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Published March 7th 2016

Interview: On Social Analytics and Strategic Communications at The Glover Park Group

Glover Park Group (GPG) is one of the most well-respected public affairs and strategic communications firms in the world.

The Glover Park Group (GPG) is one of the most well-respected public affairs and strategic communications firms in the world.

Formed in 2001 by former officials in the Clinton White House, GPG employs some of the most talented minds from advertising, marketing, public relations, corporations, non-profits, think tanks, government, political and issue campaigns, and news/media companies.

For 15 years, GPG has provided deep insights and senior counsel for some of the world’s largest corporations, NGOs, trade associations, and coalitions. Notably, they provide consultancy work for governments, and being based in Washington DC, their focus tends to concentrate on public policy and industry reputation issues.

U.S. Capitol at Dusk

During this time, the world of communications and crisis management has changed rapidly.

Not only because of the wildfire spread of news on social media requires lightning fast reaction, but also because of the technology companies GPG can use to research, focus and distribute their insights.

As GPG say themselves, “We never leave winning to chance.”

We sat down with GPG’s Managing Director of Research, Jason Boxt, and Vice President Colleen Campbell, to learn how social analytics is employed in a company that works at the intersection of media, business, culture and government in this first of two interviews.


The benefits of social analytics for public opinion research

The rapid change in the way technology has allowed GPG to work is evident in the way Jason refers to the past few years, and how their research division in particular has been able to evolve.

“The majority of our clients are focused on communicating to opinion elite audiences in DC, NY and elsewhere. As such, they have a different relationship to the internet and digital than your typical product-focused, consumer oriented clients.

However, as digital communications became the way in which the majority of audiences consume information, we began to recognize that the internet was changing the way that we were being asked to do our job as a communications firm, and at the time research, which has always been embedded in the agency, was only an public opinion research division,” Jason begins.

“But as we noticed that shift in how the internet was forcing us to do our job, GPG slowly also began to realise that how we understood data had to change as well – we brought on a couple of folks who came out of the data intelligence and digital intelligence world.

We weren’t really sure how they fit into the agency, and so they really lived on the communications side; but even then, there wasn’t a real strategic sense of how they were being used.”


Jason quickly realized that analytics tools could  – should – form part of their research arsenal.

“The questions that we would typically ask from an opinion research side, ‘Who are your audiences? What are you saying and where are you saying it?’ – those questions also had to be answered when you were thinking about digital communication.

It occurred to me that digital analytic tools, even though they weren’t “research” in the way that I think we understood research at the time, helped us answer those questions.

We started to look at digital platforms as an offering, as a way of being able to answer the same kinds of questions that we were answering on the opinion side.”

Soon, digital analytics was used hand-in-hand with traditional research methods, to provide insights to some of their most demanding clients across multiple sectors.

“Our clients come to us with a range of problems. What they want is solutions to their communications, or their branding, or their reputational challenges. We use opinion research or digital research or, often both, to help them answer those fundamental questions: who, what, and where, and overcome their communications challenges.”

Colleen adds, “We find that the digital research is  a pivotal step in helping to refine and target online audiences that are already having relevant conversations. We actually find we get much more robust results when we look at the digital conversation and coverage and then complement it with the methodologies of public opinion research.

For example, examining the online conversations around a specific issue will inform how we might write a focus group guide or survey to see if the topics we are seeing online resonate with those who may not be actively involved in these conversations. This approach helps us to determine which messages are actually breaking through and which ones are just noise.”

The attitudes toward social analytics across the business

Throughout the series of interviews we’ve held with brands, agencies and consultants, one theme does seem to raise its head quite regularly.

Getting buy-in from stakeholders on the way social data can benefit the business can be a struggle, even today.

As we know, social data is being used to support listening and engagement functions and for measurement around brand awareness and share of voice, and at the more advanced end of the spectrum are businesses who have successfully created an analytics culture – not only generating insights from social data, but activating them across the whole organization.


As Colleen mentions, sometimes it can be challenging to demonstrate quite how advanced these research methods are now becoming.

Jason chimes in. “When some colleagues think about digital analytics, they ask ‘What’s the volume? What’s the sentiment? That’s awesome. Thanks’ – it’s a fairly quick – and important – process, but it’s really skimming rocks off the surface.

I think the challenge for us as a sophisticated research unit is getting others to understand that there is a level of analysis that goes deeper than basic monitoring and listening. That’s where we as a research team offer the best bang for buck.

It’s not necessarily fast, but it really does help them understand and solve their problems, and that’s our problem; we have to socialise what it is that we can do with these platforms that is more sophisticated and less obvious than many of our colleagues often see.”

But some teams certainly do understand the benefits of social data, as Colleen laughs candidly.

“Oh certainly some can’t get enough of social data, and they understand it. Social data gives them an edge in addressing communications challenges and forming effective strategies that really have impact.”

A big thanks to Jason and Colleen for speaking with us.

In the second part of this interview, Jason and Colleen will cover how social and digital data have been playing into communication strategies for the US  presidential candidates, the future of social data, and we’ll ask what success looks like to them.

This interview is one in a series with industry experts – you can expect more every week.


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