Category Archives: Blog

Andrew Ho at Spikes Asia: The problem with how you get your insight

A couple of weeks ago our MD Asia, Andrew Ho, travelled to Singapore for Spikes Asia, where he attracted a full house with his talk: “The problem isn’t your creative… it’s how you get your insight”.

“We look for insight to inspire great creative, so why don’t we hunt for insight in more creative ways? Everyone hates research; it’s not just creative people. It’s an uninspiring environment, we are starting the creative process in the worst environment possible.

View the full Spikes presentation here:

To understand how we become more creative during research we need to turn the whole idea upside down and re-think the entire process: begin by listening, and then co-create more ideas and insights, which will be rewarded with better briefs, resulting in incredible ideas.

But why is there a lack of creativity? Andrew believes this is down to a loss of communication: we don’t talk to each other anymore. He quoted the great Albert Einstein: “ I have never made my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”.  Instead we need to create insight creatively.

So who is responsible of all of this creative thinking? In typically bold style, Andrew concluded:

“Insight, strategy and creativity is everybody’s responsibility, I don’t care what you’re role is, if you’re not interested in these things you’re not doing your job.”

To find out more about gaining insights through creativity, get in touch by emailing

Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andiho

Watch our webinar: How Social Media Predicts Ticket Sales

Thanks to everyone who joined me last Thursday for my webinar on How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales. With over 50 attendees we had a great global audience and some really good questions at the end – I had to think on my feet! Feedback’s been really positive, so thank you all for attending.

If you missed it, no need to miss out – the full webinar can be downloaded here with slides and audio for the full experience. The webinar runs for 30 minutes, with an additional 5 minutes for questions.

Alternatively here’s our presentation ready to read:

If you liked that…

...Why not check out some of our other research studies, such as How Stuff Spreads, my webinar with Francesco D’Orazio on viral videos Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake – or some big thinking on The Future of Social Media Research.

…Or if you’d like to get in touch to talk about how the learnings might apply to your own business, or explore doing a similar study yourself, just send me an email at

…If you’d like to learn more about our social data research platform Pulsar that powered this project, head on over to or email and our team will get back to you right away.

Does social media drive sales? A research review

As social media research matures, the big question on everyone’s lips is “How can we connect this to other data?” More particularly, how can we connect it to what really matters to our business: sales?

Last week I gave a webinar on exactly this topic, sharing the results of our research study mapping social media buzz for 3 music events against ticket sales. You can find that presentation here on Slideshare, and download the full recording from this link.

In this blog, I want to put our work in context and map the wider industry thinking on this issue by summarising 5 other key social-to-sales research studies. There are a number of different ways that social media activity and sales can be compared, and I hope it’s useful to provide a summary and outline some of the key differences:

1. Buzzkill: Coca-Cola Finds No Sales Lift from Online Chatter
March 2013

Presenting at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:Think 2013 conference, Coke’s Eric Schmidt reported that “We didn’t see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales.” (

Note that Coke are still big believers in social media’s effectiveness as part of an integrated campaign: said Wendy Clark, “It’s the combination of owned, earned, shared and paid media connections – with social playing a crucial role at the heart of our activations – that creates marketplace impact, consumer engagement, brand love and brand value.”


[image created by Coca Cola, via]

But this study is evidence that overall social media buzz – the number of brand mentions – doesn’t necessarily correlate with sales. What might?

2. McKinsey Finds Social Buzz Can Affect Sales — Negatively, Anyway
June 2013

“The consulting firm initially couldn’t find any connection between social-media buzz and sales, either when looking at overall data changes or even by applying an algorithm to assign sentiment to the buzz. But McKinsey found the relationship between negative buzz and a decline in sales when it “hand tabulated” sentiment in social-media comments.” (

This negative sentiment hurt signups by 8%, “offsetting their entire TV spend,” McKinsey principal Jonathan Gordan said at the Advertising Research Foundations Audience Measurement 8.0 conference in New York. Why? Because the negativity was primarily driven by complaints about the sign-up process and call-centre workers at the telecom provider. 

This shows how a relationship between social and sales can become visible when you drill down into more specific aspects of social data. Brand volumes didn’t impact telecoms sign-ups - but complaints about the sign-up process did.

3. Eventbrite: Facebook Drives More Ticket Sales Than Twitter And LinkedIn Across US And UK
April 2012

A different metric here – not social media volumes (aka the number of messages mentioning a brand), but the number of shares:

“The company says that Facebook is the king of all social networks when it comes to ticket sales. In the UK, if a person shares an event on Facebook, it generates an average of £2.25 ($3.60) in additional gross ticket sales. A share on Twitter, meanwhile, drives an average of £1.80 ($2.90), and an event shared on LinkedIn generates an average of £1.24 ($1.99) in additional event revenue.” (

Eventbrite’s reason for why Facebook is bringing in more sales is good sense: “The connections we have on Facebook most closely represent the people we actually know and spend time with offline,” its researchers write.

Eventbrite facebook

4. Why Twitter Buzz ≠ Movie Ticket Sales
December 2012

“140 Proof looked at 25 major Hollywood films released in 2012, compiling data on each movie’s social media activity (mentions and hashtags) two weeks before, and two weeks after the release. It found that the number of overall Twitter mentions is a poor predictor of box office sales (unlike tweet volume and TV ratings). What did correlate to box office success was the number of tweets from influential tastemakers” (

Again, the relationship between social and sales doesn’t show up when you just look at raw volumes – but it is still there. Pulsar’s range of influencer metrics such as visibility and Klout filters can enable deeper analysis of how influence relates to sales, going beyond “number of tweets from tastemakers” to understanding how influence levels and sales-power scales.

5. Vision Critical: “From Social To Sale”

A totally different methodology – they’re not mapping activity in social media, or measuring clickthroughs from social channels, but rather surveying 5,657 people asking them to report whether they’d ever bought anything they’d seen on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

This is worth doing because, “68% of Facebook users  are “lurkers” who post only rarely, so the influence of  social on their purchasing will not be visible from social  media analytics alone.” It’s a good reminder to think about social media users as much as an audience as content-creators - and that the path to purchase is more complex than old-fashioned sales funnel models, or simple ‘last-click’ attribution.


[image via Digital Information World]

Five studies, two key take-aways for understanding how social and sales connect:

1. Think about your user journey. How do people make a decision to buy your product – who or what might influence them? How  do people consume your product – is it particularly social, like something you would want to do with friends, or something worth boasting and sharing on Twitter and Facebook? Is it something people can purchase quickly online, or a more considered purchase?

2. Think about what aspect of social media to measure. It may not be simple volumes of brand messages that correlate with sales, but something more specific – such as influence, sentiment, or specific topics. Or perhaps it’s not messages at all but behaviours such as sharing. Most of all, remember to measure all of social media, not just owned channel activity: you’re looking for consumer behaviour, not just reactions to your own!

As these studies from a diverse range of brands show, social media does often connect to sales – not all of the time, but often with some statistical smarts & a deep knowledge of social, a link can be found.

Note that we’re saying “connect”, not “cause” - correlation can be assessed using relatively simple stats such as R-squared tests, but unpicking causation (Was it social media activity that made someone buy, or a price promotion, or TV advertising?) is a challenge for regression analysis and a bigger topic than we can discuss here.

And sometimes the relationship between social and sales can go both ways – not only “I buy a concert ticket because I saw the news on Twitter”, but also “I bought a concert ticket for my favourite band and I’m so excited, I want to tell everybody!” Perhaps brands can even hope for a virtuous circle of social driving sales, which drives further social activity, which drives even more sales… Fingers crossed!

Found this interesting? Read our social to sales study: get the presentation here on Slideshare, or download the webinar recording from this link. Thanks!

Brands, salons, hairdressers, bloggers and consumers. Who’s really influential in pro haircare?

Which professional haircare brand has the greatest social media mindshare? A visualisation

by Rob Parkin and Jess Owens

I’ve only once bought anything regarded as ‘premium’ haircare, says Jess Owens.

While studying for my Masters degree I decided that this was the time to make a radical change in style and go blonde, really blonde. This was an arduous process which involved spending about 6 hours in the salon, head wrapped in foil, bleach burning my scalp, as the trainee stylists tried everything possible to lift my hair from dark brown, through sunset yellow, to a passably fashionable shade of white-blonde. Of course my hair was almost destroyed by this process, leaving it with a texture somewhat akin to candyfloss – fluffy, brittle, and rough to touch.

Except one day, when my stylist brought out a pale green tube. She washed, she cut, she blow dried – and at the end of the process I touched my hair and was astonished. It felt soft. Soft! How on earth had she done that? Kerastase Ciment Anti-Ursure was the answer, the premium anti-breakage range for chemically treated hair. Reader, it cost something like £20 a bottle – but I bought some. And I kept using it until I had to get a proper job and stop having interesting hair.

Marketing premium haircare is interesting, exactly because of this sales process. Unlike your usual Pantenes & Aussies, it’s not something women just pick up and buy off the shelf in Boots. Instead it’s a sale rooted in a relationship, between a young woman in a chair nervous about whether her style is going to work out, and miracle-working Michelle at Toni & Guy Islington. I’d have never made the purchase without her influence.

So how do you market premium salon haircare on social?

Who do you market it to?

In order to understand this complex intersection of brands, hairdressers and consumers, we worked with P&G to track the premium haircare category and understand it not just as a ‘conversation’ but in network terms. Here are the results.

Premium haircare network visualisation FACE Pulsar

What are you looking at?

Rob writes – In a very basic sense the network shows people mentioning premium haircare brands as nodes, signified by the dots. The lines between them represent a relationship, in this case retweets (A’s post was retweeted by B). And the size of the nodes reflect the number of retweets they received overall.

P&G were interested in which brands were leading their premium haircare conversation in social. We could have shown this as a pie chart for share of voice… But looking at it as a network allows us to understand who is leading the conversation – and which brands have captured which key influencers.

So we coloured the nodes in accordance to the brands the people are discussing, and also coded if they hadn’t mentioned any brand, or  mentioned more than one.

(If you’re unfamiliar with network analysis, do check out some of our previous blogs diving into this in more detail.)

What did we find out?

1. Premium haircare isn’t really a ‘community’ in social media

Looking at the graph we can see that the category attracts a fragmented Twitter population, with lots of individuals posting about the topic, but not getting any retweets connecting them to other people. There’s product awareness, but not actually much we’d call a ‘community’ – an interconnected, self-identifying group.

2. Different brands have different community structures.

Kerastase (yellow) and Redken (pale blue) have broadcast networks, with a small number of highly influential accounts driving their discussion. These accounts generate a high volume of retweets (the feathery-looking lines in the visualization) and are slightly apart from the dense cluster in the middle, telling us that they’re generating awareness amongst a different audience than those engaging with main cluster.

3. Salons, not the brands, are driving product mentions 

It’s a very industry led conversation. Hairdressers and salons, are leading the majority of the discussion talking about products, training and awards.. For the most part, consumers are notably absent.  

4. Where are the consumers?

Where consumers are involved it’s mainly to participate in competitions. Retweets from competitions are responsible for producing Kerastese’s and Redken’s broadcast networks in particular, as retweet competitions are one-off engagements and have no crossover with the industry discussion central to the category.

These network insights reveal opportunities for haircare brands’ social strategies

Currently it’s the discussion around salons creating the most community interaction in the category, whereas competitions are generating the closest there is to consumer engagement. There is a real opportunity to bridge the gap between the two.

Salons and hairdressers should be capable of creating really inspiring content, telling stories about hair care that could appeal to a wider audience of beauty fans, not just beauty professionals.  The main issue here is content diffusion – the solution may be for haircare brands to pay for Twitter promotion in order to get these tweets in front of a consumer audience that both currently lack

But brands also need to recognize that social media has upset old hierarchies and sources of authority, and there are new influencers on the scene that they need to build relationships with. Bloggers, vloggers and the Instagram-famous are all busy inspiring women’s fashion and beauty looks, and brands have to build partnerships here as much as they did with top stylists.

Finally there’s very little connection between consumers in the category so far, as women don’t tend to talk about “professional hair” or “salon hair” in so many words.  Brands could benefit from understanding consumer language from the wider haircare, beauty or fashion conversations and understanding where their category really fits into people’s lives.

Staying ‘premium’ on social media

The challenge for premium brands with social media is how to maintain the right balance between exclusivity and accessibility. By their very nature these brands rely on exclusivity – they’re selling products that consumers aspire to own; the distance from everyday shopping is part of the appeal. In contrast to this, social media opens brands up, and makes them accessible to the crowd.

To maintain an air of “specialness”, pro hair care brands may want to take a slightly more reserved tone when engaging on Twitter, using an “expert” voice rather than the “best mate” or “sisterly” voice of mainstream hair brands. However, in exchange for a little more accessibility, they could harness the opportunity to advise consumers about which products to buy and how to use them effectively. Crucially, as this research has found, they cannot rely on salons’ social accounts to communicate this information effectively on their behalf.

Learning from premium brands in other verticals

Swarovski is another premium brand that doesn’t always sell directly to consumers. Looking at their social strategy there are lessons that could easily be applied to the pro hair care discussion. What do we think they’re getting right?

First they’re opening the brand up to a wider audience by encouraging participation through user-generated content. On Twitter @Swarovski is facilitating an on-going dialogue with consumers through the hashtag #SwarovskiLook, encouraging people to post images showing off their takes on specific styles. This is valuable because it’s not limiting the conversation to the brand, jewelry or crystals per se, but allowing it to traverse a wider and more varied aesthetic landscape.

Swarovski are also using bloggers to provide the voice of the ‘expert consumers’ – enough elevated from mainstream consumers not to damage a sense of exclusivity, but also fostering a more personal connection than mainstream PR can allow. Alongside fashion designers and celebrities, bloggers have been integral to Swarovski’s social strategy throughout, and Swarovski creates content that celebrates them – including video tutorials showing off Swarovski jewelry and a  blogger picking out winners of the #SwarovskiLook competition. The brand is also highly active in sharing blogger content & boosting its visibility.

Screenshot from #SwarovskiLook on Twitter

To sum up

There’s a lot to be said for looking beyond your immediate category when trying to inspire conversations in social media. This is especially true if your category is like premium haircare and isn’t currently eliciting widespread engagement outside of a small circle of industry figures. Really it’s about stopping being “me-centric” and thinking from the perspective of what matters most in your customers’ lives.  In the case of fashion and beauty, it’s not a stretch to assume that consumers care more about new styles and how to achieve them than they do which brand they use.

And remember that offline influence doesn’t always translate online. In the case of the traditional business model used for selling pro hair care products, hairdressers can be assumed to have offline influence over their consumers, but they’re not the advocates brands need in social. Don’t underestimate the value of bringing influential bloggers onboard to support your online efforts.

Finally, this project really showed us the value of network analysis in social media category research, allowing us to directly connect the “what” and the “who” of haircare discussion to identify hubs, gaps, and opportunities. The visual output also provides a graphic, colour-coded illustration of the category at a glance, in a way that highlights what matters most – the people behind the discussion – in a way a wordcloud never can.  A really useful addition to our research toolkit, we hope you agree.

Looking for opportunities in social media comms planning? Send me a message at and let’s talk about how we can apply this method for you.





Webinar: How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales

The real business value of social media lies in integrating social media data with other company datasets, such as sales and web analytics. Ever wanted to know more about how social media activity connects to purchase? How to measure social data and ROI?  Which demographics give brands the best chance of social  influencing sales?

Jess Owens, social media researcher

Join our Social Insight Manager Jess Owens for our webinar entitled ‘How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales’ on Thursday 25 September.

Our recent research study explored how well social media works as a key driver in awareness of a concert and whether it provides a way and a measure to predict ticket sales. We used our in-house social data intelligence platform Pulsar to analyse the whole online ecosystem, and tracked discussions around three concerts: a festival, UK tour of a global female pop artist, and a 1970’s rock band.

Join us for ‘How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales’ to have all these questions answered and more.

The webinar will air on Thursday 25 September at:

  • 3pm BST (London)
  • 4pm CET (Paris/Berlin)
  • 10 am EDT (New York)

This webinar is free to attend – just register here for details.

We hope you can join us for this very exciting online conversation.