The Samsung vs. Apple court case shows the value of social media research

An excellent case study demonstrating the value of social media research has just emerged from an unlikely source: the Apple vs. Samsung patent dispute.

Apple-Samsung-Trial

Documents shared as part of the court case reveal some fascinating information about how the two companies were thinking about social data in 2013.

It shouldn’t still bear saying in 2014, but the messages seems slow in getting though: social media data isn’t just about “looking back” at campaigns or the last quarter’s KPIs. Samsung recognised the power of social data for “thinking forward”, for understanding customer needs strategically to feed into product innovation and early-stage comms planning. Here at Pulsar, we think this is an incredibly valuable and under-used use-case.

Here’s how it works:

1. Samsung used social data strategically: to attack Apple

From Neal Ungerleider in FastCo: Networked Insights Reveals How Samsung Used Social Media to Hack the iPhone:

“Samsung took on a company with the arguably most successful consumer product ever created,” Networked Insights CEO Dan Neely told Fast Company. “Samsung asked us how to use analytics to attack Apple.”

[…] Using aggregated online posts and machine learning techniques, Samsung found several specific weak spots where they could outperform Apple. Customers specifically complained about the iPhone’s comparatively poor battery life, the inefficiencies of Apple Maps, how small the screen was, unhappiness with the Lightning cable, the lack of customization, Siri, and the iPhone’s fragility. Samsung felt that it could compete with Apple on most of these points–and, importantly, that they hard data to back up these consumer preferences.

When working with Networked Insights, a big part of Samsung’s strategy was to vacuum up any information on the iPhone 5 that was posted to social media. This meant using the dashboard they licensed to obtain every iPhone-related post on Tumblr, Twitter, Disqus (a popular commenting platform), WordPress, and YouTube, as well as new hits on Google. This information was then classified, as Neely put it, “15,000 different ways.” A big part of the problem for Samsung and others, Neely said, was the difference in extracting relevant information when they needed it versus finding erroneous information on other aspects of individual customers that were irrelevant to the task at hand. That meant a lot of data processing and fine-tuned analytics.

Importantly, Samsung used the dashboard to find what people were posting online about the iPhone–rather than just looking for posts about Samsung’s own products. They then identified specific complaints about the iPhone where their own products outperformed Apple’s products, and tweaked marketing campaigns to emphasize these Samsung strong points.

So: social media research isn’t just about tracking your own brand activity.

It’s incredibly powerful when you search for unmet needs and pain points – what are the gaps where consumer desires aren’t being fulfilled? Do this across a category (e.g. smartphones) or a competitive set (Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony Xperia, Nexus, Motorola) to identify the “whitespace” opportunities that  aren’t currently being met.

As such, social media has just as much of a forward-looking role to play in innovation and NPD as it does “looking back” at campaign performance and the past quarter’s KPIs. Use it to shape campaigns and communications, not just to measure their impact.

2. Apple thought it was “nuts” to pay for social media monitoring tools. Their loss

Business Insider’s Jay Yarrow spotted something else interesting in the court documents:

Jay Yarow quote

Apple famously don’t do research, you say? No, Apple do do research – but they don’t necessarily do it well, as Tom Ewing recently illustrated.

You’d see the occasional interesting message if you just look at mentions of “iPhone 5” through Twitter search… But also an awful lot of noise, at a million mentions per day kind of scale. It’d only be through luck that you might stumble across a message that’d spark any strategic consideration.

You want to understand the relative dissatisfaction with battery life, screen size, and poor signal reception? You need a social data research platform. Social media monitoring tools make this data analysable as a whole  in a way that free online tools simply can’t. For example our platform Pulsar collects over 1MB metadata around each tweet, making big datasets like this powerfully segmentable by sentiment, channel, hour, influence level, profile bio and other demographics – allowing for a really fine-grained analysis of not just what people are saying, but who and why.

Technology and data augmentations enable the unmet needs to be identified, quantified and ranked. Use a tree graph to visualise the most common words and phrases that follow “I love…” and “I hate…”. Use semantic analysis to aggregate topics, and compare the top topics across the range of positive, negative and neutral sentiment scores. Start coding tweets into clusters, and use machine learning to extend this across the whole dataset.

Through structured analysis, the depth of insight that can be gained from social data is vast – Samsung realised this, Apple didn’t.

3. What we’ve done

This story was met by us with a nod of recognition – we have been using social data beyond reputation management for a while now.

Here’s a couple of examples of previous work:

i) Mapping the 4G mobile launch

EE Launch Event..Mandatory Credit Tom Oldham/Tom Dymond

Like Network Insights with Samsung, we also dug into what people were saying around 4G to identify complaints and pain points. What topics were driving discussion – signal, pricing, contracts/tariffs, or the iPhone? For each we identified the specific customer pain points our client needed to address in both comms and their product offer.

“WHAT EVEN IS 4G THOUGH I DON’T UNDERSTAND” – tweet, Sept 2013

But it turned out the biggest unmet need was understanding – a high share of discussion came from people expressing their total bewilderment at the new, high-speed mobile spectrum band.  We used social data to identify and categorise people’s questions, helping our client (a mobile operator) recognise and simplify the messages they needed to communicate to help people understand the new proposition.

ii) “Designing Relevance” for Nokia

Unlike other social media monitoring companies who started with basic PR-led metrics and have built out from there, we’ve been using social data for strategic insight for years.

Back in 2010, Francesco D’Orazio and Esther Garland ( from our sister company FACE) presented at ESOMAR alongside Nokia’s Tom Crawford on how social media research can be used alongside co-creation to produce a better innovation process:

Innovation should not be so much about ‘creation’, but more about ‘emergence’. Defining the boundaries of possible futures means creating the conditions for fostering the emergence of ideas that are already taking shape in the social space, but have not filtered up to the top or are not formed enough to bubble up yet. In a connected real-time ecosystem where the consumer can be as creative as the designer, the new model of innovation should be listening, reducing complexity, decoding the signal from the noise, collaborating with consumers and only then defining the boundaries of possible futures.

The project started with a “download” from social media to gather the widest possible range of themes and scenarios for this project:

The project kicked off with a two week Social Media Monitoring and Trends Analysis programme using netnography, semantic and network analysis across forums, social networks, blogs, news sites, microblogs, video and photo sharing sites from the United States. Using  Pulsar we tracked more than 100, 000 ‘sources’ (where Twitter counts as one source) and harvested almost 1.5 million items of content. These were analysed to gather insight into how key consumer segments in North America talk about smart-phones and which key themes, topics and angles were most resonant with them. 

Analysing conversations amongst users talking to each other rather than responding to researchers yielded a huge amount of richness. Furthermore, this helped develop clear learnings on language, tone of voice and attitudes to the brand and the category. It allowed for a different kind of research landscape, one which subverts the traditional question and answer format and replaces it with something far more natural and intuitive. By working in a more natural communication mode we also ended up expanding our research agenda to challenges we didn’t even know existed or that we wanted to investigate.

For the full story, read the full whitepaper up on Slideshare here, or check out the presentation:

Or get in touch if you’d like to talk forward-looking social research.

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