All posts by Job Muscroft

How We Became A Software Company: 5 steps to the birth of Pulsar

“We all need to become software companies!” That’s the message from John C McCarthy in his latest Forrester Research report which in a nutshell proposes that software is a central driver of brand and financial growth.

In his post earlier this week, our CEO Andrew Needham discussed the “business of products” and how to build them, touching upon ‘Lean Startup’ methods and Marc Andreesen’s quote that “all companies are now software companies”.

The big question you are left with is how the heck do you become a software company?

At FACE, we’re now a software company (as well as a research & innovation firm). Many of you reading this will have followed our journey over the past 5 years, culminating in the 2013 launch of Pulsar, a SAAS (software as a service) social data intelligence tool.

In this blog post, I want to share how we did this.

Why? As an innovation consultancy, we’re advising brands every day on how to build products and services. Yet unlike almost every other company in this space, and even many product design firms, we have first hand experience of building products ourselves – one that’s succeeded at scale, growing seven-figure sales revenues in its first year. The story of how we built Pulsar is inscribed deep in the DNA of what FACE is as a brand, and it’s a story we want to tell much more powerfully going into 2015.

Pulsar Social Data Intelligence-01 (1)

Pulsar social media monitoring platform Bundle data visualisation

So here’s the first installment: 5 ways we turned ourselves into software thinkers.

1. We challenged ourselves to do our jobs better 

As researchers with a passion for technology we were early users of social analytic software and we quickly learnt the limitations of the tools in the market. As part of a research innovation exercise, the team led by Francesco D’Orazio identified the key areas where we had to develop manual workarounds on client projects such as topic, network and audience analysis. A lightbulb went off when we looked at the results, which showed we could both reduce the amount of time spent on analytics and improve the quality of our work if we could automate these steps. Then we realised that no tool was offering this…

2. We became obsessed with other people’s jobs

We then looked outside of our company and our own jobs as researchers, and set about evaluating which other jobs could be improved by a tool that could automate these analyses. It was a long list: social media marketing, PR, brand management, corporate relations, advertising agencies, financial forecasting, media planning…And so on. It started to look like a viable market opportunity.

3. We started to build 

Looking outside and seeing the opportunity to improve jobs across so many industries gave us the confidence to start the pilot build of tour own social analytics product. For 18 months we built Pulsar with a small budget and team, working all the time with our clients to pilot a wide range of research projects to understand needs, features and use cases. Without having a research team in house who served as ‘internal customers’, this “listen to your users” process would have been much harder and much less powerful. To our delight, after 18 months, a lot of hard work and development, we had happy clients, happy researchers and most importantly a working product prototype – which we named Pulsar.

4. We thought BIG…

In the summer of 2012 we were so excited by the prototype of Pulsar that we started to think big. What if we scaled up the product? What if we could sell this to other companies and work with them on an ongoing basis?, What if we could sell this to lots of people all over the world doing lots of jobs? We then developed a plan to turn Pulsar into a leading platform for social intelligence. In 2013 we rolled out our big thinking by creating new teams in the company under the Pulsar brand: product, development, sales, marketing and account management. Now we really were a software company.

5. …But fought to stay Agile

After 18 months of launching Pulsar and hundreds of clients later what we have learnt about being a software company? It’s really incredibly simple: to win and keep customers as a software business, you have to be obsessed about how you can make your customers’ jobs better – and you have to keep innovating. Our development team follow Agile ‘scrum’ methodology, working on a rapid response development cycle where every aspect of development — requirements, design, and so on — is continually revisited and recalibrated to ensure it’s both deliverable and meets customer needs.

Agile software development principles

Principles of Agile software development

But it becomes something we’ve embraced deeper into the business too.

We’re developing continuous delivery research models, delivering social insights not just through big category landscape reports but also monthly newsletters & the Pulsar dashboard itself.

We passionately believe that “business people and developers” – that is, clients and customers, brands and consumers – have to work together to create products of value, and that’s why we still champion co-creation.

And our version of “working software” is actionable, direct recommendations that provide very specific guidance for what to do and how to change your product or brand.

So that’s how we built Pulsar – and changed ourselves as a research business in the process.

If you’d like to talk further about how we can change your business, whether that’s service design or new product development or just a difficult problem you need to solve – send me an email: Job.Muscroft@Facegroup.com

Previous post: Andrew Needham on How to Succeed in the Business of Products

Humanising Brands: The role of market research in 2014

In the past 12 months I have seen a lot of people in advertising start to talk about the need for brands to open up and start to build relationships:

 “We can hypothesize that perhaps the key to brands succeeding in this new world is to mimic a human relationship as closely as possible with consumers”
[Edelman's new "brandshare" model]

“As companies become more digital and equipped with advanced marketing analytic tools that allow them to know and predict consumers’ behavior even better than consumers themselves, they need to be more human as well. It’s time to shift the paradigm. Brands need to not only connect directly with their fans but also rethink the concept of brand ownership. Brands can be owned by both the company and the community of customers, fans, and followers that rallies around them.”
[John Windsor of Havas & crowdsourcing agency Victor & Spoils, writing in Harvard Business Review]

And Clay Shirky was talking about “humanising brands” as far back as 2008.

Image by Flickr User Steven Shorrock

What’s this all about? It’s recognising a need for brands to build a dialogue with customers, listening as much as talking – and talking one-to-one as well as broadcasting. It’s about recognising that in the digital landscape, consumers aren’t just “little people” but can be peers and influence leaders – and so brands need to earn the respect of powerful brand evangelists who will shout from a mountain top how wonderful you and your brand really are.

But how do you do this? The journey of humanising brands goes beyond social media tactics and good community management. No – at FACE, we’d argue that brands needs to fundamentally change their behaviour and really put the customer at the heart of what they do.

Nicola Green, Director of communications and reputation at O2, expresses this well:

“I truly believe that brands should treat their social-media conversations like their real-world conversations – it’s all about understanding your audience, engaging with them in a human way and being consistent. Take the time to get to know your social community and build a rapport; you’ll learn what resonates with them and where the lines are in the sand. You’ll also learn what your audience expects from you – which, more often than not, can be swift customer service when something goes wrong.”
[Source: Marketing Magazine]

In 2014 I believe we are going to see more forward thinking companies adopt the strategy of humanising their brands in 3 key areas. This will open up big opportunities for the market research industry:

1. Develop a ‘listen first’ culture

Brands will demonstrate an authentic desire to listen and respond to people’s needs in real time by rolling out social listening solutions across customer service, research, marketing, product, operations, and HR. This type of active listening is the foundation of building meaningful relationships.

Brands need an objective market research partner to help develop select vendors and set the key benchmarks and metrics that will underpin the listening programme. They also need help to interpret the huge amounts of qualitative data they will be generating to support stakeholders across the business with faster decision making.

Yes, we said qualitative data. This is the value that market research can offer above the typical technology-led, dashboard-based social listening solutions that lead the market at present. It’s about going beyond volume and sentiment, and focusing on people and their needs.

2. Co-create

In 2014 we’ll see an increasing use of co-creation with customers and external experts. This will be carried out by R&D and marketing/products teams, and  to develop both new product innovations and communications. This gives people more personalised experiences that can create a stronger bond between the individual and the brand.

To run strategic co-creation programmes requires world class facilitation and moderation skills to manage interactions between large groups of internal and external partners. Arguably the more important role market research can play here is as the architect of these type of initiatives who ultimately can navigate objectively the politics of companies, and deliver outputs that meet the brief.

3. Agile Communications

All good brands are now publishers, producing content across a huge number of touchpoints. And they’re learning that brand conversations, meanings and needs evolve very quickly. To maximise the opportunity that real time communication offers, companies will be busy building agile CRM  & publishing teams who will be responsible for engaging people with relevant information and high quality, timely content that will delight customers.

To support this type of comms team requires continual input from consumers in the creative process to establish what’s relevant, what’s perceived as high quality, and what’s most interesting and shareable. This means that market research can play a role if the research is fast enough. Creative development needs to become more agile – and in 2014 we’ll see this roll out further. New models for content creation are starting to emerge where consumer communities are being consulted in realtime as an extension of the marketing team to ensure that what is being published will hit the mark.

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We’ll no doubt be blogging more about each of these themes in 2014!

Meanwhile, for more about how humanising brands will open up new opportunities for research take a look at these recent articles from across the FACE team:

Building a listening programme:

Innovating co-creation:

On agile communictions:

 

 

3 new use cases for social data in research

With 1.7 billion people using social media globally, social media communication is now undeniably a mainstream activity. Tapping into this, there is now a healthy industry dedicated to tracking brand reputation using simple keyword-based platforms. As researchers, we should be asking ourselves how we can harness insights from this huge source of qualitative data to help our clients understand people and their needs better.

As both a social media and a qualitative research agency, this is something we at FACE are always thinking about. And we thought it was time to share more. So here are 3 use cases that go beyond brand tracking where social data is increasingly being used to answer research briefs.

1. Problem Tracking for Innovation

When you’re thinking innovation, asking people what products & services they want to see has an obvious drawback: these things don’t exist! So people find them hard to describe.

Image by Flickr User Jason Bolonski

You can often learn more from what listening to what people don’t want, or what they hate than asking them what they do want. And the advantage of social is that you don’t just tap into the dislikes of 15-20 people in an online community – but potentially 15-20,000 responses in social media discussion.

Using a skilled keyword search strategy you can isolate conversations around product and service discussions in most categories. In the past year we have worked on numerous innovation projects where social data has been used early in the process to identify consumer needs.

A good example is one of our haircare clients who have been tracking how women talk about their hair frustrations across 6 markets. From this our analysts have dug out unmet needs – and just as importantly, a detailed understanding of how those needs are expressed in consumer language.

Using social data in this way combined with strong qualitative analysis has helped this client uncover insights in a matter of days and at a fraction of the cost of their usual international group methodology.

We’ve also used social media to identify needs in a project for Nokia.

2. Social panels for consumer understanding and profiling

Social listening can go beyond tracking keywords and is increasingly focused on tracking specific groups of people’s conversations in what we describe as social panels.

Image by Flickr User Deb Nystrom

With more sophisticated social research platforms such as Pulsar you can identify discrete groups of people such as brand followers, bloggers, mums, tech experts in fact the list is endless.

We are currently working with a major UK retailer to track groups of their customer conversations to identify opportunity areas for the development of more personalised shopping experiences.

Social data helps to profile customer with a richer layer of behavioural and qual data. When this is combined with existing data sets it gives clients powerful insights on a scale – and timeliness – that is impossible to achieve with other types of research.

For an example, take a loot at this previous project we’ve done, profiling a brand’s audience with @O2.

3. Content tracking for creative development

Lots of media spend has moved to social media in the past few years, and brands understand that they need to evolve to become creators and publishers if they are going to engage people in social. This means that developing compelling content and intelligent seeding strategies is crucial to achieve ROI on this media spend.

Pulsar_Twitter_Gosling_Followers

Clicks and impressions tell some of the story, but seeing how content is shared and is talked about is crucial to understanding how stuff spreads successfully.

We have been working with Twitter UK over the past year using advanced network analysis to help them demonstrate to advertisers the dynamics of how to create compelling content. This type of behavioural social tracking is a necessity to conduct research in the area of content development as it is the only way to get the full picture of how and why things spread amongst online communities.

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Want to learn more about how social data can help you spread your content? Join our Viral Video Webinar, October 23rd at 4 pm BST/11 am EST to see how 4 viral videos were passed around the web – and what you can learn from them. 

Building social businesses: the role of research

Following CEO Andrew Needham’s blog post introducing the idea of “socially intelligent research”, we – that’s MD Job Muscroft and social media researcher Jess Owens – wanted to talk more about this concept in its wider context.

What is ‘social business’ and how did this idea develop? What kind of tools and working practices does it involve?  And what kind of research might socially intelligent businesses need?

What is social business?

The term ‘social business’ is closely associated with Prof. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel prize-winning Bangladeshi economist who developed the Grameen microfinance bank. His 2008 book, ‘Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism’ popularised the notion. It’s worth noting, however, that the Yunus Foundation  defines a social business as “a company created for social benefit rather than private profit”. In the UK, we’d tend to call this a ‘social enterprise’ – in the US, a ‘non-profit’ – and its focus would be explicitly charitable.

The definition of social business that we’re using is slightly bigger (Cello shareholders will be glad to hear private profit is allowed!) but it shares a core belief in building a business whose impact and relationships extend beyond its own four walls.

It’s a tech-informed model that takes from the rise of social media in the 2000s. Social media changed media because it made the relationships between people as important – and as visible – as their top-down relationships with ‘authorities’. It turned the general public from a passive audience into active creators. People’s opinions (and disagreements) about a topic no longer had to remain private, but could be presented on the same channels as the news article itself.

The world did not become ‘flat’ overnight – hierarchies remain, and indeed new ones have been formed. But the shift in social, cultural and political power has been profound.

Social business tools

Social business takes these principles and applies them to business organisation. And it recognises that tools inspired by social media – such as forums, wiki discussion boards, chat and social networks – should become a core part of business communications too.

So companies use tools like Yammer which provides a social network like Facebook and Twitter, allowing employees to build relationships across teams and collaborate (and innovate) more effectively. As consumer social media has made visible, relationships among peers are just as valuable – or more so – than the formal structures of teams and organisational hierarchy.

Yammer enterprise social network dashboard

Or back in 2007, telecoms company BT created ‘BTpedia’, a Wikipedia-style resource about how their business operated. As their intranet manager Richard Dennison explained,

“The idea is that, by simplifying and democratising the publication process, we will unlock a wealth of informal information that is currently excluded from the highly structured and more formal content hosted in our web content management system. Each article also has a discussion tab associated with it which flushes out like-minded people and facilitates connections between them and ultimately communities.”

So social businesses are companies that are thinking hard about their human and intellectual resources, and how best they can really work. And it’s not just about employees – recognising the value that sits outside the business is just as important. This may be relationships with suppliers, or trusted advisors – or even finding opportunities to collaborate rather than compete with other companies in your industry or region.

But the other big pillar of social business is the customer and the ideas and creativity they can share with businesses willing to listen. The customer is absolutely central to the success of your business, after all (if they don’t buy, you don’t have a business…) so the more involved they can be, the better your products can meet their needs.

How social businesses connect with their customers

The mobile network operator GiffGaff uses both ‘social sales’ (customers are financially incentivised to encourage their friends to join the network), and social customer support, provided peer-to-peer in the GiffGaff forums rather than by phone. This saves them a huge amount of money in staffing, allowing them to offer an extremely competitive tariffs and build market share – and a loyal customer base.

Or ‘crowdsourcing’ – even though the term was only created in 2006, its uptake among businesses has been rapid. Unilever have crowdsourced consumer contributions for everything from a Peparami advert to their sustainability initiatives. Ben & Jerry’s also frequently uses crowdsourcing for ice-cream flavours, names and ingredients, gaining both press coverage and customer engagement.

Ben & Jerry's crowdsourcing ice cream flavours

Crowdfunding through Kickstarter is also becoming an increasing channel for new businesses to get off the ground – the Pebble smart watch recently raisedover $10m, proving the model can scale and is likely to be a serious new retail channel to watch.

All these examples  should show that social business is not just about social media, as some may think. Instead, social business is a guiding principle of openness to influences outside the company’s four walls – new and fresh ideas may well come from outside. Then, social business also involves a reorganisation of internal processes so that these ideas from new sources can successfully turn into real products and real changes. It’s business as hub and coordinator – a move away from old “command and control” models to something radically more collaborative, flexible and adaptive.

Nonetheless, social media has to be mentioned as a way businesses can listen to their customers and tap into the wisdom of the crowd. Social dashboards can help spread this insight throughout the company, bringing the business closer to its customers and helping these “outside” ideas inform decisions within the business, in real-time. Take a look at this article covering three great examples where listening did – or should have – helped brands manage difficult decisions.

What is the role of research in a social business?

Research has long been what connects the business with the customer – who they are, what they want, how they’ll use your product and the context of their lives that it has to fit into. So research has to be a crucial part of the social business toolkit as companies seek competitive advantage by more fully using the ideas and creativity their customers have.

Since about 2007 we’ve been seeing a substitution of old research methods such as surveys and focus groups for ones with more of a ‘social business’ slant. These methods include online communities, co-creation, social media research, and crowdsourcing innovation projects. The benefits are substantial:

  • Using technology for greater efficiency, both for the participant and for clients engaging in the research process day-to-day
  • Faster projects, allowing companies to use customer opinion in more decision-making
  • More collaborative, allowing many different ideas to feed into the final solution
  • More social, helping brands see their customers in the context of their wider social interactions and lives

The research industry has to a considerable extent embraced these methods, but what we have been less clear about is the new model of knowledge creation and business benefit.

Altimeter have produced several important research papers developing social business models as a whole, but it’s not especially market research-focused.

Meanwhile the research industry is in danger of presenting tools like online communities as a mere cost-effectiveness improvements, without advocating strongly enough for how deeply they can advance the relationships brands have with their customers.

So this is what we are seeking to do at FACE with our “Socially Intelligent Research” model. We want to combine social business technologies and models with social intelligence: “the capacity to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.”

Socially Intelligent Research Framework

Social business + social intelligence = socially intelligent research

That’s the toolkit our clients need to help them adapt to the hyper-connected digital lives of their customers and the challenging global economy that, five years into a slump, shows few signs of improving. New, more efficient and creative ways to deliver customer services and create new products are essential in this environment.

And it’s the toolkit we ourselves need as a research consultancy too. Social business provides a model for how we can work most efficiently and collaboratively with clients, freelancers and our international offices. And social intelligence is the capacity we need to show in how we understand the context of consumers’ lives, and design research projects to work productively with this.

Tech is certainly an important part of this, from understanding the technology and media use shaping consumers’ lives, to the technologies and data sources we may use as research methods. (Not to mention the ways we communicate with clients, whether by teleconference or video workshop outputs). But it’s not the end goal.

The end goal is a holistic view of the customer, creating insights situated within the social context of customers’ lives at a level earlier research methods couldn’t do.

The end goal is helping brands put the customer and their needs at the heart of their business, building better customer experiences and stronger, more profitable relationships. Ultimately businesses fail when they don’t meet customers’ needs and solve people’s problems. The role of socially intelligent research is to help companies keep these needs central to everything they do.

Stay tuned for more updates on how we’re doing this and the results we’re able to achieve…

5 Steps To Make Your MROC Rock!

Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) are growing in popularity. And why not? They are versatile and allow for longer and deeper relationships with participants, giving researchers a glimpse into their lives and homes. But not every MROC rocks. These five simple steps from our London Managing Director, Job Muscroft, will help ensure that your MROC does.

You can also view Face’s MROCs to see how we do it.

Lego People

1) Have a Purpose

The best things in life and research start with a clear goal. To get your MROC off to the best possible start you need to be clear about what its role is in your organisation. Is it a rapid response test and learn environment where scale and data are key? Or a more creative place where collaboration and strategic thinking is required? Or both? A clear purpose will help you brief and select the right platform, sample and research partner to work with.

2) Give it an identity

We all need brands to help us navigate the world and the same is true within organisations and communities. Giving your MROC an identity will help to communicate its role within the company and will increase the likelihood of stakeholders engaging with it and crucially briefing the right kinds of projects. For community members it is even more important that they feel they have joined something they want to engage with for reasons beyond the transactional nature of the incentive. In short the right branding will help you gain the right buy in to the community.

3) Mix it up

When you are up and running with the community you must avoid the cardinal sin of taking the people on your community for granted. After the initial excitement of getting it launched this is easy to do – and it is also easy for people in your community to do the same and disengage if they are not stimulated. So how do you keep them engaged? Make sure you post regular missions is the first step – but don’t simply send them surveys, get them to take part in more reflective and creative tasks too. Members can bring their lives and ideas to you by uploading video diaries & images, sending SMS updates in real-time, or generating and rating ideas in forum threads. The key to keeping people engaged is to mix up the types of tasks and make it fun.

4) Bring it to life

The success of any research is judged by the value of the data and the strategic analysis that is provided to help clients make better decisions. This can sometimes be forgotten in the case of community research. Simply having access to a community is not enough for most organisations; stakeholders are busy people and need simple ways of engaging with projects and their findings.  Visualising data via a dashboard is a start, then getting clients into online groups and engaged in tasks really helps too. In reality it is crucial to produce regular easy-to-digest bulletins and nothing beats a great debrief to grab attention and share the value that MROC can produce. Research findings from MROC needs to be brought to life like any other research project if it is to gain traction in an organisation.

5) Feedback

People join MROC as they feel that companies want to listen to them and make their products and services better. It is crucial that this expectation is match by the experience members have when taking part in research. This makes the role of your MROC community manager very important indeed.  The community manager should set the tone of the community by being very open and responsive.  Dealing with questions and issues quickly and in a friendly style that builds trust and collaboration in the community. The Community managers’ job is made easier if clients are able to share some of the results or actions that result from MROC projects.

A commitment to giving quick, friendly and open feedback builds trust and leads to deeper relationship that will reduce churn and increase the quality and levels of engagement in MROC projects.

View our online communities here, or for more information here’s a guide to online community research that we presented at the University of Oxford Said Business School: