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Architects of Next: Social data is a competitive advantage / Daryl West, O2

Social data can feel abstract. Numbers, spreadsheets, APIs. The preserve of the rational, the scientific, the abstract. But social media and ‘big data’ can drive competitive advantage.

That’s what drives Daryl West, Social Media Insights Manager, at O2. His story is not that of the typical researcher. A serious footballer, who played at semi-pro level, he worked his way through the marketing ranks, working in sports media analysis. A passion for sport shapes both his lifestyle, but also outlook. This year’s challenge is his debut at the London marathon (a prospect he wasn’t relishing when we met, limping through O2’s atrium, after a long-run).

This love of competition is what ties his personal and professional lives together. He sees the role of social insight and data as bringing a competitive advantage to the P&L of a business.

“Whether it’s identifying customer experience learnings, or points of passion for products, through to lifestyle insights to build propositions around, the whole point of our existence is to bring advantage to the business, in the purest commercial sense.

“People busy running P&Ls don’t want to know there were x thousand tweets about something: they want to know what they can do to improve customer experience, and therefore the business. It’s an important distinction that can be easy for researchers to forget.”

Being closer to the commercial reality of the business also requires pragmatic, less purist ways of communicating. “My role is to tell stories with data, which allows me to provide the business with the tools they need to be customer-led. No-one gets excited about slide after slide of statistics, but they do if you can tell them a story – albeit one which emerged from data.”

Identifying opportunities is key, in his mind, to being closer to the business. “It moves you beyond being a reactive measurement function. For example, over the next couple of years I think social image analytics will come of age. To date the success rate of image identification has been too patchy, but we’re starting to move into a world where we can have some confidence, via machine learning, in what the contents of an image are, without human analysis. That’s increasingly crucial as we see a shift in consumer behaviour from primarily text-based to primarily image based.”

The future of social data and business innovation lies, as Daryl observes “not in being the best mathematician, but in being the most competitive – the person, team, business, who can most create opportunity”. He cites Paddy Power’s social marketing as a prime example of this approach – again reflecting a love of sport, but also the belief that the role of an insights team extends beyond the functional, into the emotional territory of creative, humour, and brand.

“I get excited about seeing the results – an improved product, enhanced marketing effectiveness, socially-informed business decisions. That’s when you know you’ve made a difference.”

If you’d like to sponsor Daryl’s London marathon effort, which is in aid of NSPCC, you can do via his Just Giving page.

If you want to get ahead, read/do:

Top Twitter follow: @TextsFromMum – this used to be just like my Mum but now she uses terms like ‘lol’. I’ve hidden her from my Facebook news feed as a result. I’m ruthless. Sorry Mum!

Top Instagram follow: bbcnews. The bbc instafax 15 second news updates are brilliant.

Productive habit: I only take on the important tasks that aim to drive business change.

Unproductive habit: Poor document housekeeping. My desktop is a maze of random stuff.

Favourite brand: Adidas Originals. I like the way they bring sport, music and entertainment together seamlessly.

This is the third in our series “#architectsofnext’ which profiles the people on the frontline of building what comes next, through social media.


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