“We need to rethink what social media data is: people talking to each other”

Jeremy Hollow

Interview with Jeremy Hollow, CEO of the UK-based social media intelligence company Listen + Learn Research.

Hi Jeremy, what is your background and what is included in your current role at Listen + Learn Research?

I’m the founder and CEO of Listen + Learn Research. I used to work in traditional market research before I started the company more than ten years ago now.

As the CEO of Listen + Learn Research, I do a little bit of everything; it’s a very hands-on role. I do a lot of business development, I oversee the operational and the financial side of the business, as well as talk to our clients about what their needs are and how we can help them design projects around that. We are in quite a niche market, so a lot of my time is spent on evangelizing the value of the data and how to use it.

Our business is all about helping people get access to better data and to think better about their creativity, innovation, and strategy. We give people a different perspective on consumers’ lives and what’s important to them, so they can create better outcomes for their business.

So, you’re operating in a rather specific media intelligence market. What distinguishes Listen + Learn Research from other companies?

The first is our focus on social media data. On platforms like TikTok, loads of people are making buying decisions. Yet consumer research teams don’t think of TikTok as a consumer insight tool. The challenge is to use those platforms in the same way that you would use focus group data or survey data. If we’re not using social data to inform our opinion about consumer needs, we’re missing out on a massive slice of the pie.

We are, secondly, different in our qualitative research approach. Most media intelligence agencies do analytical work with quantitative analyses and their outputs are usually just dashboards. We’re, in contrast, text analysts who read everything ourselves. So we can understand audiences’ nature, their characteristics, emotions, where they go for inspiration, what they’re trying to achieve, what the barriers are, and how they use social to connect. Once you understand that, you know how to talk to them.

When it comes to serving your customers and developing your offer, what are your greatest challenges ahead at Listen + Learn Research?

In terms of growing our business, the biggest challenge has been inertia. Many of the people we talk to don’t use social media, so they don’t value it and don’t understand how powerful it is. Companies are very fixed and lots of attention goes into our brand trackers and easy numbers. It’s hard to get people to put that aside and try something new.

The other challenge is that people use social listening tools mainly for short-term projects to answer specific questions with quantitative tools to cut the data. We need to rethink what social media data is: people talking to each other. You can use this data for a deeper kind of analysis by immersing yourself deeper in it, or you’ll miss out on growth opportunities. It’s challenging for us to show these opportunity costs.

Do you see any misconceptions that your current and potential clients have regarding what media intelligence can give them?

That social is full of angry and super excited people. There is a lot more mundane, everyday content on there too. It also varies across different platforms: each of them has its own sort of language and codes of conduct.

When it comes to the actual data behind the media intelligence you do, what kind of data or media not currently used can be interesting in the future?

The market for data is not very transparent. Instagram is very difficult to get hold of and TikTok is currently without an API. This is a massive shame because they have hugely interesting communities with data that we would love to access if they were publicly available. Furthermore, we need a way to process visual data and link back to it. We have issues around collection and how to get it from the platform into a tool that makes it usable. There are also questions around data quality and making sure that it’s clean.

With your great experience, what has surprised you the most with the development of social media over the last 10 years?

I did not see TikTok coming. What started with some dancing teenagers has become everything. It took that leap from Twitter and Instagram with just some texts and pictures to another dimension – creating so much more data in the process.

Is there a specific mouthwatering case that you know of where media intelligence really has played a crucial role for a client?

We did a lot of work for a global healthcare company to help them better understand the needs of expats. We helped them identify a range of healthcare concerns across the markets they operate in. As a result, they’ve rolled out new services across 35 markets already. We can now look back and say that our work has made people’s lives better.

How do you think the media intelligence industry will change in the next 5-10 years, and what are the greatest challenges ahead?

A real challenge will be to mature the ethics around data collection. The processing of text data will get more sophisticated. It may also expand to visuals. I’m also curious about the Metaverse: we’ll find out soon whether it is something that people are genuinely interested in.

By Anna Roos van Wijngaarden

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