Editor’s note: Jonathan Williams is founder of Discover.ai, London.

“If the internet can be seen as the world’s largest focus group, how can we make the most of this amazing resource to get insights that help anticipate the future, in a more agile way?” 

Like me you’ve probably heard these words, or something similar, many times. I heard them again recently on a webinar, spoken by the head of insights of one of the world’s largest health and well-being companies. The recent COVID crisis has been accelerating these conversations and the push for better digital insight solutions. We’ve known for a long time the answers to many of our questions already exist out there online. Now is the time to embrace the digital solutions that help us find them. 

If you’ve worked with the outputs from social media monitoring and analytics tools, you may have found they rarely deliver the deeper, more qualitative insights that add a much needed rich layer of emotional human understanding. All too often social solutions pipe in huge data sets where the focus is maximizing coverage. Great if you want to size and track conversations and trends at topline level. Not so great if you’re digging for nuggets of rich qualitative insight. 

Typically a social media data set will be swamped by the relative noise of Twitter and Instagram chatter. Finding the key nuggets of insight and connecting them together becomes challenging, often because the best potential sources of insight aren’t included in the data set to begin with. It’s a bit like trying to do consumer qualitative research by saying, “Let’s ask everybody about everything and then use complex search terms to find the answer.” Anyone who’s struggled with Boolean searches will likely empathize with this. As one frustrated client said about their experience of Boolean searches, “If I knew which search terms to brief I wouldn’t need to do the research in the first pla...