Based in London, New York, Hong Kong & Singapore we operate all over the connected world. Our team consists of researchers, planners, creative technologists as well as millions of consumers within our proprietary communities and social media panels.
We've helped companies such as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Reckitt Benckiser & Telefonica roll out ad hoc and continuous socially intelligent research programmes to understand and cocreate with consumers at an individual, group and network level.
- 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.
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:
4) Advanced filtering – 14 behavioural, contextual and demographic filters to find exactly what you are looking for
“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.
The internet and digital technologies are an integral part of the modern world – and as marketers and researchers, we are immersed in this space. We’re helping brands communicate effectively in social media, we’re creating new digital products and understanding online customer experiences – and we’re doing it this through online communities, social media insight and mobile research apps.
But there’s a problem
The dirty little secret is, how far does the industry really understand the technological ground it walks upon? Research firms mostly hire people with degrees in psychology, social sciences and humanities. Don’t get me wrong, these are great subjects and give us a lot of insight into human behaviour and culture. Problem is, it leaves us only observers of the technological world – not hackers and makers.
As a result, innovation in the research industry is not keeping up with the technology:
“We lag behind. Sometimes by years – in the case of harnessing communities, we worked out how to do it just as the ‘community’ model was dissolving online into networks. In the case of gamification, we were a bit quicker, only a year or so behind the overall hype. Intellectually speaking, research is largely a distant, rather slow cousin of the tech business.”
[Tom Ewing, Blackbeard Blog, 22 March]
A quick test: how many of these tech acronyms do you recognise?
That last one’s a bit of a trick: it’s not a technology but the acronym Fear Of Missing Out – or #fomo, as teen Twitter natives would put it. And “missing out” is exactly what the research industry is doing if we don’t really understand the technical ground our digital world is built on.
Here’s one of those building blocks: all the information encoded within a tweet and accessible through the Twitter API. If you want to innovate in social media research, you’ve got to know what options you have to play with. But how many in the industry do?
What can research companies do about it? Hiring a creative technologist is a good start, as we said in our “Emerging Roles in Research” blog post a year ago. But as ethnographers we have another tool up our sleeves: it’s called participant observation. Learning by doing. Learning to code, and learning to build basic web technologies ourselves. Sound scary? It shouldn’t be.
A couple of weeks ago, Linda Maruta and I (Jess Owens) went to Codemaker, run by the UK tech meet-up MiniBar. In just eight hours this course covered:
A condensed history of computing and the web
A lesson in tech jargon – from API & OS to Python, Ruby and MySQL
How the modern web works – the technologies behind Twitter, Facebook and Google
Mix & Mash your favourite websites
How to make beautiful web sites with HTML and CSS
Deconstruct your own web app (intro to Agile principles)
Make your own web app
It was a pretty fast-moving course, and it helped to have some familiarity with coding already. Linda’s our Digital Project Manager and works with our developer team day in, day out. I work in the social media team – and both of us went into the course knowing some HTML, a bit of CSS and our Twitter API from our elbows.
Nonetheless, by mid-afternoon we were doing far more than we’d ever expected – mashing up Google Maps data with real-time geolocated Twitter information and public datasets. It was awesome.
A course like this won’t make anybody a fully-fledged programmer in a day – instructor Peter Brownell is great but he’s not a magician. But it will leave you knowing much more about how web technologies work, and collaborating better with developers on social data projects in future. That’s worth the entry price alone.
But more than that, this course left me excited. I’ve been friends with programmers for years, but somehow coding has never seemed like something I could really do – it was just too big a body of knowledge to learn. But this course changed that: it showed me how to start. Best of all, it gave us all the tools – JQuery examples, JSFiddle to play with the code live, and geodata via Google Fusion Tables - to go away and keep playing, and experimenting, and learning.
While I was writing this post I realised: there are other ways to learn these things. Several of my FACE colleagues have next-generation Masters degrees marrying the social with the technological, from programmes that including courses in coding and building digital media alongside more standard soc sci methods. And it’s not just the social media team I’m talking about here – FACE qual researchers have studied these courses too. Think Masters degrees such as Advanced Interactive Technology Design (Nottingham), Digital Media (Goldsmiths) and Digital Humanities (UCL). The academic training may only have been out there in the last 5 years, but there’s a new generation of graduates coming through with some very next-generation skills.
And these are skills the research industry is crying out for. Let’s not bemoan a ‘talent shortage’, let’s get out there building links, speaking at universities, providing work experience and sharing research technology. That’s how you hire the next generation of researchers.
Jess is Social Media Research Manager at FACE. Check out her other blog posts on digital culture and technology here, or share your thoughts on this article with us at @FaceCocreation.
SXSW Interactive, the annual tech and digital media conference in Austin, Texas, has been a fertile hunting ground (and a spring getaway) for Facers for a few years now. By day we consume ideas in five jam-packed sessions – by night, cheap margaritas and Texan steak.
Last year we struck inspiration gold with MIT Media Lab’s presentation on mobile self-ethnography – which Chief Innovation Officer Francesco D’Orazio has been developing into a research tool for “reality mining” through your mobile phone.
This year these are the stories that captured my attention:
4 big trends to watch
3D printers and Maker culture
The sharing economy: AirBnB, Uber, and Sidecar
Interfaces: haptic, gestural and visual
Augmented reality, and the rise of ‘Glassholes’
SXSW was really physical this year. Very few sessions were on online-only topics – we’ve talked enough about Twitter and Facebook et al. Instead of Google Plus, the California behemoths presented Google Glass and Google[X], their “moonshot factory” designed to get you into space. MakerBot launched their Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner which allows you to take any physical object, scan it, and create a digital file (without any CAD skills required at all) — and then print the item again and again on a MakerBot Replicator.
Physical ownership was hit another blow by the buzz around renting- and sharing-based services such as AirBnB (places to stay), Uber and Sidecar (transport). It’s the rise of service over product and renting over purchase: what matters is meeting a need as efficiently as possible, without surplus resources (hotel rooms, cars) that either cost too much or go unused much of the time. There are a lot of positives in this – the focus of AirBnB’s session was on sharing, social relationships and trust. Lots of great insights into doing “social business” in this write-up here.
Meanwhile the most exciting presentations and displays were those looking at the question of just how people can connect to digital experiences and information. The one with real wow factor was Revel, a haptic (touch-based) technology from Olivier Bau of Disney Research. This offered the deeply extraordinary possibility of altering the user’s tactile perception of surfaces based on tapping into the electrostatic signals sent within our skin and nerves. I loved this for how it revealed the human body as already electronic – a truly cyborg technology.
There was also a lot of buzz around Leap Motion’s gestural control interface, soon to go on widespread sale for only $99. This allows for very natural, intuitive hand-based interaction with objects on screen. Unlike the XBox Kinect, which requires big gestures and whole-body movement, the Leap Motion is sensitive to subtle hand movements and can capture the movement of each of 10 fingers indepedently. Pure Minority Report. Finally, in the gaming expo, the Oculus Rift headset was held up as “the holy grail of gaming” for the deeply immersive experiences it allows developers and creatives to share.
Meanwhile on Monday 11th Google demoed the slicker-looking Glass, their “smart specs” designed to bring both the recording and the information aspects of a smartphone to a heads-up display. Sergey Brin sought to claim this was less distracting than gazing down at your phone all the time – but SXSW was not convinced by the future of total surveillance and continuous partial attention he proffered.
Word of the week: “Glassholes”, coined to capture all the ways Google Glass is going to mess up interpersonal interaction. While some have observed that the Glass backlash is functioning as a locus for all our fears about technology, from web cookies to digital-ADHD, it’s still true that Google’s presentation on the Monday didn’t do much to reassure people. Here are 35 arguments against it.
The rise of Android (or Samsung’s mega marketing budget)
Vine, Snapchat and micromedia
The big topic of discussion: Has SXSW jumped the shark?
“SXSW is the 21st-century equivalent of a medieval market town, just with more horseshit. It’s an orgy of capitalism, an unrestrained, unselfconscious celebration of sales, marketing, branding, and “gamification.” Even the dumbest of memes have been recruited in the service of sales. Grumpy Cat is here, and she wants you to buy Friskies.” [South Buy Southwest: At America's Biggest Tech Conference, It's All About the Sell - Nick Baumann, Mother Jones]
I saw Grumpy Cat in the Mashable tent with fans queuing up to be photographed with her. This was deeply absurd – and she looked furious.
Meanwhile I tweeted with friends back in the UK on the hashtag #FakeSXSW. Lunchtime margaritas and marketing spin meant the line between real products, prototypes, “vaporware” and “design fiction” got pretty fuzzy. At one point, I’m sure I attended a panel called The End Of Reality…
But what was it really all about?
The convergence of digital and physical.
Interfaces are about how we connect our physical, sensory bodies to digital displays. Augmented reality seeks a seamless meshing of the two. The sharing economy is about using digital and social technology to help us better manage our property. And MakerBot’s 3D scanners and printers give us a technology that can digitise the physical, digitally manipulate it – and print this new hybrid object back out into physical reality.
These are ideas that tech theorists have been hashing around for a couple of years. Nathan Jurgenson’s essay on ‘digital dualism‘ (2011) is important reading – he argues that the belief that the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real” is fundamentally a false dichotomy. Instead the two are deeply interlinked and there is nothing “unreal” about our actions online. Last year’s much-discussed panel The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Digital Devices (2012) was also key for providing a space to talk about this “eruption of the digital into the physical“, and the resultant hybrid visual culture when there are as many computers sensing and measuring the world as people.
In more pragmatic business terms:
Every business is a digital business now, or should be. Your “Head of Digital” shouldn’t just be a 30-something creative technologist – it’s the job of your CEO to lead on these challenges and opportunities.
Also, what exactly is a non-digital advertising agency? Marketing agency? Research agency?
Finally, it’s a clarion call to rethink and sort out “consumer touchpoints”. Seamless web and in-store purchasing. Fluent digital-physical branding. No mis-information from store staff that’s contradicted by the store website (or a quick Google from your phone while you argue with them…) We’re getting there – online shopping can be delivered in-store, in-store shopping can be delivered to your home, and fashion brands like Burberry and Topshop connect the catwalk, their websites and their stores with growing confidence.
What does this mean for market research?
First, that these are the consumer trends, clients’ business challenges, and technologies we need to get our heads round. It’s not just for people working in social media research or cutting edge mobile ethnography – even if you work on quant trackers, there’s something in here that affects the questions you should be asking and how you should be reaching people to get those answers.
But really, I go to SXSW to get perspectives beyond the industry. I’m 27. Am I going to be working in something called a “market research agency” in 10 years time? (In 5 years? In three?) My clients are still going to need someone to help them navigate consumers and communications technology – but are they gong to look to “market research” per se to do that? Quite.
There’s something interesting going on between marketing, and media, and technology – it’s a difficult and unsolved problem, how to marry these three. Even (or especially) the most ridiculous parts of SXSW – they still give me a read on this. That’s why I go. Perhaps next year it’s time to pull together a panel and offer a point of view…
You may have noticed that we like to make things here at Face, and we’re always looking at improving our research with smarter thinking, technology and data. Over the past few years one area we have been focusing a lot on is social media research.
As you might know there are more than 250 social media monitoring tools on the market. And yet, none of them allowed us to do proper research on social media. That’s why we had to design and build a number of custom analysis, data visualization and social CRM solutions for our clients, resulting in awards nominations and more brands joining us. We are now going to release the latest iterations of these tools with our new advanced social media insight platform designed specifically for the research and planning industry. We call it Pulsar TRAC (Topics, Reach, Audience, Content).
While this is not yet an official unveiling, here are the first three key things you won’t find anywhere else:
1) Measure Reach
Is a Tweet equal to a news article or a blog post? Probably not, because it flows in a real-time stream, and only lives for a few hours if not minutes. And how do you take this into account when looking at the buzz around a brand? How many positive status updates on Facebook does it take to balance out a negative blog post about your brand? Crucial as this is, most tools only focus on counting volumes, so all mentions end up being equal. So we shook things up.
Proprietary Pulsar TRAC algorithms tailored to each social channel weight what we call the ‘visibility’ of each post, enabling you to estimate the real impact of that conversation.
The visibility algorithms take into account the format of the post (news vs blogs post, vs forum post vs image etc.), the size of the audience of the author and the virality of the post in order to provide a rating of how many people are likely to have seen a piece of content.
Together, these three parameters allow us to be more accurate in identifying trending topics, influencers, top posts, hot locations, sentiment rates, engagement rates and pretty much anything you can measure in social.
2) Map your Audience
Brands have been engaging with people online for the past 10 years. But they still struggle at understanding who they are actually talking to. Pulsar TRAC’s ‘Audience Map’ allows you to identify and listen to a specific audience in social media (not just track keywords mentioned in a post). An audience can be defined in many ways: for example via demographics, passions, geography, brand affiliation, profession and many others.
We had the idea for this functionality when helping Telefonica O2 understand who their online audience was. Telefonica’s O2 is one of the leading mobile network operators in Europe and Latin America and you may have read our O2 Brand Graph case study on our blog or in publications like Marketing Week. Now this research methodology has been turned into a feature of Pulsar TRAC so Audience Map is effectively plug and play.
We are now using it in a number of ways, from profiling and benchmarking a brand’s fan base vs their competitors to augmenting a brand’s segmentation study with real-time dashboards on each segment.
3) Track your Content
Another big question these days is how does branded content move around online. Where does it go and how do people use it? You can easily track the number of views, but what about the number of shares?
In this study with our sister agency Blonde, we tracked how an ad from the Scottish brand Irn Bru spread online, first virally and then measuring the impact of television. To measure the impact of viral sharing, they first gave a link to the ad to a single fan who launched it for them by Tweeting it to approximately 300 of her followers. It spread organically to reach 650,000 views. Then they launched it on television, increasing the YouTube video to over 1 million views in just four weeks since the initial share.
One of the new features in Pulsar TRAC is based off of this content tracking but makes it plug and play. With the Pulsar TRAC’s ‘Content Diffusion’ you can track any digital content (video, advert, website) on the social web, see how it’s being shared across networks in real-time and who is sharing it, understand what drives its viral appeal and optimise your content strategy.
That’s all for the sneak peak! We can’t wait for the official unveiling of Pulsar TRAC at the end of the month. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up to date with the launch or get in touch to request a preview Demo now by contacting:
Social media made online social behaviour measurable.
Now smartphones are doing the same with face-to-face interaction – thanks to ‘machine sensing’. Machine sensing is basically data collection through sensor-equipped machines, where a sensor is a converter that measures a physical quantity and converts it into a signal which can be read by an observer or by an instrument.
Traditionally mobile market research has mimicked what can be done on the web, with poorer interfaces and engagement. But with smartphones enabling mobile sensing, the opportunity got much bigger and much more interesting.
Mobile sensing is the passive recording of a person’s online and offline daily life in a quantitative way. Sensors in the mobile handset can be used to capture communication, proximity, location, and activity data alongside the more established prompted inputs: a 360-degree approach becoming known as Reality Mining.
Longitudinal collection of this data produces a depth of information on behaviours, interactions and states that can reveal patterns and insights that would be impossible to spot on an exclusively qualitative basis.
Back in July 2012 I ran a pilot project on a sample of one (me) to assess the potential of mobile sensing within the industry. How could market research use ‘reality mining’ to develop a better understanding of consumer behaviors and attitudes? And how useful would it be?
The presentation below gives an overview of the Reality Mining project. A more in-depth paper will be published over the next few weeks discussing the details of the set up, the research methodology and the outputs of the project.