Category Archives: Blog

An Introduction to our Network Analysis for Market Research blog series

As social media researchers we help clients make sense of people’s online behavior, which is of course complex. While they have their uses, KPIs such as volume and sentiment can only get you so far. One key limitation is that they only measure what people say – not what they do as well.

Social media research is moving beyond keyword tracking, something we’ve been innovating here at FACE with Pulsar’s content and audience tracking technologies. To really dig into online activity, we need to analyse metadata, the information spun off by social behavior, just as much as the messages people produce. And we need to embrace a wider range of methodologies drawn from the field of computational social statistics.

We can do this through social network analysis (SNA), a research framework giving us the tools and concepts to investigate questions such as how content is shared and how communities are formed.

We are going to dive into examples in more detail for our ‘Network Analysis for Market Research’ blog series, covering topics including:

  • Visualising networks to make sense of large & complex data sets
  • Methods for identifying influencers
  • Identifying communities
  • Tracking how networks evolve over time
  • Mapping how information spreads
  • Overlaying networks with other metrics

For great examples of how we can benefit from investigating social structures using network analysis you need look no further that FACE’s research carried out by Francesco D’Orazio and Jess Owens for Twitter on How Videos Go Viral, & How Stuff Spreads: Gangnam Style vs. Harlem Shake in partnership with Datasift.


In our blog series we’re going to investigate methodologies used in these projects, provide additional examples of network analysis, dive into some theory & explain practically what this means for the process of social media research.

If you have any questions about what I’ve discussed in this blog or about our forthcoming blog series then please do get in touch.

Part 1 of the blog series has now been published. Read about Identifying Influencers with Social Network Analysis here

Meet us at… ARF Re:Think and Social Media Forum

We are getting ready for two conferences this month: ARF Re: Think in New York and Social Media Forum in London.

ARF Rethink

With a showcase of 50+ groundbreaking studies (cross-platform, social media, mobile research and more), 100 high-profile presenters, 2,500 industry peers (from P&G, Unilever, Apple, and Facebook along with many others) it’s looking like it will be a really innovative and exciting event.

The Face NY team will be manning the booth and our friends from Pulsar will demo their social intelligence platform.  Drop by to find out how we can help you better understand and connect with your consumers by combining qualitative insight, real time data and smart thinking.

Register and check out the details here.



Social Media Forum (#SMWF) Europe is a social and digital marketing conference which examines the latest developments in social marketing and how it sits within an organisation. #SMWF launches in London on 31 March – 1 April 2014.

We’re looking forward to talks from many industry thought leaders on how to drive engagement, manage brand image and understand great customer service. To name but a few: McDonalds, BBC, Walt Disney, Lithium, Philips, Unicef, Vodafone, Amnesty International, Wall Street Journal and Sky are all sharing their knowledge.

Our Chief Innovation Officer, Francesco D’Orazio (@abc3d) will join the panel discussion on ‘Interdepartmental cooperation for a unified social campaign panel’ alongside participants from Sony, Barclays, Yahoo and RSA. Discussion will touch on the following questions:

  • The practicalities of structuring and implementing a multi-channel social campaign
  • How to create unity across departments and resolve issues for the best outcome
  • Examining new trends and platforms in social and evaluating where the effort should be focussed
  • Looking at how different social platforms fit together with more traditional media

Social media expertise and top-level strategic advice is what we are all about so we’re really looking forward to this discussion.

The FACE and Pulsar teams will also be there to demo Pulsar and answer any questions.

Hope to see you there. Check out the event’s website for more details.

The ‘Absolute Value’ of listening to social media forums

Social media researcher Jess Owens (@hautepop) on consumer decision-making and why brands need to listen to social media forums:

There’s a new book out about how social media’s changed how people buy things.Absolute Value Simonson & Rosen

In Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen argue that amid more reliable sources of information, branding is losing its value:

“How people buy things has changed profoundly—yet the fundamental thinking about consumer decision making and marketing has not. Most marketers still believe that they can shape consumers’ perception and drive their behavior. [… But] when consumers base their decisions on reviews from other users, easily accessed expert opinions, price comparison apps, and other emerging technologies, everything changes. Counter to what we frequently hear, consumers will (on average) make better choices and act more rationally.”

So it sounds like a book we at FACE ought to buy, right?

But we wouldn’t want to be under-informed consumers!  If social media is so good for helping people reach informed decisions, we thought we’d first turn to social to see what people were saying…

Turns out it’s pretty contentious.

What’s driving discussion is the “bad news” Simonson & Rosen have for brands:  “…brands are less needed when consumers can assess product quality using better sources of information such as reviews from other users [or] expert opinion,” they said in HBR last month.  This was picked up by James Surowieki in the New Yorker with a long piece on The Twilight of the Brands

This is a big claim, and it’s driving reaction from the plannersphere.

Twilight of the brand? Don’t bet on it – says Edward Boche. He argues in defence of branding: it’s not just a label and an advert, it’s the shaping of the whole product experience.

Patricia McDonald, Chief Strategy Officer at Isobar UK, was more practical. She tweeted:

“I think the idea of “perfect competition” implies a lot higher interest in many categories than consumers have and ignores the fact that many purchases are impulsive/emotional.” [12]

This is a great point. Sometimes we can overcomplicate things in the marketing world – but really, who researches the chocolate bar they buy at the station, or the toothpaste they pick up at lunchtime? What does drive those purchases? Habit, price – and brand recognition at the shelf.

Simonson & Rosen’s claim that there’s no such thing as “information overload” (and so everything can be researched) just doesn’t stack up against the common sense of what we know of our own shopping behaviour. Much of the time it’s not rational to spend time researching and making a rational decision, right? The automatic, stereotype driven instinct of Daniel Kahneman’s “System 1” thinking is usually good enough.

So brand functions as a decision-making short-cut, making sure consumers have the stereotypes and emotional associations to mind when it comes to making a decision at the shelf.

No new ideas

‘Absolute Value’ ultimately reminds us of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Arguably Simonson & Rosen’s book is just fleshing out Cluetrain points 6-12, written fully 15 years ago:


6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

It’s funny how little changes, right?

The answer Cluetrain give is a lot more listening.

34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
35. But first, they must belong to a community.

And companies have to listen to what this community is saying, and what it’s concerned about. Market research isn’t just about product testing: “Here’s what we’re doing. What do you think about it?” It’s got to be built on a solid foundation of listening. “What are you thinking about?” So the brand can go away and think about “How might we fit into that?”

This is arguably one of the strengths of social media forums and reviews: brands can’t talk back! The channel can’t be repurposed as a matter of comms and CSR. It’s just there for listening. So what can you get if you do that?

There’s value in social media reviews yet

Looking back to the book “Absolute Value’, it ultimately reaches a conclusion that’s still good news for market research.

“Today, products are being evaluated more on their “absolute value, their quality,” Dr. Simonson said. Brand names mean less. The results suggest that companies should spend less money trying to shape consumer opinions in traditional ads, he said, and more on understanding what and who are shaping those opinions.”

Now, we disagree with Simonson & Rosen on advertising’s supposed death – how do people start talking about a new product on a forum if they’ve not been exposed to it through broadcast media to spark an interest?

But it’s a useful set of pointers for what might be worth researching.

And as Simonson & Rosen indicate, social forums and reviews are a huge information resource for this kind of study.  Sometimes they’re the most valuable sources for our research projects. Despite the rise in social media and social networks (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and so on), forums, reviews and blogs continue to be active sites of discussion – “Web 2.0” isn’t dead! Forums can be particularly valuable for research because they’re more in depth – people talk about details that couldn’t fit into Twitter’s 140 characters or that might bore their Facebook friends.

What can you get out of it as a researcher?

Firstly forum discussions give great insight into “System 2” decision-making: the rational thought-out stuff. This is most relevant for higher-ticket purchases such as mobile phones or personal electronics such as high-end audiophile headphones, or hair styling tools.

What kinds of things can you learn?

  • What factors do people mention most often in their comparison and decision making process? E.g. price, design, particular functionalities,
  • Which brands do people mention as the competitive set?
  • What strengths and weaknesses are associated with each brand?
  • What are the tensions and trade-offs they articulate? E.g. in headphones, it might be a fundamental tension between “warmth” and “clarity” of the sound. These “insights with tension” can be great creative inspiration for later product and comms platform development.
  • Who are they citing as people they’ve listened to? E.g. “My brother said that __”
  • What are the expert sources they’re citing, e.g. websites, reviews, or other forum members

But even for FMCG products, there’s sometimes a treasure trove of information. Take a look at this Mumsnet thread on shrinking chocolate bars with the above questions in mind.

mumsnet is chocolate getting smaller

But there’s another side as well – the bigger picture. Are you really listening if you just use forums to answer a fixed set of questions?  They contain a wealth of wider information about the context of people’s lives and the topics they’re passionate about. If you’re making baby buggies, read up on what mums say about the pleasures and difficulties getting out-and-about – and the wider question of how people negotiate the role of “staying at home” or “going out to work”.

Or sites such as Money Saving Expert‘s forums contain lengthy personal financial narratives, telling the story of how people ended up deep in debt – or the dreams of financial security they aspire to. It’s not exactly the quick, instinctive decision-making of the “System 1″ brain – but it is highly emotive.

From the “mortgage-free wannabees” trying to make my dream a reality!!  to threads talking about Why do you spend?, the wealth of insight is astounding. Often people talk about the families they grew up in and how this shaped their attitudes to money, spending and status – and they talk about how they’re trying to do better for their kids. Sometimes it’s pretty heartbreaking stuff to read.


Simonson & Rosen’s book, Absolute Value, is a useful reminder that consumer decision-making involves information gathering from many sources, many or most of which brands can’t control. It pushes the emphasis onto improving customer service and after-sales care over comms and marketing. Ultimately it’s a case for improving the product and product experience – make the object talk-worthy enough that it spawns all the positive word-of-mouth needed.

That said, all these things remain part of “brand”, the nexus of perceptions and associations people hold about a product. The claim that “brand is dead” is, shall we say, premature.

Where do we disagree with Simonson & Rosen? It’s not a brand new idea (Cluetrain got their first), and it holds more true for higher-spend, features-led techie product categories than others.

But mostly we disagree with the emphasis on rationality. Really studying social media forums shows that, yes, a certain amount of rational comparison and assessment is going on, to be sure. But forums and reviews say just as much about the emotive sides of purchase too – needs, hopes, fears. We wouldn’t call this irrational behaviour: what a purchase delivers socially and symbolically is just as much a source of value – and a valid reason to buy it  - as its objective functionality. That’s brand again.

And that’s why brands need to listen to people on forums.


Stay in touch with Jess on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Or, if you think forums could hold the key to your brand’s business challenges, speak to our Client Director James Hirst, on 07961 527 366 or email


Highlights from the Insight Innovation Exchange (IIeX) Amsterdam

We’ve just come back from Insight Innovation Exchange Europe. And what an inspiring two days! From Mark Earls and John Willshire making the audience work with Artefact cards to identify innovations needed in market research, to inspiring presentations on neuromarketing, gamification and mobile, there’s a lot of exciting ideas to take away.

We hope to have contributed to this ourselves: Our CEO, Andrew Needham and our Research Manager Jess Owens shared their thoughts on Using social media research for agile, adaptive customer intelligence” in a joint presentation at 17:00 on the first day of the conference.

Following a classic Andrew introduction – getting the audience to stand up and be agile, by squatting up and down doing an agility exercise – they talked about:

  1. What does “agile” research really mean? It’s not just about quick thinking – it’s about empowering clients to take action.
  2. Lessons from agile software development: it’s all about the feedback loop
  3. Why agile social media research? Jess shared stories from two social media crises, showing how real-time social media listening can get research a seat at the table
  4. Partnership with clients to build an agile, actionable research programme – aka is the weekly report always the best way to share research insights? We talk about the “client as superuser”
  5. The true power of the brand tracker dataset - how the unprompted nature of social media mentions enables highly adaptive and flexible research, providing the ability to instantly answer questions brands didn’t even know they had

Here is their presentation, for those of you who couldn’t make it:


We’d also like to congratulate our colleagues from Pulsar for winning the first DIVA (Data Visualisation Award) for our How Video Spreads Twitter network visualisation:

We tracked the conference on Pulsar (of course!). Here’s how the 1,711 IIeX-related tweets performed over the two days of the conference:

Conversation volumes by hour:

IIeX Volume per hour

Most active Twitter users:

IIeX Influencers


Most shared links:

1. Pulsar’s winning entry to the DIVA awards 

2. DIVA Awards Panel announcement

3. IIeX Europe Homepage 

4. #IIeX Focus Series – Technology & Market Research (2 of 5): Social Media

5. #IIeX Focus Series – Technology & Market Research (3 of 5): Photo & Video



Bad Andrew picture

Andrew Needham is a Founding Partner and CEO of FACE Research. A pioneer in the use of social data in qualitative and quantitative research to deliver a holistic view of the consumer, Andrew is leading the global expansion of FACE. Read more of Andrew’s thoughts here. Or reach out to him on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Jess Owens profile photo

Jess Owens is a social media researcher in FACE’s London office. As one of the first members of the Global Social Insight team, she has pioneered new research methods with social data, from audience mapping, channel effectiveness studies and studying social media virality and content diffusion. Get in touch with Jess via LinkedIn or Twitter – she tweets for us @FaceResearch as well as from her personal account, @hautepop


Three best use cases for qualitative mobile research

As Ray Poynter notes, mobile has finally arrived in market research!

 “people have been saying mobile is the next big thing for over 15 years, even in the days when that meant SMS, or WAP, or writing 100s of apps for different types of phones. At conferences and client sessions I keep being asked “So, when will mobile be the big thing?” The answer is that it is now a big thing, and it has been for probably 18 months or more.

What’s notable though is that industry discussion is still oriented around the ‘grand dames’ of the market research toolkit: surveys (now moving from online to mobile, albeit sometimes “accidental mobile”) and CATI (telephone interviewing). Here at FACE we’re wondering, what about qual?

Well, let’s start talking about mobile qual! We’re excited to have research director Sharmila Subramanian writing a series of articles for us sharing her vast experience of mobile research methods, something she’s built up over many years of research with Nokia in particular.

Mobile research

First, when do you need to use mobile research methods? Sharmila shares three case studies:

Why mobile is useful: 

Here at FACE, we are committed to trying to root consumer understanding and resultant insights within context as much as possible.  This requires us to be able to understand consumer moments and interactions when they happen – not just in the home, not just in the research environment. Out of any tool for capturing thoughts and behaviour, mobile presents the best means of doing so.

Beyond this, mobile provides a simple and intuitive interface for capturing consumer attitudes and behaviours for a number of obvious, but important reasons:

1.  It’s people’s primary communication device

2. It’s an extension of people’s bodies and selves: always with them, always on. This makes it invaluable in gathering in-situ understanding

3. It’s the most personal device that people own, so it’s a fantastic platform for capturing more  private or personal thoughts and behaviours

4.  People are used to engaging through apps, making a mobile research app a logical research interface

This is not to say that mobile should be utilised for any & every research activity. It is a one-way method of research, with little scope for researcher-participant interaction. As a result, it is not for briefs or lines of enquiry that require a great deal of laddering and researcher probing in real time.

Moreover, its very nature does not lend itself to long form, highly considered response. When was the last time you tried to write something akin to an essay on your mobile?  I bet it was pretty painful.  Don’t expect any different for a research participant!

Three use cases for qualitative mobile research

From our own experience on a range of projects, mobile research comes into its own on three types of briefs:

Mobile research FACE App

1. Understanding response to concepts:

Whilst we would not advocate a mobile-only methodology for concept testing and development, mobile can prove an invaluable supplement to F2F methodologies where we wish research participants to “live” with concepts beyond the confines of the focus group facility. Initial reads on concepts often give us an understanding of their initial impact and wow factor. However, getting participants to then live with the proposition, and document when they see roles for certain ideas and concepts via mobile, can go much further in identifying their potential usefulness, and ability to fulfil needs within the real world.

On a recent project using FACE’s mobile research app, this approach proved invaluable in deepening understanding around a concept for a new service.  Whilst an online community and groups gave understanding of the initial comprehension and appeal of that concept, subsequent mobile research gave us a richer picture of where participants actually saw a role for the proposition – in terms of where, when, how they would utilise it and why.  We would not have been able to get that level of understanding by utilising other methods that rely on hindsight or recall.

2. Product trialing:

Mobile can come into its own in terms of understanding product usage and response – ultimately, it gives us the ability to understand those moments in-situ, as they happen.  And it makes it easier for the user to document those moments – no paper diary completion, no need for recalling of hazy memories on an online community or in a group.  Everything from first impressions of a new product, to first and repeat usage, to understanding how response to a product can change over time can be readily captured within mobile research. Moreover, it gives us the ability to understand all of those things across a variety of contexts, times of day, as well as the social dimension that may be at play.  As a result, we get closer to a more holistic understanding of product usage.

A recent example of the power of mobile for product trial can be seen in a project FACE conducted looking to understand response to a new product format.  FACE’s mobile app was used by a range of participants over a week to understand their first impressions of the product, how they used it, the triggers and barriers to use, and how their response changed over time.  This helped us to define the key benefits and use cases for the product prior to launch, as well as helping to provide starter thoughts for which elements of the product experience future communications should leverage.

However, the approach also proved powerful in providing a wealth of rich multimedia material that could be utilised by the client to provide more compelling evidence of the value of the product.

Mobile research FACE App

3. Shopper interaction:

The very mobile nature of the, well, mobile, clearly lends itself to helping to better understand the shopper experience. Whether in terms of gaining learnings on retail environment, in-store communications, or product placement, the discrete form, and bite-sized mode of interaction of the mobile makes it ideal for consumers to gather quick thoughts, images, and documentation of journeys within store.

FACE employed a mobile approach for understanding response to a new store layout format for a well known food and drink brand. This was invaluable in gaining firsthand accounts of what was a new concept in-store – accounts that were not influenced by researcher presence. The unmediated nature of this capture was essential in identifying exactly what the key hooks, and turn-offs of the new format were, and helped provide a compelling story for the client, through the use of raw, consumer generated content, to help our client sell the concept to retailers.


So, that’s an initial overview of three times mobile research is one of the best methods we’ve got in our market research toolkit. Next up: getting the most out of a mobile approach – the do’s, the don’ts, and  best practice for making a mobile methodology a success.

If you’d like to discuss this further with Sharmila, contact her at, on LinkedIn or Twitter @SharmilaSub. To stay in touch with more of our qual thinking and methodology knowledge-sharing, join our mailing list.