Using Social Data to Gain a Competitive Marketing Advantage

How whitelists can help brands uncover deeper audience insights

I believe that data-driven storytelling is the future of all marketing and communications programs. While it’s a popular buzzword and often overused, many are not yet leveraging its full potential. The brands who neglect data or are slow to adopt data-driven storytelling will soon find themselves to be irrelevant.

As an early adopter of social media marketing dating back to 2006 or so, I remember vividly when social listening was the next big thing. And it made a lot of sense. Consumer use of social media was skyrocketing: Twitter launched, Facebook opened up to the general public, LinkedIn was quietly gained momentum, while other platforms like Myspace started slowly fading away.

The conversation among many industry pundits shouting from the rooftops was, “Brands need to join the conversation.” Eventually brands listened, invested in social listening software, hired community managers and some made some mistakes along the way.

Today, most enterprise companies have sophisticated operations – large teams, agencies, software integrations, APIs going in and out, command centers and some even get awards for the work they have done. I would also say that many of these brands are only getting half the value from these efforts. Traditional social listening relies on Boolean to identify and isolate branded and unbranded keywords/phrases, and then monitoring social conversations for either customer care responses or general community engagement.

A new way to use social listening

I’d like to introduce an additional way to use social listening. This would not replace the current social listening practice but compliment with more focused insights. These insights can inform content creation, media sponsorships and media relations and more. I call it audience listening and it works like this:

  1. Identify your audience (C-suite executives, developers, millennials in San Francisco who prefer to wear Birkenstocks, whatever)
  2. Use a combination of bio search, demographics, affinities and content shared to narrow down the audience
  3. Collect profiles into a CSV (the more profiles, the better)
  4. Upload profiles to a Crimson Hexagon Monitor (whitelists)
  5. Use filters to isolate topics of conversation that you want to drill down on
  6. Listen in real-time, engage, and use insights to fuel marketing and communications programs


Sounds complicated, I know, but it’s actually pretty easy to do and the results are extremely insightful.

Analyzing the audience of top business journalists

Rather than talking about hypotheticals, let’s dig into a real example of audience listening. Last month, Rational 360 released a report highlighting the Top 50 Journalists Followed by CEOs so I thought I would use this list as a starting point. Doing so eliminated step 1 and step 2 above, which saved me several hours. According to the report, 64% of journalists followed by CEOs write about business. So, I uploaded the list to Crimson and started my analysis by filtering out business-related topics. Here’s what I found:

Crimson refers to this as a topic wheel. The way I explain it to clients is that the topic wheel represents clustered conversations. The larger clusters in the middle represent higher-volume conversations. The surrounding boxes are sub-topics of the larger clusters. So, in this case, Technology, Bitcoin, Facebook, Blockchain and Tech Companies are the highest volume when filtering business-related topics. This means that the journalists are writing, sharing and talking about these topics the most within the context of business.

For the purposes of this post, I drilled down on the Facebook conversation in order to get a better understanding of the data. You can see below what was driving the conversation and the two spikes in March and April represent the breaking news about Cambridge Analytica and then Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to congress. You’ll also notice that conversation volume dropped but remained steady moving into the summer months.

As I was sifting through the data, I discovered a few additional insights that I think would be important for communications and PR pros:

  • Since January 1, 2018 the 50 journalists produced about 69K social posts. This seems low to me.
  • Without filtering, there were several topics that appeared to be trending among this group, which isn’t surprising–Trump, Russia, Google, Amazon and Apple.
  • Several of the journalists share their articles and/or Retweet other journalists that share their articles.
  • Axios is the top shared domain from this group, mainly due to Mike Allen (co-founder of Axios) being extremely active using social media.
  • The top shared article among this group was, “Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook–And The World” by Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein (note: Nicholas is one of the journalists on the list).
  • These influencers DO NOT talk about topics like Digital Transformation of the Future of Work, which I know that many tech companies are trying to align themselves with this narrative.

In real life, if I was doing this for a client, I would have my analytics team drill down even further and potentially cross reference media coverage with audience data to get more intelligence. I would also stack rank the journalists to see which ones drive the most conversation and sharing by topic.

How is this data actionable?

That’s an easy question. Here are a few things you can do almost immediately.

  1. Monitor this audience. It’s not hard to add them all to a Twitter list or subscribe to their feeds. If you have Crimson Hexagon and can spare a monitor, add them to one.
  2. Engage in real-time. Don’t overdo it and pester these journalists. If they write an article that’s relevant to what you do, share it. Maybe wrap some creative element to it, provide your perspective and then share it. Consider putting some paid behind it if it makes sense.
  3. Adjust your narrative. The above data shows that Blockchain and Bitcoin are two topics that are resonating with this audience. If your company is using Blockchain and you aren’t talking about it, well, start talking about it. Use this language in your bylines, blog posts, websites, social content. Not only will you be more relevant to this audience, but your content will start to index higher in Google, and your buyers use Google.
  4. Prioritize your media list. Is Axios, Quartz or Recode on your media list? If not, perhaps it should be. These journalists do read articles from publishers they don’t write for.

More resources

I am taking a Data Science class with Udemy and I am using what I learn to pull apart and experiment with different data sets. Here are a few posts I have written:

Social Media Conversations: Compared the recent announcement of LeBron James Joining the Lakers to Kevin Durant’s announcement about joining the Warriors. Looked at social media and news coverage.

Audience Listening Analysis: Performed am audience analysis of software developers–media consumption and trending conversations.

Researching B2B Influencers: Performed a Blockchain & Cybersecurity influencer analysis to understand what topics were driving their conversation.

Media Coverage Analysis: An analysis of traditional media and the top publishers covering technology topics–Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, etc.

Request a Demo

Ready to transform your business?

Get a walkthrough of Crimson Hexagon and learn how consumer insights can help you make better business decisions.