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Opinion: Ben Donkor on #NYKCONF, and the Skills Social Analysts of the Future Will Have Opinion

By Ben Donkor on January 19th 2017

I’ve had this post in my head for a while now, and I think it’s time I got it out.

In October I went to The Now You Know Conference in London – #NYKCONF. It was a great event, and I love events like this because there just aren’t enough events dedicated to us social/digital analysts.

Something happened during it that caught my attention. I’ve been thinking about it ever since – and it’s on the future of analysts.

What Skills Should Social Analysts have Five Years from Now?

Day one’s afternoon panel was pretty interesting: we saw three marketers talking about the future of social analytics.

We had Bian Salins of TSB Bank (Head of Social), Fernando Polo of Good Rebels and Territorio Creativo (Executive General Manager), Agata Dec from Brandwatch (Director of Professional Services), and the panel host Will McInnes (Brandwatch CMO).

I definitely enjoyed the panel, mainly as a way to understand where directors, senior-level people, and generally the hiring managers of social analysts see social intelligence evolving. It was great to see what their expectations and predictions were, as I could relate that to the expectations of my current and previous managers too.

Then Will McInnes asked the question I was waiting for: “What skills should social analysts have five years from now?”

The answers poured in from the three panelists. I was ready. The answers were:

  • Storytelling. Being able to look at data and tell a story, being able to understand what it all means, being able to look at the various tassels of data and piece them together in the puzzle that you’ll then need to explain to your stakeholders.
  • Business orientation off the back of storytelling: telling a story isn’t enough if you can’t tell it in the language of your stakeholders; your stakeholders are most likely to speak the language of the business – what does this data mean for them? What’s the bottom line of it all? What does the business need to do about this? What are the next steps? Where do we go from here?
  • Multi-layering data sources, being able to look at various sources of data to tell the full story from end to end, being able to link social data with revenue data, or advertising data with demographic and psychographic data, or sales data with web traffic, for the complete (or at least a bigger) story.

That’s when I wrote the following:

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-3-40-00-pm

…and months later, I still stand by it.

The skills that the panelists mentioned are essential skills for an analyst today. If you call yourself a “social media analyst”, but you can’t tell a story around the data you’re reporting on, or you can’t add non-social layers of data on top of social media data, or worst of all, if you can’t relate to business priorities, then no, you’re not a social media analyst.

That’s one of the many reasons why when I speak at events I always reiterate what the role of a social media analyst is. I won’t go in full detail – if you want the full details, you can check out my post on the subject here, but here’s a quick snapshot.

A social media analyst isn’t there to churn out reports, or to download data exports from Facebook Insights, or to create fancy dashboards in Brandwatch (or whatever tool you use, I don’t judge.)

A social media analyst’s role is not even to make decisions, but rather to influence them.

Being the closest one to social data out of everyone in the business (yes, including their hiring manager, all the way up to the C-Suite), they’re in the best position to provide data-driven insights and recommendations on what to do next, on what not to do, on what to more of or less of, based on carefully prepared analysis and/or predictions.

Your analyst cannot do that if they can’t tell a story around the data, connect that with other sources of data, and tie it all back to business priorities. If they can’t do that, they’re not really a social media analyst – sure, they might have the job title, but it doesn’t really reflect what they’re doing, especially in the context of digital marketing in 2017, and it definitely doesn’t reflect where the role is going.

How long have we been talking about not working in silos, for example? Years, right?

Brandwatch were talking about this back in 2014, just a year after they unveiled Brandwatch Vizia; my very first time tweeting about working in silos was from 2013, when this very topic came up during the Adobe Summit. Will McInnes beat us all to it with this bacek in 2010 directed to Danny Whatmough and Stephen Waddington (who had a super interesting session at #NYKConf by the way).

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-3-43-09-pm

And yet, this topic had been mentioned several other times before then. If businesses shouldn’t work in silos, neither should analytics.

This isn’t a new thing, it’s not revolutionary, it’s not groundbreaking, and it’s not an insight – it’s how analytics should be today. If your analytics don’t work that way today, you won’t make it till the end of 2017 without a struggle.

I think if people think basic skills are things we can expect to see in the future, then the present is pretty bleak for us analysts.

In a way I feel that those statements undermine and somewhat downplay our role as social media analysts, a role that is sometimes misunderstood – the analyst isn’t the report guy, or the Excel gal, or your Brandwatch pal (no matter how good they are with those Boolean queries).

We’re so much more than that: we have the power to influence business decisions, we speak the language of the business and of social media and of digital marketing and of the data we use to drive insights that make action happen, so yes, in a way we speak more “languages” than most people in the business – and the future is so bright for us, with so many opportunities.

But in an industry when even some of our hiring managers don’t fully understand what we do and the work we’ve done to get to where we are today, we need to carve our roles ourselves.

So, what skills should a social analyst have in the next five years? It’s only fair that I mention three, in my next article.


At Brandwatch we loved Ben’s feedback, and we’ve put it in action. Join us at our next NYK Conference in Denver in May and see us go in-depth on timely topics including the post-truth world and online data, the ethics of machine learning, and the practicalities of data lakes. Get your ticket here.