Tag Archives: technology

Why Big Data is a human problem, not a technology one

At the beginning of October our VP of Products Francesco D’Orazio hosted a talk at the Internet & Mobile World conference in Romania. This event was focused highly on the digital transformation of businesses, aiming to highlight the online and mobile challenges they are faced with. Leading experts from the technology world gathered to share their thoughts on what’s driving forward the industry and how this translates to business.

“Big data” has been around for a few years now but for every hundred people talking about it there’s probably only one actually doing it. As a result Big Data has become the preferred vehicle for inflated expectations and misguided strategy.

As always, the seed of the issue is in the expression itself. Big Data is not so much about a quality of the data or the tools to mine it, it’s about a new approach to product, policy or business strategy design. And that’s way harder and trickier to implement than any new technology stack.

In Fran’s talk from the Internet & Mobile World, he looks at where Big Data is going, what are the real opportunities, limitations and dangers and what we can do to stop talking about it and start doing it today.

Please see below if you want to have a closer look at the slides Fran used in his presentation:

If you want to learn more about how social data can positively impact your company, get in touch by emailing: Francesco.dorazio@facegroup.com

Innovation, China Style: How Xiaomi is stepping up to challenge Samsung & Apple

When Xiaomi first launched its smartphone in 2011 in China, it was received by many as just another local “Apple wannabe” – the handset bears a strong resemblance to Apple’s iPhone and Xiaomi’s CEO launched the new handset with Jobsian flair, dressing almost identically to Apple’s late CEO.

However, in the past 3 years, Xiaomi has proved that its resemblance to Apple stops at its appearance. Instead of simply following Apple’s innovation, Xiaomi has adopted a unique innovation strategy that stems from the China market context and will likely shape and influence innovation in China going forward.

In this article, we will use Xiaomi as an example to understand how innovation in China takes a different shape compared to other markets and how Chinese brands make use of co-creation in a unique way.

CEO of Xiaomi, Lei Jun

CEO of Xiaomi, Lei Jun stands behind a background proclaiming Xiaomi’s motto “Just for Fans” (source: Huxiu.com)

Innovation through the customer journey

The rapid pace of technology development these days leaves many brands struggling to innovate truly differentiated products. Xiaomi recognizes this issue responding in a disruptive way. Unlike the most recent generations of Apple & Samsung handsets which offer only marginally superior appearance or specifications, Xiaomi has decided to sell smartphones with comparable specifications to these Western brands at very low prices. For example, its low-end Redmi handset features a quad-core 1.5GHz processor, a 4.7-inch display with a pixel density of 312 pixels-per-inch, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2,000 mAh battery – and it’s sold at only US$130.

But don’t be fooled: as Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun said in an interview with The New York Times, Xiaomi is “not just some cheap Chinese company making a cheap phone” – it has the ambition “to be a Fortune 500 company.”

How are they achieving this? By moving away from product-focused innovation and turning their attention to innovating around the customer experience.

Unlike Apple & Samsung, which make their margin by selling hardware, Xiaomi’s margin is primarily derived from its after-sales services and content offered to customers. To Xiaomi, the bigger objective is to ensure a unique customer experience that keeps customers coming back:

  • Making customers heard at every touch-point. Without a physical retail store, Xiaomi leverages social media as its primary channel to interact with customers, from announcing new product releases, purchasing and customization of the smartphone, to capturing customer feedback. It has forums across all the key social media platforms in China to ensure that it builds an open and equal relationship with its customers, and keep customers following their latest news
  • Turning customers into fans – by offering consultation and after-sales service at the “House of Mi”, and holding “Mi Fan Festival” annually to inject excitement among Xiaomi fans
  • Opening up Xiaomi’s apps and content – by making its operating system MIUI open for download on other Android phones, it has made Xiaomi’s apps and content more easily accessible, widening the potential to provide services to more users

Families taking photos at Xiaomi's House of Mi

Families taking photos at Xiaomi’s House of Mi (source: Weixin.QQ.com – WeChat China)

Perhaps this doesn’t sound like breakthrough innovation, but in fact it’s a paradigm shift – a move from technology-centric product development differentiated primarily by low prices, towards a much more to a customer-centric innovation showing deep understanding of Chinese consumers’ digital behavior.

Innovation through commercialization

In its report “How China is innovating”, McKinsey argue that Chinese brands adopt an approach of “innovation through commercialization”. Instead of spending time on internal R&D to make the product “perfect”, Chinese brands tend to launch their ideas into the market quickly and improve them through a few rounds of commercial realization and testing.

Xiaomi embraces the competitive context of the Chinese market. In response to Chinese companies launching products that are not perfect, Xiaomi go one step further and essentially say to customers, “The product launched is not going to be perfect, but please get involved and help us make it perfect with you.”

At the heart of Xiaomi’s innovation strategy is the company’s process of quickly turning consumer feedback to their advantage. Unlike other smartphone brands that launch a new phone every 6 months or so, Xiaomi releases a new batch of smartphones every week. With their process “Designed as you build”, Xiaomi’s product managers spend a dedicated part of their time collecting user feedback from an online customer forum – and once they pick up a suggestion, it can be translated into an action appearing on an engineer’s desk within just a few hours. Features can then turn from customer feedback to an improved hardware or software in as fast as one week.

For instance, when Xiaomi launched the Xiaomi MI-3, it included a new wifi password-sharing function allowing people to automatically connect to wifi in a public area and share this information with other users. But consumer response was negative, with many people complaining that the function violates privacy and encourages ‘wifi squatters’. Within a day, Xiaomi responded to the feedback by announcing they had suspended the function with immediate effect and erased all 320,000 wifi passwords they had collected from public venues. A new interface was released within a week.

This process does not only make users extra-tolerant of imperfections in the smartphone’s functionality, it has essentially turned Xiaomi users into collaborators, keen to work and co-create with the Xiaomi brand.

Xiami employee's Weibo account reposts the wifi feature suspension message

 A Xiaomi’s employee re-posts Xiaomi’s announcement about suspending wifi sharing on their personal Weibo account, leading to it being picked up by news sites (source: CNbeta.com)


As a research agency founded around co-creation methods, we have always believed that we need to work collaboratively with consumers, not market at them. Therefore it’s very encouraging to see the rise of Chinese brands like Xiaomi bringing to life the spirit of co-creation by making consumers’ preference and feedback a central part of their innovation strategy.

It’s something for us and the wider research community to bear in mind as market research grows in China and other Asian markets – that is, co-creation isn’t a wholly ‘new’ or ‘outside’ idea here.  However, whilst a lot of Chinese business do apply “co-creation”, this tends to be haphazard and with little structure. We can help businesses optimise their co-creative efforts, harnessing their customer insights to drive business growth.

With Xiaomi leading the way, we believe there is going to be an innovation revolution in China as brands look to their customers for innovative solutions and inspiration. And as an agency, we are excited to be actively involved in this new wave of innovation in China.

Want to find out how we can help your brand develop locally relevant innovation in China through the power of co-creation? Get in touch with us at info@facegroup.com.

The Samsung vs. Apple court case shows the value of social media research

An excellent case study demonstrating the value of social media research has just emerged from an unlikely source: the Apple vs. Samsung patent dispute.


Documents shared as part of the court case reveal some fascinating information about how the two companies were thinking about social data in 2013.

It shouldn’t still bear saying in 2014, but the messages seems slow in getting though: social media data isn’t just about “looking back” at campaigns or the last quarter’s KPIs. Samsung recognised the power of social data for “thinking forward”, for understanding customer needs strategically to feed into product innovation and early-stage comms planning. Here at FACE, we think this is an incredibly valuable and under-used use-case.

Here’s how it works:

1. Samsung used social data strategically: to attack Apple

From Neal Ungerleider in FastCo: Networked Insights Reveals How Samsung Used Social Media to Hack the iPhone:

“Samsung took on a company with the arguably most successful consumer product ever created,” Networked Insights CEO Dan Neely told Fast Company. “Samsung asked us how to use analytics to attack Apple.”

[...] Using aggregated online posts and machine learning techniques, Samsung found several specific weak spots where they could outperform Apple. Customers specifically complained about the iPhone’s comparatively poor battery life, the inefficiencies of Apple Maps, how small the screen was, unhappiness with the Lightning cable, the lack of customization, Siri, and the iPhone’s fragility. Samsung felt that it could compete with Apple on most of these points–and, importantly, that they hard data to back up these consumer preferences.

When working with Networked Insights, a big part of Samsung’s strategy was to vacuum up any information on the iPhone 5 that was posted to social media. This meant using the dashboard they licensed to obtain every iPhone-related post on Tumblr, Twitter, Disqus (a popular commenting platform), WordPress, and YouTube, as well as new hits on Google. This information was then classified, as Neely put it, “15,000 different ways.” A big part of the problem for Samsung and others, Neely said, was the difference in extracting relevant information when they needed it versus finding erroneous information on other aspects of individual customers that were irrelevant to the task at hand. That meant a lot of data processing and fine-tuned analytics.

Importantly, Samsung used the dashboard to find what people were posting online about the iPhone–rather than just looking for posts about Samsung’s own products. They then identified specific complaints about the iPhone where their own products outperformed Apple’s products, and tweaked marketing campaigns to emphasize these Samsung strong points.

So: social media research isn’t just about tracking your own brand activity.

It’s incredibly powerful when you search for unmet needs and pain points – what are the gaps where consumer desires aren’t being fulfilled? Do this across a category (e.g. smartphones) or a competitive set (Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony Xperia, Nexus, Motorola) to identify the “whitespace” opportunities that  aren’t currently being met.

As such, social media has just as much of a forward-looking role to play in innovation and NPD as it does “looking back” at campaign performance and the past quarter’s KPIs. Use it to shape campaigns and communications, not just to measure their impact.

2. Apple thought it was “nuts” to pay for social media monitoring tools. Their loss

Business Insider’s Jay Yarrow spotted something else interesting in the court documents:

Jay Yarow quote

Apple famously don’t do research, you say? No, Apple do do research – but they don’t necessarily do it well, as Tom Ewing recently illustrated.

You’d see the occasional interesting message if you just look at mentions of “iPhone 5″ through Twitter search… But also an awful lot of noise, at a million mentions per day kind of scale. It’d only be through luck that you might stumble across a message that’d spark any strategic consideration.

You want to understand the relative dissatisfaction with battery life, screen size, and poor signal reception? You need a social data research platform. Social media monitoring tools make this data analysable as a whole  in a way that free online tools simply can’t. For example our platform Pulsar (pulsarplatform.com) collects over 1MB metadata around each tweet, making big datasets like this powerfully segmentable by sentiment, channel, hour, influence level, profile bio and other demographics – allowing for a really fine-grained analysis of not just what people are saying, but who and why.

Technology and data augmentations enable the unmet needs to be identified, quantified and ranked. Use a tree graph to visualise the most common words and phrases that follow “I love…” and “I hate…”. Use semantic analysis to aggregate topics, and compare the top topics across the range of positive, negative and neutral sentiment scores. Start coding tweets into clusters, and use machine learning to extend this across the whole dataset.

Through structured analysis, the depth of insight that can be gained from social data is vast – Samsung realised this, Apple didn’t.

3. What we’ve done

This story was met by us at FACE with a nod of recognition – we have been using social data beyond reputation management for many years now.

Here’s a couple of examples of previous work:

i) Mapping the 4G mobile launch

EE Launch Event..Mandatory Credit Tom Oldham/Tom Dymond

Like Network Insights with Samsung, we also dug into what people were saying around 4G to identify complaints and pain points. What topics were driving discussion – signal, pricing, contracts/tariffs, or the iPhone? For each we identified the specific customer pain points our client needed to address in both comms and their product offer.


But it turned out the biggest unmet need was understanding – a high share of discussion came from people expressing their total bewilderment at the new, high-speed mobile spectrum band.  We used social data to identify and categorise people’s questions, helping our client (a mobile operator) recognise and simplify the messages they needed to communicate to help people understand the new proposition.

ii) “Designing Relevance” for Nokia

Here at FACE we’ve been using social data for strategic insight for years. Back in 2010, Francesco D’Orazio and Esther Garland presented at ESOMAR alongside Nokia’s Tom Crawford on how social media research can be used alongside co-creation to produce a better innovation process:

Innovation should not be so much about ‘creation’, but more about ‘emergence’. Defining the boundaries of possible futures means creating the conditions for fostering the emergence of ideas that are already taking shape in the social space, but have not filtered up to the top or are not formed enough to bubble up yet. In a connected real-time ecosystem where the consumer can be as creative as the designer, the new model of innovation should be listening, reducing complexity, decoding the signal from the noise, collaborating with consumers and only then defining the boundaries of possible futures.

The project started with a “download” from social media to gather the widest possible range of themes and scenarios for this project:

The project kicked off with a two week Social Media Monitoring and Trends Analysis programme using netnography, semantic and network analysis across forums, social networks, blogs, news sites, microblogs, video and photo sharing sites from the United States. Using Face’s social media analysis platform Pulsar we tracked more than 100, 000 ‘sources’ (where Twitter counts as one source) and harvested almost 1.5 million items of content. These were analysed to gather insight into how key consumer segments in North America talk about smart-phones and which key themes, topics and angles were most resonant with them. 

Analysing conversations amongst users talking to each other rather than responding to researchers yielded a huge amount of richness. Furthermore, this helped develop clear learnings on language, tone of voice and attitudes to the brand and the category. It allowed for a different kind of research landscape, one which subverts the traditional question and answer format and replaces it with something far more natural and intuitive. By working in a more natural communication mode we also ended up expanding our research agenda to challenges we didn’t even know existed or that we wanted to investigate.

For the full story, read the full whitepaper up on Slideshare here, or check out the presentation:

Or get in touch if you’d like to talk forward-looking social research – I’m at Jessica@Facegroup.com

Fresh Faces: Introducing our growing Social Media Insight team

Like Real Madrid and Man United, FACE have been busy this summer in the transfer market adding lots of fresh faces to our global Social Media Insight team.

Rob Parkin has joined us from social business consultancy Engage. We like new Facers to introduce themselves so over to Rob for a quick Q&A:


How did you get into social research? What brought you to Face?

I became fascinated with research when studying for my degree in psychology & sociology, and I’ve always been a very curious person – so research is the best way for me to exercise that curiosity. It’s been a very natural process.

After my degree I was working hard to expand my understanding of social media because I saw it as vital to any research role. As a result I got a position at Mintel working with a range of different methodologies, including social. It didn’t take me long to realise where I should be focusing my attention.

What brought me to FACE is the people who work here. The blend of qualitative experience and the understanding of technology is an ideal mix for social media research. I wasn’t aware of anyone else who could even compete with FACE on this.

How do you think the growing role of tech in market research changes the role of agencies?

Technology is growing in importance for a lot of industries, and market research is no exception. The consumerisation of tech has driven change, while businesses have struggled to keep up. Perhaps the market research industry as a whole hasn’t evolved as much as it could.

The responsibility of an agency is to understand the role technology plays in shaping consumers’ lives. But agencies must also understand how technology can be used to collate new sources of data, and allow new methodologies for carrying out research. I think the role of agencies is increasingly becoming consultative, and clients are looking for an agency that has the expertise and the understanding to ensure they can grow into a social business. I think there’s a lot of agencies claiming to incorporate social into what they do, but fundamentally what they do hasn’t really evolved.

What does FACE’s mission statement, “Helping business be more social intelligent,” mean to you?

It’s about helping brands see and understand customers in the context of their wider social interactions. People’s most valuable relationships are with each other, and it’s here that brands are being socially constructed.

Being more social intelligent means a brand is geared up to function more efficiently by bringing the views of their customers into the core of the business – ideally in real-time. With better insight, they’re able to make better insight-led decisions.


What is your favorite part of London? What would you tell a visitor to go see first?

I’d recommend getting involved in one of London’s food markets. If they’re feeling brave then they could go to Borough Market, get stocked up with food then grab a locally brewed ale in The Market Porter. Although personally I’d rather go to Broadway Market, and then pop into The Dove for one – or maybe two!

[The Dove, Hackney - photo by Ewan-M]

Look out for the profiles of other fresh faces in the coming weeks as Jalita, Jamie and Anna join as Account Managers, and Chris, Terezza and Sameer also settle into their new research roles.


Youth Squad Grows

Like any good team we are also developing young talent by launching the Face Graduate Programme this August. The aim of the programme is to find and develop a new breed of researchers who can fill a number of emerging insight roles including social media researcher, co-creation consultant and community manager.

We look forward to introducing you to our new graduate team throughout the autumn.

Face Launches Pulsar TRAC to Mine Big Social Data for Research

- Pulsar TRAC moves the marketing industry beyond social media monitoring -

Today we are unveiling Pulsar TRAC, an advanced social intelligence platform which pushes social media research beyond keyword tracking.

Born out of 10 years experience of research and planning with social data, Pulsar TRAC is built on a robust intelligence framework enabling marketers to do more than just keyword tracking: measuring the reach of conversations, mapping brand audiences and tracking content diffusion.

Pulsar TRAC

It solves many of the issues found in current social media monitoring tools, such as the obsession with volume-led metrics, the lack of demographic and behavioural context, no understanding of the audience, poor interfaces and the inability to weight the impact of conversations.

That’s why Pulsar TRAC is the only platform on the market currently that allows mining of big social data in four new ways:

1) Visibility measurement- estimate the reach of each post

Top Posts by Visibility

2) Audience mapping – who are you talking to and what do they like

Find Real Influencers Screen

3) Content tracking – how does your content travel the social web

content tracking Content Tracking

4) Advanced filtering – 14 behavioural, contextual and demographic filters to find exactly what you are looking for

Advanced filters

“We’ve been really impressed with the speed and efficiency of Pulsar TRAC and its ability to provide real time actionable insight. We’re particularly excited about the audience mapping and content diffusion capabilities – they allow us to really target and understand specific groups of people in real-time.” - Jake Steadman, Head of Real Time Research at O2 Telefonica.

“Face’s Pulsar TRAC is invaluable for identifying real-time insight into the way that our audiences are engaging with content and stories. The key difference with PULSAR TRAC is that the platform offers a high quality social media insight system, supported by analysis that creates meaningful stories from the data with clear actionable steps for our business.” - Justin Wyatt, Vice President of Primary Research at NBC Universal.

Engineered for complexity, scale and speed, Pulsar’s Big Data engine is built on Apache Cassandra and Solr. This enables Pulsar TRAC to store and index multiple data points besides keyword mentions, including social graphs, interest graphs, demographics and behavioural data.

Our Chief Innovation Officer, Francesco D’Orazio, explains what drove the design of Pulsar TRAC:

“There are more than 200 social media monitoring tools on the market, and yet none of them allowed us to do proper research on social media data. And that’s why we built Pulsar TRAC. Whereas all traditional social media monitoring platforms on the market only look at the content of the conversations, we found a massive opportunity in indexing and analysing everything around it. This means very Big Data. But with Pulsar TRAC we can now process all that and still deliver on the real-time user experience which is key to exploiting Big Data’s real potential: finding out what you don’t know you don’t know.”

Our CEO, Andrew Needham, comments:

“With Pulsar TRAC we are delivering on our vision of social intelligence for brands by helping companies put consumers at the heart of their business, giving them a real time, in depth and holistic view of their customers. Having doubled in size in the past 12 months with offices in New York, Singapore and Hong Kong, Pulsar TRAC is the first in a series of planned product releases from Face which marks an evolution of the business from a research agency to a technology driven insight consultancy.”

The Pulsar TRAC platform, designed to deliver real-time insights for global brands and agencies, is now available at www.pulsarplatform.com. Please contact us to get more information or request a demo.