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[Podcast] Curiosity and Innovation: Melissa Davies on Leveraging Social Listening to Unveil Hidden Consumer Insights

A Podcast Series Dedicated to the Women in Social Listening & Insights

In this podcast series, Convosphere’s CEO, Jackie Cuyvers, meets some of the leading women in the industry. Each episode delves into their unique career paths, experiences and perspectives in the ever-evolving world of social listening, market research and digital insights. This series not only highlights the significant contributions of women in the field but also serves as a platform for sharing knowledge, challenges and triumphs.

Jackie Cuyvers meets Melissa Davies, Social Intelligence lead at Mondelez International

In this episode, Jackie engages in a riveting discussion with Melissa Davies, the Social Intelligence lead at Mondelez International. Melissa shares her wisdom and expertise, underscoring the significance of inquisitiveness, storytelling and a diverse educational background in the realm of social intelligence. The conversation delves into the value of social listening in understanding consumers, the integration of social insights into consumer practices, and the challenges and rewards of remaining at the cutting edge of the industry. Together, they explore the power of data visualisation and the role of social listening in uncovering unexpected consumer insights. Melissa’s journey from journalism to social listening, coupled with her experiences at Mondelez International, offers invaluable career advice and perspectives for those keen on pursuing a career in this field.

Time Stamped Overview of the Podcast

00:00 – From Journalist to Content Developer with a Market Research Interest

05:30 – Brand Monitoring Reveals Consumer Behaviour and Preferences

07:23 – Using KPI to Drive and Measure Behaviour

10:12 – Incorporating Social Listening into Consumer Insights Practices

13:58 – Qualitative Project on Moms’ First Baby Baths

18:25 – Adapting to New Social Media Platforms and Challenges

22:21 – Condensing Data into Impactful Visual Presentations

23:55 – Social Intelligence Leading to Cost Savings

27:19 – The Importance of Market Perspective with Social Listening and Local Insights

30:03 – AI-Enabled Better Data Processing for Insights

33:25 – Liberal Arts Education Broadens Understanding in Marketing

Podcast Transcript

Jackie Cuyvers [00:00:07]: Welcome to the Women in Social Listening and Insights podcast, where we showcase the incredible work of women working in the field of social intelligence. My name is Jackie Cuyvers, and I’ll be your host for this journey. In this podcast, we’ll be speaking with women from enterprise, agencies, and academia who are leading the charge in the world of social listening and insights. Together, we’ll be exploring their careers, the challenges they’ve faced and overcome, and the innovative solutions they’ve developed. Our goal is to provide valuable insights and advice to our listeners who are passionate about this field and committed to advancing their careers. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, you’ll find inspiration and guidance in these conversations. So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn from the women who are shaping the future of social intelligence. Let’s get started.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:01:07]: Today, I’m joined by Melissa Davies. Melissa, can you tell us a little bit about your role and the company you work for?

Melissa Davies [00:01:14]: Sure. Thanks for having me. I’m the Social Lead of Social Intelligence at Mondelez International. Mondelez is a company that makes a lot of snack brands you might know like Oreo cookies, Ritz Crackers, Cadbury chocolate, and some others. So my role here is in the insights and analytics team in a global centre of excellence where we’re really responsible for helping our consumer insights team members around the globe with capability building, access to great tools, centralised tool selection where it makes sense, and then helping to share and spread best practices across the different teams. So if somebody in our India team does something really exciting with social listening, we want to make sure that the folks in our other market teams know about it.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:01:58]: You mentioned this is a global role. How does that look for different markets or regions?

Melissa Davies [00:02:03]: We’re really working with social listening in all four regions of the world and all of the countries where Mondelez has business. But, of course, some countries have more active social media conversations than others, and some teams have driven adoption better than others.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:02:21]: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in social listening and insights and what your path to where you are now looks like?

Melissa Davies [00:02:32]: Sure. I actually started my career as a journalist, and then I moved into a role that was focused on content development. In that role, we were developing teaching materials for classrooms, and I fell into market research because we started asking the question of, you know, what materials will our audience find most useful? So that got me into market research and I just really liked it. Then when it came time to look for a new job, I found a listing for a job on Craigslist, which turned out to be a role in social listening. So I ended up there. It wasn’t anything by design, it just was sort of what happened. But once I got into social listening, what I loved about it was how the data is already there and you’re really just mining what already exists. It’s the natural expression of what consumers are interested in rather than us asking these questions. You know, when I used to do traditional market research before social listening, I’d be analysing the survey data and I would realise, oh, there was a follow-up question that we should have asked that we didn’t know to ask because it didn’t occur to me while writing the survey instrument.

In social listening, you can always go back and dig in for more data, whereas in a traditional survey, you can’t go and re-field the survey. So that was something that I really liked about it. I’ve been in social listening, I guess, since before the start of Twitter, which is crazy. But I started out working on the supplier side at Buzzmetrics, which eventually was acquired by Nielsen, delivering analysed reports to clients, looking at social media conversations and what people were saying about their brands or the different questions they were asking. Then after that, I moved to the client side into a global role at Johnson & Johnson Consumer, helping to stand up social listening there. And then after Johnson & Johnson, I moved over to Mondelez. So really similar role, helping to stand up social listening here.

I think the overarching storyline of my career has been all about digging in and looking at the why, you know, what is it that is the motivation behind what people are doing and finding different ways of getting at that question, whether it was as a journalist or in traditional research and now in social listening research.

Revealing Consumer Behaviour and Preferences through Brand Monitoring

Jackie Cuyvers [00:04:49]: It’s really interesting to hear you’ve been doing this for such a long time, both on the client side and agency side. With your current role, can you describe how you’re using social intelligence from a global perspective?

Melissa Davies [00:05:07]: Sure. We’re doing a couple of different things with social listening at Mondelez. There’s the brand monitoring piece, which I think is kind of table stakes. It has to be done. We have to be looking at what people are saying about our own brands and our competitors. So that’s definitely happening. As I said before, some markets are using it a little bit more than others, and sometimes it’s more informative. In some places, you’re going to learn more than in others.

Overall, I don’t think we find a ton of huge surprises in the brand monitoring. People like to dip their Oreos in milk, they like chocolate, and they like crackers. So there’s not a lot that people tell us in social media about how they’re using our products that we don’t already know from all the other research that we do. Then the other thing that I’m really trying to push for now that we have this brand monitoring capability fully stood up is looking at what people are saying about our product categories. So not specifically about Oreo cookies, but cookies in general. What do snacking moments look like? Where does a snack fit into a person’s life? What else is going on in the picture when they’re eating a snack?

Some of those things can be challenging to figure out, but when we lift that brand monitoring requirement and look beyond the brand at what else is going on with the people who are consuming our products as they go about their day, I think that’s a really important area to look for insights. We want to learn more about how we can ensure that what we’re putting out, whether it’s social media content, marketing content, or just our products in general, is really relevant to what our consumers are looking for.

So you’ve got that audience or category understanding that you’re developing, and you’ve got the brand measurements. How do you measure the success of a project and what types of metrics do you use? Is it based on a business research question? Is it based on brand share of voice? I guess it probably differs, but what are some of the metrics you use?

Consider Behaviour to Drive and Measure through KPIs

Melissa Davies [00:07:23]: I do think it really depends on the question you’re asking. If you’re looking for – let’s say, for example, conversations about a campaign. A person might see a TV campaign, go to the store, and buy the product. So that ad completely did its job, but buying the product is a different KPI from going online and talking about the product. I always encourage everyone here to think about what behaviour we’re trying to drive and if there’s a KPI we can find or something we can measure that’s based on that. It might be a social media measure or maybe it isn’t. It might be something we measure through other formats. I’m really hoping that as we get more mature with using social listening data, people will use social listening more upfront in their projects, as a source of inspiration for where to go next.

If I’m getting ready to run a survey, I should make sure that I’ve listened to the voice of the consumer so I know I’m asking the right questions. If I’m getting ready to do product development, I should make sure I’ve listened to the voice of the consumer so I can keep their point of view and ideas in my consideration set as I think about flavours or textures for the product development. Thinking of social listening less as a final step to measure how we did and more as an upfront tool for inspiration is crucial.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:09:06]: And how do you communicate that? Do you create checklists or case studies of workflows? What do you find effective in saying, “Here’s how you can do it” or “Here’s how you should consider doing it”?

Melissa Davies [00:09:16]: It involves a lot of case studies, education, one-on-one handholding, and encouraging people to imagine themselves as a consumer. Think of yourself as a consumer. Would you go online and talk about this? Would you go online and talk about your TV commercial or this product? It’s about reminding people to think about their experiences as consumers and applying that to learn about what our actual consumers are doing.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:09:56]: It sounds like you need to communicate this not just across other teams and markets, but potentially other business areas. How do you approach communicating best practices and collaboration in these social intelligence projects?

Melissa Davies [00:10:12]: My opinion is that it’s really important for social listening to be integrated into our consumer insights practices. For me, the highest priority is partnering with our consumer insights teams to help them understand how social listening is part of the insight toolbox. It’s not always the best way to answer a question, and it’s certainly not the only way to do research. It’s one more tool to help us understand what’s going on with our consumers. I’m always trying to work collaboratively with our insights teams to integrate this into their best practices. Our insights teams already have processes for working with marketers or R&D to ensure consumer insights are included in the development of other things. As our organisation matures in using social intelligence, I want it to be woven into our processes rather than being seen as an add-on.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:11:33]: Do you think calling it an add-on devalues its potential for showcasing impact? Or is it just considered an add-on because it’s new to individuals and they feel less comfortable integrating it?

Melissa Davies [00:11:54]: I think it’s true that people are less comfortable with it. The nature of the data can also be unfamiliar. It’s not strictly quantitative. Sometimes you learn something through social listening that you weren’t necessarily looking for or didn’t think to ask. This new piece of insight might not fit neatly with the other things you’re researching, making it feel a bit out of place. However, this can drive an iterative process, which is beneficial. You can use social listening to draft survey instruments, run surveys, and then go back to social listening for further qualitative insights. While we don’t always have time for this, starting with social listening for early inputs and then using other methodologies can provide a comprehensive view of what’s important to consumers.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:13:45]: You mentioned uncovering unexpected findings. Can you think of one that was particularly surprising for you?

Melissa Davies [00:13:58]: There is a project I loved working on at Johnson & Johnson related to how mums talk about giving their baby a bath for the first time. It was a rich qualitative project with many learnings. We looked at this question using social media data across six or seven markets. We found certain aspects of giving a baby a bath were universal, like the baby being slippery and it being a milestone moment. However, there were interesting differences by market. In India, for example, you’re likely to live with your parents or in-laws, so you’re not doing it alone. In the US, you might live far from your parents and be doing it alone, possibly on the phone with your mum or mother-in-law for advice. Understanding these global commonalities and market-specific nuances was valuable for talking to our consumers in different markets. This approach can be applied to many product categories, like snacking, where flavours can be both global and regional. Watching these flavours move between regions through social listening or search data is fascinating.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:16:34]: Those universal and market-specific differences are something social listening can really highlight, especially in the native language or market. Can you talk about a time when you had to pivot or change direction in a project due to unexpected findings?

Melissa Davies [00:17:16]: I don’t know if I’ve ever had to completely pivot. I always feel like social listening adds to our understanding rather than requiring a complete change of direction. It provides more qualitative depth, which is always beneficial. Knowing more about our consumers and what we’re trying to do is always better.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:17:50]: You’ve been doing social listening both on the agency and brand side and started pre-Twitter. With platforms and data sources changing, are there particular challenges or opportunities with new platforms like short-form video?

Adapting to New Social Media Platforms and Challenges

Melissa Davies [00:18:25]: There’s always the technical challenge of new platforms. Is it here to stay or just a flash in the pan? TikTok seems to be here to stay for now. Can we collect data from it? How do we analyse it? Traditional social listening was very text-based, then came images, and now it’s video. How do we understand what’s happening in the video? There are always new technical challenges. When I started, it was pre-Twitter, and we worked with Usenet groups where people organised by affinity or interest. Now, people still organise into affinity-based groups in subreddits and Facebook groups. There’s a human need to connect with others like them. This behaviour provides a great opportunity to learn about what’s important to consumers and apply that to our work.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:20:27]: How do you continue to stay inspired and passionate about your work?

Melissa Davies [00:20:48]: There’s always something new to learn, which is motivating for me. I like learning something new every day, and social listening allows for that. Whether it’s new platforms, video forms, or life hacks, there’s always something new to learn. That’s what keeps me engaged.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:21:20]: Can you speak to the importance of data visualisation in presenting insights and how you use data to communicate your findings?

Melissa Davies [00:21:30]: Data visualisation is crucial. Spending time thinking through how to visually communicate the story is important. I love a good verbatim, but they can’t be too long. In the past, on the supplier side, we delivered long Word document reports, then converted them to shorter PowerPoint summaries for presentations. This discipline of picking out the most important findings is valuable. It’s challenging to always have time for that, but taking the time to tell the most important parts of the story visually with charts, consumer quotes, and images makes a big difference. I was recently in a meeting where someone showed TikTok videos of consumers using our products, which was very effective.

How Social intelligence Can Lead to Cost Savings

Jackie Cuyvers [00:23:33]: How do you see the role of social listening and insights in shaping business strategy or driving business growth? What impact do you hope your work will have?

Melissa Davies [00:23:55]: It can be challenging to draw a direct line from social intelligence to a shift in the bottom line. However, there are great case studies where this has happened. Social listening can help us learn more about our consumers faster and more cost-effectively. I have a colleague working on a social listening project now, comparing it to a more expensive research study. She’s exploring if the same question could be answered through social listening at a fraction of the cost. While not every project will have such a financial impact, it’s great to see cases where we can make insight work more cost-efficient by using existing data.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:25:02]: Can you discuss the role of social intelligence in building relationships with internal stakeholders? How do you use your data and insights to support understanding and collaboration?

Melissa Davies [00:25:16]: One of the great things about social intelligence is how quickly we can answer questions. People often come with a hypothesis they want to prove but don’t want to field a whole survey. We can quickly answer these questions using social listening data we’ve already collected. This helps solidify stakeholder relationships. It helps them prove or disprove their hypothesis and keep moving forward. Keeping the business process moving is a valuable outcome of using social listening data.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:26:37]: That sounds like a powerful internal communication case study about how people are getting value from social listening and integrating it into their workflow.

Melissa Davies [00:26:50]: I should do a case study on that. It’s easy to do the work, find it interesting, and then keep moving. I should capture some of the key findings.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:27:04]: You’ve touched on taking a global perspective and then a local or regional view. How do you ensure your insights and recommendations are relevant and applicable across different markets and languages?

Melissa Davies [00:27:19]: Having the point of view from the market is crucial. Doing social listening in specific markets and sharing learnings with local insights teams is important. This makes the insights more relevant and actionable. Local teams provide context about the brand and consumers in their market, making the insights more effective.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:28:25]: How do you stay current with the latest developments in social listening and insights?

Melissa Davies [00:28:30]: I am a consumer of social media myself and love TikTok. I have two Gen Z kids who keep me updated on social media platforms and trends. I follow various industry newsletters and love the work of the Social Intelligence Lab and Gillian Ney. The social intelligence community is small but well-connected, and people are willing to share and advise. I’ve had many one-on-one conversations with peers in the industry who have given me great ideas and advice.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:29:47]: I looked at your LinkedIn earlier, and we have about 150 mutual connections. It’s definitely a small world.

Melissa Davies [00:29:56]: Yes, it is.

AI enables Better Processing of Data for Insight

Jackie Cuyvers [00:29:56]: Howt do you see the field of social insights evolving in the next five to ten years?

Melissa Davies [00:30:03]: AI is advancing, and we’ve been using it in social listening for a long time for sentiment and text analytics. As AI capabilities improve, we’ll be able to process more data more efficiently. AI can handle repetitive tasks, freeing us up for more interesting work. I’m excited about generative AI and how it can use social listening data to surface trends and create product concepts. This could make social listening more integrated into the overall process, rather than sitting in a silo.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:31:27]: Things are changing rapidly, so who knows what will come in the next five to ten years?

Melissa Davies [00:31:34]: Yes, definitely.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:31:34]: Can you share any advice for individuals interested in pursuing a career in social listening and insights? What qualities do you think are essential for success in this field?

Melissa Davies [00:31:52]: Human curiosity is key. It’s a field where you can learn about many different things if you’re willing to ask questions and dig deeper. The ability to tell a story through data is also important. Many people in social intelligence have backgrounds in journalism or fields where they’re investigating and telling stories. Technical skills, like understanding Boolean logic, can also be helpful. It’s important to be open to learning about the broader context of consumer behaviour rather than just focusing on specific actions.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:33:02]: Educational programmes in this area haven’t existed historically. If you were to advise someone now looking to get into this career, are there any educational paths or career pathways you would steer them towards?

Melissa Davies [00:33:25]: My background is in liberal arts, which I think served me well because it’s broad-based. A background in statistics, macroeconomics, or organisational psychology could also be useful. The key is not being too hyper-specialised but being open to understanding the broader context of consumer behaviour. This approach helps in comprehensively understanding the person rather than just focusing on specific behaviours.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:34:39]: Sounds like great advice. Thank you so much, Melissa, for joining us today and sharing your experience and advice with us.

Melissa Davies [00:34:48]: Thanks for having me. It was really great to chat with you. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Jackie Cuyvers [00:35:01]: And that’s a wrap for this episode of the Women in Social Listening and Insights podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation and taken away some valuable insights and advice from today’s guest. If you liked this episode, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Spotify so you never miss an episode. And don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn for updates and additional resources. I’d like to take a minute to once again thank our interviewee for taking the time to join us on the show today and sharing her story and insights with us. Your contribution to the world of social intelligence is truly invaluable, and we’re so grateful for you sharing your time and expertise. And finally, if you know anyone else who would make a great guest on our show, please don’t hesitate to introduce us. We’re always on the lookout for new and inspiring stories.

Until next time, I’m Jackie Cuyvers, and this is the Women in Social Listening and Insights podcast. Thanks so much for listening.