible for our feelings, hormones, and moods.  The middle brain also plays a significant role in decision-making.
  • The Executive Brain: also known as the human or new brain is the most evolved part of our brain and deals with language and reason.  There is a tendency to think that it is the executive brain that makes decisions because it is capable of reason, logic and evaluation.

To grab conscious audience attention, your content has to first be processed by the reptilian brain and the middle brain.  So, to get engagement you need to speak directly to the selfish and emotional parts of the brain, and then, if needed, use logic, attributes and reason.

Getting It Right and Getting It Wrong

My best friend is a jewellery designer and relies on Instagram for marketing, before applying my principles of social data analysis interpreted in the frame of neuro-marketing she posted lots of product shots but was never happy with her engagement.  

By finding out what would capture her audience attention we changed up her approach to photos and increased her engagement by 200%, she’s now winning at grabbing her audience attention!

shona-before shona-after


Continuing with neuro-marketing, the ‘Age of the Wordless Logo’ article from The Atlantic has been doing the rounds in social media over the past couple of weeks.  If we look at the MasterCard logo, it completely embodies the principles of neuro-aesthetics.


The MasterCard logo is easy to process by the reptilian brain, but in developing content MasterCard need to play up to the selfish and emotional side of humans to really grab audience attention. The best tip to give here is to ensure that your content is about your audience, not your brand!

What do you think about this advert, do you get it?  


It got it and loved it (I’m Scottish and it symbolises a stag’s head to me) but looking at the comments, not everyone got it.

The content is very clever and plays on linkages in your brain about hunting but it seems that this connection is not universal across cultures, this is why you should analyse social media data to understand your audiences’ memory linkages and the elements that will grab their attention, provoke interest and convert action.

The question remaining, is how can you get the insight you need to make more effective marketing communications?

In the next part of this blog we’ll be exploring three types of social media analysis and interpretation to get you the insight you need to speak to your audiences’ three brains and convert action!


BBC. (2011).  Supercomputer predicts revolution, URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14841018.

Facebook. (2014). Flings or Lifetimes? The Duration of Facebook Relationships, URL:http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/02/when-you-fall-in-love-this-is-what-facebook-sees/283865/

Gary Vaynerchuk. (2016). Gary Vaynerchuk, URL: https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/.

Sam Page. (2016). Digital Neuromarketing.

The Atlantic. (2014). When you fall in love, this is what Facebook sees, URL: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/02/when-you-fall-in-love-this-is-what-facebook-sees/283865/.

The Atlantic. (2016). The Age of the Wordless Logo, URL: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/the-age-of-the-wordless-logo/499166/

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